Malawach Cheese Pastries with Dipping Sauce

Malawach Cheese Pastries with Dipping Sauce

When the Kosher Connection (a group of kosher food bloggers that I belong to) decided on an April Linkup with the theme “The Best Thing I Ever Ate”, I think we were all excited, but equally spellbound. We can all think of at least a hundred foods that make us say “Wow! that was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted!” How could we possible pick only one?!

You’ve probably realized this by now, but I’m a total foodie. There are so many dishes that I could call my favorites! Like my mom’s cheesy lasagna, my Bubby’s stuffed cabbage, or Pardes’s fries with red wine ketchup. There’s also NoiDue’s mac ‘n cheese balls, Jezebels risotto with truffle “butter” and Chef Avram Wiseman’s wild mushroom & duck confit ravioli in demi-glace sauce. To pick just ONE thing and say that that was the best thing I ever ate is practically impossible.

I started thinking about some of my favorite food memories and I realized something. The best thing I ever ate is about more than just the food I put into my mouth at a given time. It has to do with who I was with, and the memories associated with that experience. It has something to do with comfort. Food that didn’t just taste good, but evokes a feeling of nostalgia and sentiment, even years later.

Some of my best food memories were ones I experienced at Bissaleh, an Israeli-style cafe that was located on Coney Island Avenue & Avenue P in Brooklyn. It’s been closed for years now, but it was once a hub of late-night socializing for people of all ages. Back in my teens, my friend Dina and I would go there in the wee hours of the morning, talking and nibbling like there was no tomorrow. We’d usually order stuffed Bissaleh (Israeli-style spiral boreka), classic malawach, or ftut. We’d also get their amazing steak fries on the side, and of course one of their delicious smoothies like banana, date, milk and honey.

While Bissale allowed it’s patrons to experience an array of Middle Eastern delicacies way into the night, it’s practices were especially shady. The fact that they only accepted cash should have given them away, but there was a lot more to be skeptical about. In the back of the restaurant, down a long corridor, there was a secret hookah bar (way before hookah bars were trendy). From the looks of it though, there may have been a lot more than hookah going on there. Up front, Bissale hailed it’s owned psychic, who would tell you your fortune if you agreed to pay for her meal. We actually did it once, and let me tell you, as crazy as that woman was, she told me some things that were right. on. target.

Bissaleh wasn’t the only happening place on the block. In fact, right next door, there was either a sports bar or a gentlemen’s club, I couldn’t quite figure it out. What I did notice though, is that Bissaleh had a picture frame on the wall that they shared with the bar. The picture would slide open, and they’d periodically send over plates of food or drink to the bar next door. Super shady. It should come as no surprise then, when one night, Bissaleh suddenly closed it’s doors for good, right out of the blue.

A few years later, another Bissaleh location popped up in Miami Beach, FL. They have since closed their doors as well, but I was able to find their simliar menu online, which I’ve included here, for your drooling pleasure.

I’ll never forget those late night outings at Bissaleh. Sure it had a lot to do with the amazing food, but it had more to do with the meals spent with an amazing friend, who’s friendship I have cherished for over 20 years. Dina and I shared a lot more than food there. We joked, we laughed, and sometimes, even cried, over malawach dough.

In light of the April Kosher Connection linkup, I invited Dina over for some deconstructed ftut. I told her about my plans to relive our Bissaleh memories on my blog, and to pay homage to our experiences by choosing ftut as “The Best Thing I Ever Ate”. The only problem with my idea was that ftut is not exactly appealing on a plate. It’s chopped up mallawach dough (a buttery, fried yemenite dough that is similar to puff pastry) that’s baked along with cheese, zaatar and sesame. While it’s superbly delicious, ftut still looks like mush on a plate. So I did what any self-respecting blogger would do – I deconstructed it. These melt-in-your-mouth savory rugelach (rolled pastry) are not only prettier, they’re also more fun to eat. One bite and you’ll be wishing that Bissaleh was still around so you could try the real thing.

Ftut was always served alongside a hardboiled egg, pureed tomato sauce, and spicy schug. The schug was spooned into the center of the pureed tomatoes, so that you could dip your ftut in, picking up as much spice as you desired. The dip really rounded out the dish, taking it from good to over the top. You can use store-bought schug, or make your own, using my recipe below.

Give these deconstructed ftut bites a try, and you’ll understand just why I’ve included them in the “Best Thing I Ever Ate” Linkup. For more “Best Thing I Ever Ate” recipes, see the Kosher Connection Linkup below!

1 year ago: crocheted pacifier clip
2 years ago: BBQ pulled chicken sammies

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34 thoughts on “Malawach Cheese Pastries with Dipping Sauce

  1. I used to love going to Bissaleh back when it was around! I miss that place. Malawach is definitely one of my favorite thing. A Yemenite friend used to make it fresh for my family. So good!

  2. Very interesting and amusing story. And I, too, love malawach all sorts of ways. Never tried it “rugelach” style but it is a wonderful idea for hors d’oeuvre. Here’s a tip for you to consider: sprinkle cheese on whole circle before you cut into wedges; it’s less messy.

  3. I wish Bissaleh was still open, sounds so fun and delicious, I am okay with shady hookah bars :)

    But in lieu of that I love this recipe especially the sauce, I am going to make it for Shabbat if I can get to the store.

  4. There was a similar Bissaleh in Florida too! Why do they all close down??? Thanks for the recipe!

  5. Bissaleh! You perfectly captured that heady cocktail of late nights with friends eating their huge portions of greasy, delicious food, bobbing our heads to the Israeli music–their amazing drinks. I also loved the Fatut–it captures all Bissaleh was in its greasy, messy glory. Thanks for this reminder!

  6. I just made these – AWESOME!!! Wish I would have found these earlier, this will be my new brunch hosting staple, so simple to make and absolutely amazing.

  7. The sports bar / gentlemans club was upstairs, next door. Not literally next door. Next door was the actual, sit down restaurant part of Bissaleh, while the hookah part you are describing was the “lounge” part. The sliding door was used to pass food from the restaurant kitchen, to the lounge. In the back was the room where boys and girls would socialize until 4 am. Hookah was almost always nasty, but for $5 omelet sandwiches and $7 hookah, you can’t go wrong.

  8. Soon after bissaleh opened, nyc instituted no smoking laws in restaurants…but not so for bissaleh! The yellowed newspaper wallpaper and fabulous Ftuts made even secondhand smoke appealing. I had the version that was stuffed with olives and mushrooms and feta cheese. Amazing. I came across this post looking at how to recreate decades later.

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