I have to admit that it was a real treat to revisit my old haunts as part of revitalizing my ethnojunket, The Flavors of Little Levant and Little Yemen in Bay Ridge (read about my ethnojunkets here); the other part, of course, was tasting the goodies I had been missing during COVID isolation for the past many months.
(Click on any image to view it in high resolution.)
These dense, rich semolina squares came from Paradise Sweets, 6739 5th Ave, Brooklyn. The nomenclature can get a bit sticky (not unlike the orange blossom/rose-water sugar-syrupy Middle Eastern treats themselves): the pistachio nut laden delicacy perched on top was identified to me as Basbousa, the two supporting players as Harissa. The harissa dressed with an almond is the basic version, the other is shot through with crunchy, flavorful fenugreek seeds.
A limited amount of interweb research (hey, you try typing with sticky fingers and see how far you get) suggested that basbousa and harissa refer to the same dessert, the choice of noun reflecting where in the world you happen to be. So far, so good. But it seems that they’re also called namoura and revani. And then, naturally, there are the English orthographic variations (haresa, hareeseh, hareesa, harisah, ad infinitum – and those are just for harissa) and a few in Arabic as well.
Wikipedia teaches us: “Basbousa is the dessert’s Egyptian name and it is called the same in North Africa. It is often called ‘hareesa’ in the Levant, and also the Egyptian city of Alexandria, though in other parts of Egypt hareesa is a different type of dessert. Also note that ‘harissa’ in North Africa is a spicy red sauce.”
And as if that last bit weren’t enough, we should also take note of the dish harissa (aka jareesh), a porridge made from boiled cracked wheat, which itself is another name for the meatier halissa, halim or haleem, a fixture in Central Asian cuisine around Navruz (aka Nowruz elsewhere) which I wrote about here.
Right. Not confusing at all.
But what’s in a name? That which we call rose water by any other name would taste as sweet!