Kaak warka is one of Tunisia’s flavorful halu arbi, traditional bite-size pastries often served at special occasions. Simple in appearance yet packed with flavor, kaak warka has long been my favorite of the halu arbi. So on a recent visit to Zaghouan, the unofficial capital of kaak warka, I was eager to find out more. My journey reminded me that sometimes with travel, it truly is the small things that stand out.
Kaak Warka of Zaghouan – The Legend
Amna Moulay welcomed me and my friend into her home-based pastry workshop in Zaghouan’s old quarter. We sat down in the traditionally decorated room, and Amna told us about kaak warka’s Andalusian heritage.
The story goes that when Andalusians were forced out of southern Spain in the 17th century, they baked their precious jewels in simple looking dough to hide them from would-be plunderers. Andalusian families did in fact settle in Zaghouan and several other locations in Tunisia. Later generations in Zaghouan honored their ancestors’ journey with the sweet pastry kaak warka. Now they use almond paste to represent the hidden jewels in the dough.
Kaak Warka of Zaghouan – A Taste of Heaven
After telling us about the history, Amna showed us how to make kaak warka. It starts with making a sweet,soft dough that has plenty of good quality butter. The baker rolls out the dough into paper thin sheets. Amna told us this is where the name comes from – literally “paper cake” in Arabic. The baker adds almond paste, wraps the thin dough around it several times to form a tube, shapes it into a ring and bakes it.
And the result? Let’s just say they’re a taste of heaven. They’re slightly crunchy on the outside, and soft and buttery in the middle. They have a sweet almond flavor, and an aromatic hint from the addition of the distilled water of the burnet rose. Known as nisri in Tunisian dialect, this white and yellow rose is found in the hills around Zaghouan. The small cakes are sweet but not too sweet, and go perfect with a bittersweet cup of Turkish coffee (qahwa arbi).
Kaak Warka of Zaghouan – Cultural Gems
Kaak warka are delicious, but it’s their notable place in Tunisian culture that stands out to me. Like the other halu arbi, kaak warka are reserved for occasions where the host wants to show special honor to guests. This could be at wedding parties or holiday gatherings. Hosts might serve them to friends or family whom they haven’t seen in a while. The small pastries, bearing the weight of history, heritage, and tradition, help proclaim the bold message, “This visit is important – you are important.”
That’s the great thing about traditional foods in Tunisia, and indeed across the world. Traditional foods go beyond great flavor. There’s an inextricable link with the culture that makes indulging in them an event unto itself.
Short and Sweet Experiences
As we continued our day in Zaghouan with a hike on its beautiful mountain, I thought about how discovering a local favorite like kaak warka is one of those small, but memorable experiences that makes travel truly special.
During your travels in Tunisia, I hope you’re able to have many experiences along the way that help connect you to the local culture. Happy travels and enjoy!
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