What’s cooking? Katayef

With Ramadan now over, a look back at some of break fast’s sweet treats

Ghazi Shaheen pours out sweet pancakes, katayef, while (right) his two sons help at the family’s restaurant in the Old City. (photo credit: DUDI SAAD/THE MEDIA LINE)
Ghazi Shaheen pours out sweet pancakes, katayef, while (right) his two sons help at the family’s restaurant in the Old City.
(photo credit: DUDI SAAD/THE MEDIA LINE)
Deep within the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City, the Shaheen restaurant lies tucked away, the aroma of cooking desserts luring passing tourists to stop and investigate.
A team of young boys efficiently flicked pancakes from the hot grill and caught them in a basket, under the supervision of their father. What was cooking? Katayef, a sweet to break the dusk-to-dawn Ramadan fast.
The rapid approach of Id al-Fitr meant that Ramadan was almost over. Throughout the holiest month in the Islamic calendar Muslims fast, consuming no food or water, during the hours of daylight. Each evening, to signal the end of the vigil, families gather with friends and neighbors to celebrate with the iftar meal. Central to this are the katayef pancakes like those Ghazi Shaheen and his sons had spent the last month cooking.
“We learned this pancake from our great-great-grandfather – our family was working [like this] nearly 300 years ago,” Shaheen told The Media Line.
In the past, mixing the batter was extremely time consuming, but things have improved since the introduction of machines to do the work, Shaheen said. But the rest of the work is still done by hand. Fortunately, Shaheen’s four sons were on holiday and so were on hand to help out.
His boys normally come to work after finishing school for the day, as he did for his father from the age of 10, Shaheen said, pointing to a photograph of his father preparing identical pancakes over a grill 30 years earlier.
But his sons don’t seem to mind. “We like to work with our family. We will keep doing this until we go to university,” Nidal, the youngest at 11, said.
Katayef is cooked during the morning in small kebab shops, like Shaheen’s, and collected by shoppers on their way home after midday prayers. At home, the pancake is rolled and stuffed with sweet cream cheese, walnuts or honey and is eaten as a dessert.
Arab cuisine is famous for its appeal to the sweet tooth, with dishes like knafe and baklava guaranteed to give you a sugar rush, and the pancakes prepared during Ramadan were no exception.
All day, while preparing the katayef, Shaheen was fasting, something that couldn’t be easy surrounded by the smell of browning pancakes.
“It’s not too difficult, [though] the first day of Ramadan [can] be hard. But then the next day it will be regular,” he said.
Exactly when the Ramadan fasting will end and the small restaurant would go back to cooking lamb kebab for the remainder of the year was not yet clear. As Shaheen explained, “We don’t know when it will [end].”
Id al-Fitr begins when the new moon is spotted in the night sky over Jerusalem by religious leaders. Maybe that would be tomorrow, maybe the day after, he concluded.