On a warm sunny day, I find myself navigating the by lanes of Dongri. They’re dotted with old hardware shops, new medicine shops and closed Parsi cafes. In a quest for a very special dessert that is numbered in its authentic presence in the country, I ask around for the ‘Kunafa Point’ until a strong sugary aroma hits me. The whiff in the air leads me to a small office and before I can even contemplate entering, a man peeps out.
“Are you looking for Kunafa Point?” he asks. I nod excitedly and hungrily as he takes me inside. I am baffled by space I find myself in; where half of the tiny air-conditioned room seems like a corporate office while the other half has been repurposed into a kitchen. Behind the kitchen counter is a young man dressed in office formals sporting kitchen gloves. Sufyan Qureshi, a 29-year-old part-time corporate recruiter and part-time food recruiter, is preparing the mouth-watering Kunafas, a popular and traditional middle eastern delicacy that he introduced to Mumbai.
Originating from the Palestinian city of Nebula, the Kunafa is a heavy dessert made with cheese pastry soaked in a sweet sugar-based syrup and enveloped with shreds of qatayef, infused with saffron. As a child growing up in Saudi Arabia, with parents who worked for the Royal Kingdom, Sufyan would often get to savour traditional Middle Eastern food, his favourite undoubtedly being the Kunaafa that his mother dearly made for him. After moving to India, Sufyan had another tryst with Kunafa, this time at a food festival. “Back in 2016, when my friend invited me to a food fest, I impulsively decided to participate. I wanted to be different so I thought why not introduce Mumbai to Kunafa. A quick few lessons from my mother and I went on to prepare the Kunafas. They were sold out within hours. At the food fest, we impulsively called ourselves the Foodiementals and the name stuck around for a while. Four months later, Sufyan had already represented the Turkish Consulate in India and served Kunafa to global delegates. In October 2017, he established his start-up, The Kunafa Point that now delivers these delicious Middle Eastern pastries on order.
Though Kunafas traditionally have a filling of cheese, Sufyan creates a variant which is a combination of cream and cheese. “It is not possible to get the cheese that they use in the Middle East over here. Mozzarella is the closest which comes to it, but it’s too salty. Although I drain the salt, I still feel that the Indian palette isn’t quite ready to have only cheese in their desserts. So I balance it with a sweet cream base and slightly modify it for the people here,” he says. Sufyan then gets up to prepare fresh Kunaafas for us. He fills two diamond shape moulds with shreds of saffron qatayef that he imports from Greece and pours cream cheese batter into one and just cheese batter into the other to give us a taste of both the variants. The batter is covered with another layer of qatayef and put to bake in an oven. Once baked, the hot Kunafas are infused with some sugar syrup and garnished with pistachio. He serves it to us on a traditional bamboo plate.
As I dig into the rich cream cheese variant, various flavours tickle my palate. It tastes like a perfect combination of a western dessert amalgamated with an Indian sweet. The cream cheese Kunafa, rich, sweet and wholesome tastes a lot like a classic cheesecake but the flavour of saffron gives it a more traditional and crisp taste. I then try the ‘only cheese’ variant, which I personally enjoyed more. Not too sweet, the cheese perfectly balances the sweet taste of the sugar syrup and saffron, while slowly melting in my mouth. The Kunafas more than just satiate the stomach, but the heart desires more of it.
“This is quite heavy,” I say still relishing its taste. “It is supposed to be. In fact, history suggests that Kunafa was had as breakfast by Arabic warriors before they left to fight. They’d remain full the entire day and hunger wouldn’t distract them. Just imagine the Arabs dip it in honey and have it. Even Nutella and Red Velvet Kunafas have made their way into the market,” he chuckles.
Juggling between office calls and orders for Kunafa, Sufyan has quite a lot on his plate but he cooks up a storm managing both his job and his food venture. Just the previous day he has delivered an order of 200 Kunafas after working on them overnight. “The next thing on the agenda is to start a proper delivery kitchen, one that doesn’t operate out of an office”, he says amused, and then adds as an afterthought, ambitiously. “I get a lot of clients that often frequent the Middle East placing orders for Kunafa, but I want to now concentrate on taking it to people whose only familiarity with Middle Eastern food remains the good old Baklava.”
All Photographs by Rashi Arora
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