I definitely had a sweet tooth as a young’un (no, I’m not going to start talking about the DPRK again), possibly more so than now. After discovering what Pepperidge Farm (they vend cookies, breads and biscuits, AND can be found in expat-friendly supermarkets overseas) was, besides Nilla Wafers and anything Bahlsen the only two cookies I’d want were Milano and Chessmen. Those latter two were a bit easier to find in the supermarket at the time, and it didn’t help that they went so well with liquid lactose. Though, there’s one dessert I remember wanting more than anything else (shoot, maybe except for Reese’s Pieces) – Halva.
Halva (I remember its spelling as halavah), a sweet confection available anywhere from the Balkans east to Bangladesh, either in sticky form or in a highly crumbly, so-dang-dry motif. Istanbul Airport is crazy about the stuff, and I’m pretty sure the word means “sweet” in Arabic. The green grocer nearest me had a version made of crushed sesame seeds, and then the chocolate-covered type was introduced. I like to finish my plate, barring cultures where it’s rude to do so or when someone gives me a bar of sesame halva. If I produced a time-lapse video of my anomalous struggles with the damn thing, you’ll be kept posted. Last year, I went to a Persian restaurant with a mate, and they served tahini with the pita, a nice surprise. I told him to put a bit of sugar on it, and presto, halva was born. The picture above is from a pleasant surprise of the sesame kind in Luxor, Egypt, right before a torrent of schoolkids yelled at me for cutting through their alleyway. Very New Yorker, I dig it.
India has a royal sampler of halva as well, check it: semolina, carrot (gajar halwa; always on the look out for this one), wheat, almond, pistachio, cashew, date, coconut, and various fruit/nut/legumes, with many usually topped by a silver lining. Literally, you can eat gold leaf in Japan and silver in India:
Though I’m wondering about the difference between barfi, another Indian sweet composed of condensed milk, and halwa, if only because I’ve seen the name used interchangeably when describing the same carrot dessert.
It’s still a nice snack, but it’s overpowering and thus I don’t eat as much as before, but I still wanted to give halva its due. Yet, that hasn’t stopped me from eating at a buffet at an airport or setting a new record for gaijin in a Tokyo kaitenzushi restaurant.