Arabic sweets originate from many different cultures due to civilizations that occupied the region, such as the Ottomans and Mamluks. These sweets are very unique in their taste and special ingredients are used when they are made. They are especially popular during the month of Ramadan due to their nutritional benefits.
Below is an explanation of the origin of some Arabic sweets:
1. Znoud el-Sit (the woman’s arm)
This dessert, which is literally translated as "the woman’s arm," goes back to the Ottoman’s rule in Levant region. Women used to prepare Znoud el-sit and serve it in parties of Barbar Agha. An attendee named them this way because they look like arms.
2. Al-Basbousa (Blending)
First prepared by the Ottomans, it is now popular in Egypt and the Gulf. The name stems from the Arabic verb “bas” meaning “to blend," since it is prepared by blending flour with margarine/butter.
3. Loukoumades (Mouthful)
Translated literally as mouthful, Loukoumades was first prepared by the Greeks and it was usually served with ice cream. It was popular in the Arab world after the rule of the Greeks, specifically in Alexandria. It was sold in a small shop on Bousta Street called Tournazaki.
4. Oum Ali
Oum Ali is a popular dessert in Egypt and was first prepared during the time of the Mamluks, who came from Mid-Asia and occupied Egypt, the Levant and Iraq. Oum Ali, who was Izz Al-din Aybak’s second wife, one of the first Mamluk Sultans, gave birth to Ali. This angered his other wife “Shajrat Addor” who killed their husband for revenge. Oum Ali got revenge on the other wife by killing her. Ali was pronounced king and to celebrate, Oum Ali prepared a dessert by mixing flour, sugar, and nuts. And this is how it was named after the Sultana Oum Ali.
The word kellaj, which means “earring” or “a round thing” in Persian, is prepared with a special round pan. The people from Al Qassim in Saudi Arabia say that a group of merchants from the Levant came on camels to sell their good before the Eid. When the camels that carried the men and the goods couldn’t make it, the merchants tied them with ropes fed the camels all the leftover kellaj
The Assyrians were probably the first to prepare baklava from filo stuffed with dried fruits or nuts. Another story suggests that baklava is named after the wife of a Turkish Sultan who was asked to prepare a delicious dessert. These stories are not confirmed since the Greeks and Turkish people are still fighting over the origin.
This is a popular drink in Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and the Gulf. It is made of a 600-year-old plant around which purple flowers grow. The Salep flower was first mentioned in Chinese texts in 700 B.C. The Chinese philosopher Confucius called it “The Flower of Rulers’ Cologne." It became popular in the West and reached the Arab countries.
Turkish? Not at all!
Although we think that it is a Turkish dessert, it is not. Kanafeh is purely Arabic and its name stems from the Arabic verb “ka-na-fa” meaning mercy. It was first served during the Umayyad Caliphate when Muawiya ordered his cook to prepare a rich dish to help him endure the fasting in Ramadan.
Nablus’ kanafeh was first prepared after a Syrian merchant came to Nablus to open a kanafeh shop with a local partner. The kanafeh was stuffed with nuts at first, but when the merchant went back to Syria, the local partner in Nablus started stuffing it with cheese due to the absence and high price of nuts. This is when kanafeh was served with cheese for the first time. Nablus is rich in cow's milk that makes the cheese stretchy.
This article was originally published in Arabic on YallaFeed .