>> Knafeh Cafe | Eat the World Los Angeles

Wednesday 6 November 2019

Knafeh Cafe

EDITOR'S NOTE: An updated version of this article (18 December 2023) is available as part of the Historical section of our Substack page. Check that out here:

If you ask a Palestinian about knafeh, they will insist that the story begins in Nablus, a city that is referenced when naming of eateries around the world. In the northern part of the West Bank, Nablus is known for food of all ranges and classes and has a culinary history rivaling that of Damascus or Baghdad. Sweets are a big part of Nablus as well, with many vendors spanning generations and preparing their sweets in traditional ways.

Right in the center of Anaheim's main stretch of Little Arabia on Brookhurst lives one of the best places to soak yourself in the rich history of Nablus and knafeh, at the tiny Knafeh Cafe tucked into a strip mall between an Arabic hair and nail salons. Two neon words can be seen in the window from afar, "Pastries" and "Coffee," which explain most of the reasons you will have to come.

Opened in 2012 by Asem Abusir, who is the third generation to make knafeh in his family, Anaheim has been able to fall in love with the same recipes that have allowed expansion to many locations in Palestine and Jordan. Opening the door of the small shop is not just about procuring these desserts, it is also reading a love letter sent back to Nablus, which is shown proudly on the walls by posters, paintings, and artifacts.

Traditionally, knafeh is something purchased for a celebration, or eaten when the daily fast ends during Ramadan. A promotion or graduation will always be rewarded with the sweet cheese-y dessert. Need to reconcile after a tough argument? You better bring knafeh with you during the apology.

Here in Anaheim and in Middle Eastern bakeries and sweet shops around the country, knafeh can usually be found as often as you want it, as resources are more plentiful. What will probably be missing though is the use of the white brined cheese of Nablus, which will have to be substituted with what is available.

When a slice of knafeh ($5, above) is served hot, its beautiful cheese layer comes out every side. Before baking, this cheese has been soaked in a sugary syrup or honey, creating a sweet and savory mixture that is perfect when prepared just right. You can get the dish either crispy or soft, with or without a drizzle of syrup on top.

[EDITOR'S NOTE/UPDATE: After reading one begrudging customer's comment and the kind response of the owner, a sort of shop hack can be passed along. Bring a group of four or more so that you can request a fresh sheet of knafeh to be made in about 10 minutes. The reheated squares are certainly satisfying, but there should be nothing more heavenly than fresh from the oven.]

Either way, it is easy to see why Knafeh Cafe has been one of the most popular places to procure this Nablusi sweet since opening. It is not open in the morning, so come during the afternoon or early evening for a pick me up with their strong coffee to accompany your dessert.

You will see trays of delicious baklava ready to eat as well, but you can also try unique finds like balourieh ($5, above), which uses either crushed pistachios or cashews (shown here) between sheets of the stringy knafeh dough. This gives excellent crunch and is drier than other dishes and makes good use of that syrup drizzle.

Often times the shop is run during slow periods by others, but when Mr. Abusir is tending the counter make sure to ask at least one question as this will lead to an afternoon of stories and reminiscing if you have the time.


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