The Meals we Miss Most: Craving Knafeh during the Crisis
If we take a moment to look back through our own histories, we often find that some of our strongest bonds and fondest memories were made while sharing a meal.
Trying a new bar with old friends, revisiting the restaurant where you and your partner had your first date, helping family members prepare a special recipe passed down from one generation to the next, or even celebrating a successful quarter with your coworkers at a business dinner. It’s amazing how good food has a way of bringing people together, which is what makes it so agonizing how the coronavirus pandemic has forced so many people to eat alone.
Restaurants and bars are only serving delivery or take out, fast food locations are limiting service to their drive-thru only, and even if you are lucky enough to get the groceries you need before the market shelves are stripped bare, social distancing protocols discourage people from gathering together to share a hearty meal. Self-isolation is difficult enough when it prevents extended family members from visiting one another, and it’s particularly painful for those who live alone, leaving us all reminiscing of the simpler times we all took for granted not so long ago.
I myself am not immune, and as of late, have been craving one dish in particular: Knafeh.
Thin, crispy shreds of dough form a tantalizingly crunchy crust atop a warm, melted bed of cheese. A loving drizzle of sweet syrup and a hearty topping of crushed pistachios tie the whole thing together, creating a rich flavor experience that is as unique as it is addicting.
Knafeh, also spelt “Kanafe,” and “Kunefe,” and even “Kunafa,” is a Middle Eastern dessert tracing its roots back to somewhere between the 10th and 15th centuries. The exact origin, much like the exact spelling, seems to vary depending on who you ask, as the different countries and cultures who enjoy the dish have their own unique yet familiar spin on it. It will taste slightly different depending on if you order it in Greece, or Turkey, or Egypt, though I was lucky enough to try it while travelling to a small Arabic village in Israel.
My mouth could not believe the blessing it had received, it was love at first bite. That mixture of sugary sweetness and savory cheese were not only incredible, but unforgettable as well, which became a problem when I returned to America. Over the course of six months after coming home, my nostalgia for the sweet treat had grown into a full-blown craving, one that none of the local options could satisfy.
Living in the Los Angeles area means I have many international eateries to choose from, and while there are a few locations that offer knafeh on their menu, I’m afraid none of the ones I sampled could really compare with what I remembered. This tends to be true for most dishes, as ordering Italian food in America will give you a very different experience than ordering Italian food in Italy itself. There’s just something so authentic about trying the meal in the actual country, a sort of genuine touch to the flavor profile that even family owned restaurants in the states can’t quite seem to simulate properly.
Perhaps it comes down to the availability of important ingredients, or maybe modernized preparation methods don’t yield the same results as the classic techniques? I don’t know for sure, but I do know that absence makes the heart grow fonder, or in this case, the stomach growl stronger. While it’s disappointing that I am unable to recapture that wonderful flavor here in the states, it does mean I treasure my memory of that incredible Knafeh all the more, and incentives me to take another trip to the Middle East so I can indulge in that guilty pleasure all over again.
Granted, I won’t be able to do that anytime soon, what with nonessential travel being discouraged in order to flatten the curve.
Having our desires be denied due to such safety concerns can be incredibly frustrating, adding to all the other inconveniences of quarantine life, but that is a mentality we mustn’t allow ourselves to fall into. Like I said before in one of my previous blogs, the fond memories of a fantastic vacation served as motivation for me to work hard at my business ventures so that I could eventually treat myself to another trip back. By reframing our perspectives of what we cannot currently have as rewards we will gift ourselves in due time, we can ease the intensity of our desires and soothe the yearning inside ourselves.
Make no mistake, I’m not saying this is easy by any means, I know how hard it is to control one’s urges. That need to quench our desires is what motivates most people to become entrepreneurs in the first place, to take matters into our own hands and sate our hunger for profit or progress or whatever else it is we seek. However, successful entrepreneurs know the importance of waiting for the right time before making their move, gathering information and making preparations so that they can act at the opportune moment.