I have a HUGE sweet tooth, and for me no meal is complete without some sort of dessert. You can find many ways to get a sugar rush in Jordan, but when it comes to the traditional sweets, I haven’t been convinced. Zalabia was way too sticky, Basbousa felt like I was eating pure syrup, baklava has been banned for me since I ODed on it in Turkey, knafeh is made from dairy and makes me feel like I’ve just eaten a whole entire house and qatayef is only around during Ramadan and reminds of the sticky basbousa, but filled with creme.
However, one day, I was introduced to what I would like to call the heroin of Levantine desserts – halva, also known as halawa.
Now before I get into why exactly this dessert is the Levantine heroin, let’s learn a little bit more about it…
Halva Around the World
Halva, which literally means “sweet”, is a dessert of many names (halawa, alva, haleweh, halava, helava, helva, halwa, halua, aluva, chalva, chałwa) as it can be found across not only the Middle East, but also in South Asia, Central Asia, West Asia, the Caucasus, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, the Balkans, Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Malta. A different, crunchier, form of halva can also be found in China.
Halva can be either flour-based or nut-butter-based. In Jordan you will find the latter, made specifically from a base of tahini (sesame seed paste). To make the halva, tahini is mixed with sugar and ‘erq al halaweh (soapwort, nope, I hadn’t heard of it either) to give it its crumbly and granular texture. It can also be flavored with pistachios, almonds or chocolate.
Why halva is heroin
My first experience with this dessert was when my boyfriend brought the pistachio encrusted version home for me to try. He cut me a tiny piece, I tried it, liked it, but instantly felt I had overdosed and felt the cavities starting to form in my molars. I swore to myself I would never eat it again. The next day I went back to the package and cut the same size slice, finished that, and cut a little bit more off, the next day a little bit more…until I found myself one day demolishing off half of the 500g package in one sitting… Point in case, it’s heroin.
If you haven’t tried it yet, be forewarned, it is extremely addicting so make sure you have good insurance to cover all of the cavities you will be getting and also the adult-onset type II diabetes. It’s worth it.