Baklava is a Middle Eastern desert made of multiple layers of filo pastry, filled with nuts then sweetened with a hot sugary syrup. Most of the sweets in the Middle East are adapted or taken directly from the former Ottoman Empire. As more than half of the population in Jordan is of a Palestinian origin, skilled pastry chefs came to Amman, set up shops to sell those delicacies.
The Zalatimo family are a well known Palestinian family. They have been making sweets since the turn of last century through their brand, Zalatimo Bros for Sweets, which has become a byword for high quality. One Sunday, recently I walked into their shop unannounced, armed with a camera and the idea of photographing their kitchen. I wanted to see how they make baklava and to share what I saw with readers of this magazine. Excited, I walked in and asked to speak to the manager who politely listened to me then, equally politely told me, in no uncertain terms that I would need to have an appointment before taking any photos of their kitchen. I managed to speak to the owner who immediately asked to see my journalist ID.‘ I write for food as a hobby’ I tried to explain. Things weren’t going the way I had anticipated. Being a food blogger doesn‘t mean much in Jordan. Disappointed, I turned to leave, but as I did so, I heard a voice calling my name.‘Lara! Hi do you remember we went to school together. I am Nisreen!’ Now that’s another funny thing about Amman. For a capital city, it truly is a village. Wherever you turn, you bump into someone you know. Relieved, I explained my interest in seeing the pastry chefs at work. She, good naturedly gestured for me to follow her.A few minutes later, dressed in hygiene clothing, Nisreen and I were in the kitchen.
The whole floor is dedicated to Baklava’ she told me proudly. I couldn’t help being impressed by what I saw. Everything was clean, ordered and precise. Separate areas for each of the steps of making baklava. First pancake sized dough is rolled out with a machine and thinned out repetitively into sheets of filo paper. Your eye immediately catches mountains of crushed green pistachios waiting to be stuffed into the sheets. There was a sweet repetitive rhythm to the kitchen. Men dressed in white, totally ambivalent to our presence, worked away, stuffing and rolling the sweets as trays of golden colored sweets came out of the industrial sized ovens, ready to be ladled with hot sugary syrup. Everything felt hot and looked delicious.
Out in the main showroom huge silver trays of the sweets were laid out for visitors to taste the finished product. As I tried a thick rolled baklava stuffed with walnuts and cinnamon I reflected on its heavenly taste and on the joys of meeting old school friends.