When I told my husband I was going to make this week’s blog about Palestinian street food, he looked at me for several seconds. Just as I was going to explain what I meant by the phrase he said, “You mean like ka’ak bi simsim? And falafel? And nammura? And hamleh ya milan? And duraa mashwiyeh?” The names came pouring out of his mouth so fast I could barely register them.
Ka’ak bi simsim is doughnut shaped bread made with milk and egg for added rich taste, and rolled in sesame seeds before baking. Street vendors who sell the ka’ak always have little packets of za’atar, often wrapped in cones of newspaper, to sprinkle on the soft inside of the ka’ak. The za’atar that goes with ka’ak is mixed with a lot of salt and does not have olive oil mixed with it. The result is a gray-green powder rather than the deep green of the za’atar used for other dishes. Some vendors also sell baked eggs to be eaten with the ka'ak. Baked eggs look very much like boiled eggs, but according to those who know they're easier to peel. See more about the advantages of baked eggs and how to make them: http://www.theburlapbag.com/2012/03/make-hard-boiled-eggs-in-the-oven/
While I have never met anyone of any age who didn’t like ka’ak bi simsim, it is the snack of choice of almost all school children. It tastes good, it’s filling, it’s cheap, and there is almost always a vendor near the school at lunch time or at the end of the day. What more could a kid want?
Hamleh ya milan also called hamleh ya belileh or hummus mashwieh (roasted chickpeas) is another favorite of youngsters. It is only available just before the chickpeas are harvested, while they’re still green. Some people take the chickpeas out of their pods and roast them in an oven, adding salt and lemon. They may taste good, but it takes away all the fun. I have only eaten hamleh from young boys who sell small bunches of the chickpea plant, similar to parlsey bunches in our supermarkets. The bunches have been roasted—leaves, stems, pods, chickpeas and all. From the scorch marks on many of the leaves and pods, I gather think it is done over an open fire. Sitting on the front steps and looking through your bunch to get all of the chickpeas is as much fun as eating them. Maybe the knowledge that they are only available for a few days out of the year is what makes them taste so good.
The following video is a clip called “Palestinian Food Tour” from Planet Food with Egyptian/Chinese restaurateur Bobby Chinn. It features some good food, some good shots of Palestine, and around the 3:45 mark there is a quick view of a ka’ak vendor riding by on a bicycle—on his way to a local school perhaps, or a construction site, or any place where hungry people may be walking by.