MOVEABLE FEAST Marino Corazza
I WAS not blessed with a sweet tooth. While others drool over birthday cakes, going gaga about upping their sugar levels, I’m thinking about moist biltong, won-ton and oysters. A fat slab of any kind of cake just leaves me cold — even more so when the munchers say: “Oooh, I feel so guilty!”
But there are some sweets I’m fond of, and they’re the ones from the Middle East, the goodies the Greeks serve for tea, the Sephardim after dinner, the Turkish with coffee and the Lebanese for collective gatherings. Somehow they’re all interrelated. Call it family food.
I’m partial to them for four reasons. Firstly, they are all made in bite sizes so the volume is not so daunting. Secondly, they are not sickly sweet, rather emphasising natural flavours. Thirdly, they’re not greasy and are very pleasing to the eye. Fourthly, they conjure up for me a picture of an oasis, of parking off on a Persian rug, shaded by palm trees, beside a tiny running stream, eating dates and halva and drinking cool sweet water until this gorgeous apparition, wearing a yashmak, with fire in her eyes and a diamond in her bellybutton, materialises and asks to be taken to the casbah.
On your camel, Lawrence, and back to Jo’burg — to Norwood, to be more specific. Diagonally opposite Ziggies is the Cedar Confectionery. It’s not very welcoming but Aladdin’s cave probably wasn’t either. Once in, the treasures that count are all there, displayed in huge shallow brass trays of great diameter.
A very mild and pleasant Matthew Abi-Chebli will help you out (his brother Elias is the baker and runs the factory operations in Regents Park). They come from Lebanon and have been in the rainbow country for two years, so with English, some Arabic, a dash of French and a bit of Lebanese we got along just fine. After all, the proof is in the eating.
All the delectables are made with variations of fila. Delicate and crisp, fila is phyllo to the Greeks, jufka to the Turks and malsouka to the Tunisians. Right: first taste was of the borma, a tubular-shaped bird’s nest pastry filled with pistacchio nuts and light syrup. It’s cut into slices like a hefty rissole and has an exquisite, nutty flavour to be savoured more than once. Then came namura, semolina squares steeped in honey and coconut with almond topping, moist and lush and very comforting. This was followed by billorie — pistacchio, walnuts and rose water essence wrapped up in a fragile pastry square. The aroma is out of the Perfumed Garden, the taste filled with fragrance and serenity. There are five types of baklava — konafa or kadaif if you prefer — of different shapes and sizes, all delicious and nutty, my preference being the less sweetish ones.
There’s something about these sweets, once eaten, that generates a feeling of contentment and inner happiness. With that, I bid you a Middle Eastern farewell: “May all of you be showered with a thousand dew-kissed rose petals.”
* Cedar Confectionery: 60 Grant Avenue, Norwood (Tel: 728- 6856). Open seven days a week until 8pm. The patisserie also has a choice of biscuits and petit fours, a selection of fruit-flavoured French gateaux bavarois mousses and Mediterranean-style ice-cream. They also cater for parties and functions.