Iraqi family connects Canadian communities through beloved dessert

The story of the baklava is a controversial one as many groups such as Turks, Arabs, Jews and Greeks claim the dessert as their own. 

But regardless of how these groups prepare their baklava in Canada or elsewhere, what they all have in common is their commitment to family, love of traditional food and the immigrant experience. 

The Kurmanjji family in Halifax has started an online business selling Turkish baklava, traditionally made by filling in the layers of dough with pistachios, to support themselves financially and to continue their family’s food tradition as makers of sweets. 

Owner of Kurmanjji, Sadiq Kurmanjji, said he’s been following the footsteps of his uncles, with one owning a shop selling baklava, cakes and all kinds of sweets and the other owning a chocolate factory in Baghdad, Iraq, where he’s from. 

“It’s in the family,” said Kurmanjji, who has been making and perfecting the art of the baklava for 10 years since his high school days, and feels he’s ready now to make and sell his own. 

Aysenur Akkaya, a Turkish professor, writes in the International Rural Tourism and Development Journal that baklava was considered the favourite dessert in Ottoman times, and was given to guests during Ramadan, on holidays and at celebrations. 

“In this period, the baklava has taken its present shape by opening the phyllo dough as a membrane. Baklava is a pastry dessert known and loved in many countries of the world,” Akkaya said in her article ‘Past, Present and Tomorrow of Baklava.’ 

It’s also loved by people in Halifax from all backgrounds, especially immigrants, who Sadiq says have been showing their excitement and supporting the business by ordering boxes of the sweet and crunchy dessert. 

“By eating different food, you learn a lot about people’s cultures,” said Kurmanjji. He said it takes about eight to 10 hours to make six trays of baklava, and he makes them with the help of his wife as it’s something that requires patience and care. 

According to Akkaya, making baklava is difficult. “The very thin membrane opening of the phyllo dough adds baklava delicacy. This requires mastery. Therefore, in making baklava, man power and skillful masters are needed,” she wrote. 

This is why Sadiq takes pride in his work after many years of trying to master the making of this sweet. He said a badly made baklava would only have a sugary taste, while a skillfully made one must balance the sweetness with the rich taste of the pistachio or the hazelnut. 

Kurmanjji said people can have a taste of the baklavas by ordering a box online here, which then gets delivered to the buyer at their chosen location. 

However, he hopes to find a retail space soon for his business, and even though that’s proven challenging during COVID-19, he says he’s not worried. “It’s in my family’s history to do this, so it’s just a matter of time.” 

By Aya Al-Hakim

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