Middle East: Lebanon Food Atlas Project- Znoud Al-Sit

Ramzi Tabbara
GWU Geog 2133: People, Land and Food- Spring 2011
Middle East: Lebanon Food Atlas Project- Znoud Al-Sit
The nation of Lebanon is situated in the Middle East, along the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.
It has long been at the crossroads of trade, religion, and culture between East and West. At
times this culture has combined harmoniously into arguably one of the richest in the world.
However, it has also led to violence and division. The country’s rich culture, diversity,
strategic location, historical conflict and pain, and uniqueness shine through in its cuisine.
It is my belief that Lebanese sweets help turn some of the country’s historical pain into
pleasure by using the locally available and diverse ingredients of Lebanon’s agricultural
landscape. One such pleasure is the Lebanese pastry called Znoud Al-Sit.
Znoud Al-Sit
Znoud Al-Sit, means the “underarm of the grandmother” in Arabic.
While this description sounds quite disgusting, old ladies are
portrayed as having sweet personalities in Lebanon and it is
synonymous with comfort. Znoud Al Sit is made of crispy phyllo
dough on the outside, rolled into a cylindrical shell, and filled with kashta cream on the
inside, while being covered with Arabic syrup on the outside. It’s often decorated with
pistachios, orange peels, jelly, more kashta, or a combination of ingredients. Phyllo dough
is made with flour, water, and a small amount of oil and arak, which is the traditional
alcoholic beverage of Lebanon. The first forms of phyllo dough appear to have a Central
Asian Turkic origin in the 11th century. Kashta is a heavy cream that originated in Lebanon or Syria and is made by
skimming the thickest part of the cream from whey, or the liquid that remains after milk has been curdled and
strained. Arabic syrup, known as qatr, is made using mainly sugar, water, lemon, and orange blossom water.
(Picture: http://www.albohsali.com/sweets/znoud-el-sit/)
The Geography of Znoud Al-Sit
All of the ingredients necessary for Znoud Al-Sit come from the Lebanese agricultural landscape. Phyllo dough is
made from flour, and flour is made by grinding cereal grains. In North Lebanon and the Beqaa Valley of Eastern
Lebanon, cereal grains are one of the primary crops grown. Livestock production primarily takes place in BaalbekHermel, which is in the Northern Beqaa or the Northeast of the country, and in the mountainous parts of the nation.
Lebanon has nearly 76,000 cattle, the majority of which are dairy
producing. From the cattle’s milk, the thickest part is skimmed from the
whey to make Kashta. Additionally, forty-percent of the cattle in Lebanon
are of the local Baladi breed, while the rest have been historically
imported from Germany and Holland. Pistachio plants can be found in
North and South Lebanon, and the Beqaa Valley. Pistachios are used as a
topping. Orange peels and jellies are both are taken from fruits grown in
the same three regions as pistachios, and along the coast. As for the qatr,
or Arabic syrup, sugarcane has long been a major crop of the Lebanese
landscape and can be found predominantly in the North, South, and Beqaa
Valley. Orange blossoms that go into the orange blossomed water come
from the orange crops which can be found
in high quantities along the Lebanese coast
line, with banana and date plants. (Picture
right: http://www.unhcr.org/494fba884.html and
picture left: http://www.mapcruzin.com/free-mapsthematic/lebanon_econ_1979.jpg)
The original Abdul Rahman Al-Hallab & Sons
The History of Znoud Al-Sit
The clearest history of Lebanese sweets is the modern history, especially for
kashta based sweets. The first sweets store in Lebanon seems to have opened
in the capital city of Beirut in 1844 and was called the Ahmad Khalil Arayssi
Pastry Company. It focused on making baklava and mamoul rather than
cream or cheese based sweets like Znoud-Al Sit. The company still exists,
but is not highly successful. In 1870, Saadeddine Bohsali & Sons opened its
doors in downtown Beirut. Saadeddine was a master patissier in Beirut, when
he decided to open an official business in 1870 that he referred to as a “sweet
factory.” It was truly the first mainstream and highly successful Lebanese
Pastry Company. In 1881, in the northern and second-largest city of Tripoli,
Abdul Rahman Al-Hallab and Sons opened its doors in the downtown,
commercial district. Abdul Rahman Hallab & Sons became one of the most
commercially successful companies in competition with Al Bohsali & Sons.
The Hallab company is important because it appears to be the initial,
mainstream inventor of the sweet cheese and kastha filled sweets, such as
Znoud Al-Sit and Halawat Al-Jibn, which is sweet cheese filled with kastha.
Over the following decades, Tripoli was established as the heart of Lebanese
sweets and pastries.
Most of the pastries made in Lebanon are widely regarded as “Middle Eastern
pastries.” While the origins of baklava are widely debated, there is little dispute
that the kashta and cheese based pastries originated in Lebanon. Al Bohsali and
Al Hallab remain the most successful, popular brand of “Middle Eastern” sweets
in Lebanon and around the region. Millions of Lebanese have emigrated across
the world and still have several varieties of Lebanese sweets shipped to their
homes, stores, and restaurants. As more Lebanese chefs emigrate, more
Lebanese pastry stores are opening globally. However, from personal
experience, I must say they lack the unique, rich taste of the sweets made in
Lebanon. (Picture left: http://www.albohsali.com/sweets/ Picture right:
10 chips of Baklawa Pastry (20cm)
10 cups of Arabic cream (Kashta)
4 cups of oil for frying
4 cups of Arabic Syrup
lemon flower (optional) and minced pistachio to garnish
1. Take the Baklawa Pastry and cut it into long stripes and 10cm wide.
2. Put each two stripes of the pastry on top of each other and half a stripe
on top of the two but in a cross type.
3. Put two teaspoons of Arabic cream (Kashta) on top where the pastry stripes meet.
4. Fold the right and left side of the pastry on top of the Kashta and then roll it lengthwise around the Kashta.
5. Prepare all the pastry the same way then fry them in the oil until they get a golden color.
6. Take them out of the oil and put them in the Syrup after you have decreased the oil on them.
7. Decorate by putting some kashta on the middle top, some minced pistachio and lemon flower (optional)
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