Knafeh is a traditional Middle-Eastern dessert with many variations. It is best described as a dense, sweet cheese concoction drizzled with sugar syrup and then topped up with crushed pistachios and semolina crumble.
Knafeh Bakery, which comprises a traveling refurbished shipping container, provides more than the famed dessert – it promises a complete experience where you get a glimpse of Palestinian culture and music.
The “bearded bakers” put on quite the show as they lovingly call out customers’ names embellished on their serviettes or boxes. You feel a thrill of privilege as you wonder what song will play as you are called up to the truck, and which of the bakers will hand you your dessert with their trademark smile and flourish.
On my last visit to Knafeh Bakery, I was accompanied by sceptics who said that the knafeh on offer wasn’t the “real deal" and were convinced it was most likely to be a watered down version. By the end of the night, they had been converted through a skillful display of song and dance and left having committed their favourite baker into each of their hearts for the rest of all time. Admittedly, the knafeh on offer is different – it’s a lot lighter and smoother in texture, and the sugar syrup does not overpower the cream cheese, but it is delicious.
What makes it easy to distinguish this particular bakery from others is the impressive ethnic diversity they attract. The customers are also predominantly women: they all swoon over the bearded bakers, and on numerous occasions one or two have told me that they’d been following the gentlemen on their journey around Melbourne’s suburbs.
The El-Issa family who brought the bakery to life has pulled off a remarkable feat – they’ve taken a dessert almost mundane in its existence in Middle-Eastern culture and transformed it into a unique experience which holds its own on Australia’s competitive and diverse food landscape, all while brewing a light-hearted camaraderie for all those who have arrived for the Knafeh Bakery experience.
The next Melbourne location will be announced soon.