Mohammad Ahmed Mattour has been running Halawiyat Al-Bustan, one of the most famous pastry shops in Ramallah, West Bank, since he took over from his father in 1994. Giant platters of desserts, from baklava and knafeh to basbousa and kullaj, line the windows and shelves year round. But come Ramadan, the balance of business shifts, and qatayef, stuffed semolina pancakes, take center stage.
“We sell about 200 a day,” says Mr. Mattour, 43. “Not pieces. kilos.” All month long, especially around the hour of iftar – the breaking of the daily fast – the line outside the store runs into the street, with at least 30 people waiting at any time.
Mr. Mattour’s shop is not alone: the atmosphere is the same at other pastry shops in Ramallah and cities in the Arab world. Today, there are two common varieties of these pancakes, which are cooked on only one side. One is filled with cheese or walnuts, folded into a crescent, then baked or baked and soaked in syrup. The other, smaller in size, is filled with cream and only half sealed. It is then drizzled with a thick sugar syrup and eaten fresh. People usually buy the pancakes to take home and all, but it is also possible to buy them filled and ready to bake or bake, or even filled, baked, soaked in syrup and ready to eat. food.
What really sets qatayef apart from other desserts is the fact that they are a treat usually reserved for Ramadan, which starts later this week, and are a sign that the holy month has arrived.
“They just taste different during Ramadan,” said Eman Al-Ahmed, a fashion designer living in Jordan. Ms. Al-Ahmed, 47, makes her qatayef at home and explained that she could prepare them all year round as they are so easy to make. But like most in the Arabic word, she and her family eat qatayef only during Ramadan, which they do every night of the month.
The celebration of Ramadan
The Islamic month of Ramadan, a time of prayer, fasting and feasting, begins in the United States on April 2.
“Maybe it’s the nostalgia and the generations-long tradition,” said Ms. Al-Ahmed. “But qatayef is this ritual that brings everyone in the community together.”
Qatayef probably dates back to the Middle Ages. Though closely associated with Islamic fasting practice during Ramadan, they transcend religion. When the treats appear in stores, everyone eats them.
Jenny Haddad Mosher, 47, a Palestinian Christian whose family does not observe Ramadan, said that during her childhood in Kuwait, where she was born, everyone felt the change in the air during the month of Ramadan. But most of all she remembers the qatayef that her father regularly took home. “We’d go crazy if Baba walked in the door with that package,” she said. “It came on a large cardboard tray, wrapped in paper and tied with twine, all qatayef beautifully displayed around the qatr container.” (Qatr is the sugar syrup used to sweeten the stuffed pancakes, either by soaking them in it or sprinkling it on top.)
The tradition is just as strong for Arabs in the United States. Rawan Shatara, 34, a pastry chef in Grand Rapids, Michigan who emigrated from Jordan as a toddler, made the two-hour drive to Dearborn several times during Ramadan with her parents to buy qatayef. “It’s such an ingrained part of the month,” she said.
Now she makes qatayef herself, but she still likes to make the trip to Dearborn, where, she said, “you really feel the atmosphere of Ramadan, just like being back home.”
At Mr. Mattour’s pastry shop in Ramallah, sales usually fluctuate throughout the month, peaking during the first and last days of Ramadan. This year he has had to raise prices for qatayef as inflation has eroded basic necessities in the pantry after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“Maybe people will cut back on quantities, maybe they buy 1 kilogram instead of 1.5 kilograms, or maybe they buy it less often and not every night,” he said, adding that “it is impossible, absolutely not, Ramadan can pass without people eating qatayef.”
Recipe: Qatayef Asafir