Part food truck, part nightclub, part street party, and part stand-up comedy: this is the Knafeh Bakery experience, presented by the ever-jolly Bearded Bakers.
A family-run business handled by brothers AJ El-Issa and Joey El-Issa, sister Mouna Emsis, and mother Nabila El-Issa, the Knafeh craze began in their Croydon restaurant, Shisha Bar. When the public’s demand for Nabila’s trademark Knafeh began slowing down the restaurant’s regular service, the family decided to set aside a special space for Knafeh production. And what a spectacularly special space it became.
It’s hard to tell what first draws you into Knafeh Bakery’s festive world of smiles, laughs, and tasty comfort food. Perhaps it’s the excited crowds, the spontaneous witty commentary broadcasted live over the microphone, or the super-groovy music. Or– this is my personal theory– it could be the pure and simple fact that these guys are having a grand old time. And everyone else can’t help but join in.
While a high-energy mix of Western dance club hits and Middle Eastern tunes fills the air, the Bearded Bakers sing and dance along, serving up plates of Knafeh and cups of Moroccan tea as they go. There’s booty shaking. Air guitaring. Improvised percussion instruments. If you aren’t in a party mood, you soon will be.
As for the Knafeh itself (pronounced “kunafeh” and also sometimes spelled that way): what exactly is it? It’s a popular Middle Eastern street food, made of a mild, soft sheep’s milk or goat’s milk cheese topped with flaky pastry, a sprinkling of pistachio nuts, and a drizzle of syrup. To the uninitiated, it appears to be a plain-looking little disk of orange-brown pastry or biscuit.
But my oh my, crack through that delicate crust and lift the spoon to your mouth, and WHAMMO– it’s a smooth, lightly sweet puddle of warmth and magic, enveloping you with a nutty, milky flavor and slight notes of vanilla. It’s squishy, gooey, stretchy, and a bit fluffy all at once. The crispy crust is wonderfully hearty yet fragile on the tongue, and the pistachios and orange blossom syrup provide additional crunch and sweetness.
Yep, I’d be as cheerful as these guys if I could eat this all day!
Though the lines are long, the food service is quick, and there’s always a helpful bearded gentleman ready to usher you to a makeshift seat and table– both cleverly fashioned out of milk crates. Said gentleman noticed my, um… lack of height (okay, I’ll come out and say it: I’m a short person), and valiantly helped me balance on a milk crate to take these photographs. (Thank you, bearded dude! May many good things come right back at you!)
You’ll find Knafeh Bakery’s Bearded Bakers perpetually wandering about Sydney in their distinctive food stall– which is actually an old shipping container decorated with fanciful street art. As of the time of this article, they’re at the Parramatta Lanes festival until Friday, October 9. Don’t fret if you miss them at Parramatta; jump online and scope out their next delicious gig!