Regular konafa just does not make the cut anymore. These days, the quintessential Ramadan dessert has to carry a little something extra, be it fruit, Nutella or even food coloring. For the past few years, Ramadan desserts in Egypt have added a twist, with confectioners and dessert stores across the country getting more experimental by the year. Chocolate Om Ali bowls, blueberry cheesecake konafas and red velvet zalabya cups are now completely acceptable post-iftar fixtures welcomed at family and friend gatherings throughout the holy month.
We believe it may have all started with the “konafa bel manga” craze back in Ramadan of 2011. Just in time for mango season, the new innovative dessert, simply consisting of fresh mango slices and cream stuffed inside konafa, immediately swept the nation, polarizing millions of unsuspecting Egyptians. While many embraced the creation, konafa purists were horrified by the audacity to mess with a traditional regional delicacy.
Nevertheless, konafa bel manga was a huge hit, ushering in a wave of annual “east meets west” desserts. Stuffing our beloved Ramadan pastries with Nutella soon followed and neither qatayef, balah-al-sham, nor konafa were safe from the gooey chocolate hazelnut spread. The following year, confectioners took the idea of putting a Western spin on Ramadan desserts to a whole new level with the introduction of the “red velvet” movement, with basbousa, konafa, qatayef and more sweets getting the red food coloring treatment.
Not all creative ideas are a hit though; the short-lived “blue velvet” fad hoped to mirror its red counterpart’s success but failed to gain traction.
Perhaps even before konafa bel manga became mainstream, Nola Cupcakes was one of the first to introduce the idea of Westernized oriental sweets with their konafa and 3asaleya cupcakes introduced many Ramadans ago, to name just one example. Several restaurants also opt to “Ramadanize” their desserts every year; Mince’s Elvis French Toast (stuffed with Nutella and banana slices), for instance, got the Ramadan treatment last year, with its toast replaced with konafa.
Every year, big-name confectioners like Coppermelt, Duke’s, La Poire, Sale Sucre and many others all compete to introduce the most outlandish, out-of-the-box and delicious dessert ideas hoping it will successfully take the country by storm. Nowadays, desserts have gone overboard, combining multiple ingredients and-increasingly-multiple dessert types. Devour’s Ramabomb creation was the epitome of this idea, consisting of “chunks of red velvet, brownies, chocolate chips, konafa cubes, melted Cadbury, and mixed together with cream cheese”. La Poire’s Konafa-Basbousa Pistachio Cake creation was another, proving that these innovations have surpassed limits, norms and even basic taste.
While the more classic sweets that have been around for generations reflect authenticity, affordability and mass appeal, the new-age desserts are perceived to be more upscale, Westernized, and forward-thinking, reflecting the very demographic they cater to. This same target audience would not mind spending over 200 EGP for dessert, unlike the average Egyptian. These increasingly bizarre concoctions have become so widespread that those looking to buy a good old-fashioned no-frills konafa or basbousa may face trouble finding them. In fact, the simple act of eating an oriental pastry without any of the embellishments has become a resistance against all that is trendy, fashionable, or “in”.
With the Egyptian dessert industry booming all year round and new confectioners frequently appearing on the map, one could predict that we will be seeing even more imaginative spins on our beloved Ramadan staples in the years to come.