Sunday, October 22, 2006

I Think I'm Back

I apologize once again for the paucity of posts recently.

My visit to Jerusalem was only partially to blame.

Serious problems with my cable provider meant I had zero Internet connectivity for more than a week while they blamed my ISP (whose tech support staff honestly did their utmost to help, but to no avail). After 1 visit from a cable tech (who had already been at my place a month ago for the same problems) and 2 visits by techs from my ISP, the cable guys decided that yes, the problem was with them and eventually changed almost all of the routing connections to and in my building. Even that wouldn't have happened if I hadn't used what is commonly called "Vitamin P" here, the P standing for protectsia, which is self-explanatory. I ended up calling the CEO's secretary and she put out an urgent call for service. Who knows what would have (not) happened if I hadn't done so. I don't feel too badly about this as this is the first time in ten years that I have used any of my connections...

So, what interesting things can I write about? The Sukkoth Blessing of the Kohanim took place while we were there. What a fascinating thing to watch - not that I understood why all of these men were wandering around the plaza in front of the Western/Wailing Wall with tightly furled palm leaves (some in special plastic palmleaf protectors). And then, all of these supposedly sane people, pushing and shoving their way to the Wall, packing themselves in as close as they could get in order to doven or, as I call it, kadiddle, back and forth, back and forth, muttering their prayers, their combined voices rising and falling, but not in any concerted synchronization.

I think, though, that I will switch topics completely and write a bit about the sweets that I saw (and tasted) while I was in Jerusalem.

Everywhere you go in the old city of Jerusalem, especially in the shouk proper and the Muslim quarter starting at the Damascus Gate, there are sweet shops. These are actually bakeries that produce all manner of Middle Eastern sweets, which are some of the most wonderful sweets imaginable. Because it is Ramadan, there seemed to be even more variety than usual.

One of my favourites is something that I know as Loukom.

The first time I ever came across these achingly sweet round balls was in Greece, on the island of Skiathos. My mom had come out to spend a month with me and in our wanderings we had landed on the island lured by tales of a place. still unspoiled by tourists, that boasted miles of empty beaches.

The main town is on the hillside looking down into the harbour. Every morning we were woken by the clippety cloppety sound of the garbage donkeys as they made their way through the narrow cobbled lanes. After breakfast at one of the kafenions we would wend our way down to one of the many deserted beaches and spend the day swimming, reading and dozing in the warm fall sunshine. When we finally returned to town we were always ravenous. Of course we couldn't just walk into the first restaurant we passed, we would have to look at them all, see what specials each one had and then make our choice.

Every evening, as we performed this hunting ritual, we would say good evening to an old man tending a vat of boiling oil. We would watch fascinated as he squirted hazelnut sized blobs of dough into the oil. The would sink briefly and then float to the surface and slowly swell to the size of a silver dollar, merrily bubbling away. The old man would turn them this way and that until they were a pale golden yellow. He would then scoop them out and toss them into a bowl of thick gooey syrup. Once thoroughly doused they would be put by the dozen into a wax paper cone and be handed over to the customers. Neither my mother nor I could face having a dozen of these to share - it seemed like pure gluttony, so we never bought anything. But one evening, our last on the island, the old man motioned us over and handed us each a sticky golden ball, and then waited expectantly as we bit into it.

I think our surprised looks must have been payment enough, because he burst into a big smile and patted his belly. He then turned away to serve the next customer.

Why were we so surprised? Well, I personally was expecting a rather sodden warm sweet bit of pastry - kind of like what happens when you dunk a donut into milk - soggy and rather textureless. What we got was crispy and crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside where the syrup had been absorbed by the dough. My mom said they reminded her of Koeksisters. I don't know about that, but either way, they were a revelation. When I saw them in Jerusalem the first time, I bought some and shared them around. But when I am alone, I never get them, because they sell them by weight or by the dozen & that is dangerous...

These are some of the other sweets. The dark half moons are a soft semolina pastry filled with chopped walnuts, deep fried and dipped in syrup. The triangles fore and aft are filled with either sweet cheese flavoured with rosewater, or are filled with thick sahlab, which is kind of like a cornstarch pudding, but which has it's own distinct flavour. Both are liberally brushed with the ubiquitous syrup.

There were also stacks and pyramids of gorgeous baklahva filled with almonds, walnuts, peanuts (my all time least favourite), pistachios and pinenuts (my all time favourite). The best of these has been made with butter and are so rich and sweet that one is more than enough, but you never can stop just there...

Unfortunately, my local mini-market has a small bakery section that at this time of year makes really good versions of the sahlab and walnut sweets, as well as fresh donuts filled with cherry cough-syrup jam or dulche de leche.

I think I hear them calling my name...


burekaboy — said...


thank you for stopping by my blog and leaving that interesting comment. i appreciate it.

your blog is great and i want those loukoum now! we make these at home during the holidays when i eat too many of them. there should be TONS available today/tonight at the shuks as it's eid al fitr there, as i'm sure you know. but then again they're available all year long. lucky you....

looking forward to reading your other posts.


aja said...

Hey BB,
Thank you 8^). It's mutual, I like what I have seen so far of your blog and will continue to peak in to see whats new...

I went looking for Loukom in Jaffa tonight when I got home and all of the stores were closing or closed. Disappointment... but better for the waistline. I think tomorrow is Eid proper - usually I hear lots of firecrackers being set off by the local kids for any of the holidays, and tonight there haven't been any. I will try hunting for loukom tomorrow.

You have a recipe??? Please share!!

burekaboy — said...

hi again aja,

my brain was mush when i posted. i forgot to say that we usually call these lokma [or sometimes by their greek name ... loukoumades.] loukoum is really the gelatinous turkish delight. but yeah, i have a recipe and will post it for u. check my blog over the next 24 hrs and i'll upload it. oy, now i see an attack coming on! lol. eid goes on for like 3 days so u will have mabruk/mazal [luck] finding them!

aja said...

Hey BB,
I went in and saw your lokma post - yummy! I thank you, my stomach thanks you but my hips - oh boy are they complaining!