There were trays and trays full of baklava in different shapes and with various fillings. We got the grand tour – ‘lady’s fingers’, shaped, well, like lady’s fingers; small round ones with hollow centers called ‘grandmother’s bracelet’; many layered open triangles overflowing with pistachoes called ‘fish’s mouth’; and trays of traditional Syrian sweets such as kunafa, basbousa and warbat. For 22 years, Mohamad Noor Alghazzawi owned a factory specializing in Syrian desserts in Damascus. He used to export his specialty baklavas to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, even the U.S.
I asked him for his recipe for the ‘fish’s mouth’ baklava: flour, water, salt, ghee. (Wait, no store bought phyllo pastry sheets?). No, you make the dough, and roll out each layer by hand, with cornstarch so it doesn’t stick; cut it into squares, and fold one corner to another; and put it in the oven at 350 degrees for an hour. For the filling, toast pistachoes and grind by hand; add lemon blossom water, a little sugar, some syrup, and mix. Then stuff, the fish’s mouth. Mohammad was not clear about measurements and quantities; I suppose after 22 years, his hands hold the recipes.
Mohammad now works in a car wash, and lives in Landover, MD with his wife and two kids, 8 and 3. His dream is to own a bakery, have a house, and be able to take care of his children. In the meantime, he loves making desserts and selling them at bazaars, like the ADAMS pre-Ramadan bazaar we were attending, or catering for parties. My friend and I bought two pieces of warbat oozing with sweet cheese. Mohammad didn’t want to take our money; we insisted; he finally obliged.
It amazes me that this soft spoken man baked all day so that he could earn a little extra money to support his family, but would so much rather share his treats for free with new found friends. It’s a generosity I’ve seen repeated over and over.
Before I left the bazaar I came back to Mohammad to ask him if he would wrap my warbat plate in cellophane so I could take it home; he did, but not before he tucked in a few extra pieces of baklava.
Photos: George Kolotov
To support Mohammad’s efforts and others like him, please donate to the nonprofit Mozaic who is helping refugees set up their businesses and connect them to clients: http://www.mozaicinc.org