What Is Kunafa And What Does It Taste Like?

With Ramadan starting April 12th, the time has arrived for fasting, acts of charity, and later, feasting (via Muslim Aid). Many who observe Ramadan go through the month abstaining from food between sunrise and sunset. After Muslims traditionally break the daily fast with dates, it's time to turn to iftar, the evening meal. One dish that helps bring energy levels back up is kunafa. This sweet pastry, also called knafeh (among many other variants), originated in Syria centuries ago and has since spread through the Middle East and Mediterranean (via 196 Flavors). According to the legends, Mu'awiya I, the first caliph of the Umayyad dynasty in modern-day Syria, asked his chef to prepare a rich dish worthy of holding one over through Ramadan back in the seventh century. His chef came back with a dish that proved so delectable, it spread throughout the ancient Islamic world. 

According to Amira's Pantry, this crispy and buttery flakey pastry, made from shredded phyllo, encases a dairy pudding that gets some of its flavor from sweet cheese. The final product comes topped with a drizzle of simple syrup and crushed pistachios, adding a deeper texture, making kunafa a winning dessert. Various regions have shaped this basic recipe according to their local produce, resulting in a variety of kunafas across the globe.

A different kunafa for every country

Kunafa's tastes and flavors shift, depending on where you go. In Turkey, chefs create this flakey pastry in a metal mold, use a stringy sweet cheese made from sheep and cow milk, and top off their variant with whipped cream (via 196 Flavors). In Lebanon, you would plan to eat the dish for breakfast and expect the dough to use semolina flour, include mozzarella, and flavor the final dish with an orange syrup. Jordan also uses mozzarella but includes extra ricotta, as well as an extra handful of raisins and crushed nuts on top. The taste is delicate, creamy, and only subtly sweet.

When you want to try a dessert that has pleased palates for generations, nothing hits the spot like kunafa. According to 196 Flavors, the dish's bright orange and green colors make it a showstopping meal. As soon as it's out of the oven, kunafa should be eaten. It's best enjoyed while piping hot.