Greek bougatsa, tamreyeh Nabelseyeh, and identity

Sometimes, it’s easy to forget just how new borders and nationhoods are. It’s even easier to forget that globalization in our part of the world (the “Old World”) has been around for centuries, if not millennia. We have always lived in a cultural osmosis, with constant seeping of food, words, ideas, costumes, clothes, and almost everything else, a cultural osmosis that knows no borders or identity, no religion or geography.

Last month in Athens, my husband and I randomly picked a popular-looking coffee shop to rest and get some water and coffee. After getting a nasty look from the waitress because I mistakenly asked for “Turksish coffee” instead of “Greek coffee” (both varieties tasting exactly like our own coffee, of course), we noticed that everyone in the coffee shop was ordering the same item: a fried-looking pastry covered with white powder. Upon inquiry, we were told by the same waitress (now pleased by our interest in Greek food) that the pastry is called “bougatsa”, and that it’s a very special Greek dish unique to an area called Thessaloniki. Never able to resist a dessert specialty, my husband and I braved how deep fried the bougatsa looked for so early in the morning and ordered some:

Upon eating the first bite, imagine my surprise as I realized that I was actually eating tamreyeh Nabelseyeh, a dessert specialty (that I thought was) unique to my family’s small Palestinian hometown of Nables. Tamreyeh is so specific to Nables that even my non-Nabelsi husband, who makes dessert for a living, had never had it before.

I went inside the store to see how they make it, and I was taken back to 20 years ago, when my grandmother used to show off her dough tossing skills as she made tamreyeh, and when I would steal some of the semolina custard stuffing.

Here is a video of that coffee shop making bougatsa:

And here is a video of tamreyeh being made in Amman:

It turned out the original version started out in Constantinople, and was “culturally spread” by the Ottoman empire. It seems like the Greek version is not deep fried, but baked.

The best tamreyeh in Amman is available at Tamreyet Omar on the 2nd Circle.

3 thoughts on “Greek bougatsa, tamreyeh Nabelseyeh, and identity”

  1. I had the same experience a couple of months back (Haitham knows about it), was wondering around eat-street, an ex-shipyard now multinational cuisine place, and i ordered Honey Puffs, asked the lady what cuisine is it from and she answered: Greek.

    Now i know that Honey Puffs (3awwemeh) is actually Greek, tastes great with caramel and vanilla ice cream.

    bn3eesh wo bnshoof..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.