Kenya Food

SWEETIES

Halwa, the sweet swahili exstasy of the coast

Typical arab dessert with spice and roses flavour

21-01-2021 by Leni Frau

If you are on the Kenyan coast and have a sweet tooth, you cannot miss out on the ecstasy of Halwa.
Named after the Arabic word 'helw', which literally means 'sweet', Halwa is an exquisite dessert that is popular throughout the Middle East, Asia and parts of Africa.
The customs of the Kenyan coast derive from an intriguing, thousand-year history of interchange with the entire Indian Ocean region from the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf. Arab sailors from Oman brought halwa for the long Indian Ocean crossings to Tanzania and Kenya, stored in palm leaf containers to preserve it and keep it edible for several months.
With the arrival of Arab traders, the habits and customs of their culture took root, including gastronomy.
This tradition has been handed down from generation to generation and even today, all along the Kenyan coast, it is still possible to enjoy this special dessert of such distant origins.
Halwa is a jelly-like dessert, rich in calories and dangerously addictive.
The aromas of brown sugar, the floral notes of rosewater and the scent of cardamom permeate the air of hidden alleys from Lamu to Malindi, from Mombasa to Stone Town. Other key ingredients are tapioca starch, which gives it its velvety texture, honey or sugar in large quantities, clarified butter, saffron for the reddish colour and sometimes almond slivers or sesame seeds as a garnish. It is excellent served with a cup of bitter black coffee or spiced tea, as is still the custom in some of Mombasa's typical restaurants.
Halwa is very popular and appreciated for all important occasions and celebrations such as weddings and birthdays, but especially during the fasting periods of Ramadhan as a small amount restores sugar levels and restores energy.
It can be served in large aluminium trays to be shared with all diners or in small portions for easy distribution, although originally, as used by sailors from Oman, it was placed in a small woven basket called a Kitalifa.
There are also two shops in Malindi where it is made and sold to take away, usually wrapped in sheets of greaseproof paper. HALWA ASLI is located in the Shella district, BAWALY'S HALWA is a few metres from the famous Piazzetta del Cambio.
There are myths and superstitions attached to this cake, some say it is the favourite meal of evil spirits who cause those who consume it to be possessed, others say that the main reason why Halwa is served at weddings is to divert attention from the bride and groom through its immense sweetness and not to be afflicted by the evil eye and envy.
We, at best, can say that eaten hot with a scoop of vanilla ice cream it can be addictive!

TAGS: halwa kenyadolci kenyapiatti kenyaspecialità kenya

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