Khabeesa in Salt, Jordan
I’d come to Salt, a 30-minute drive west of Amman, in search of little except something to do on a Saturday afternoon.
Salt’s sand-colored stone buildings are a relic of a golden era long past, when Salt was a trading hub and, later, the first capital of Jordan. Salt may have UNESCO-nominated architecture, but my friend had come in search of a classic Salti sweet—khabeesa. With a mouth full of sweet teeth, I was happy to follow.
After asking almost the whole city for directions, we eventually arrived at a hole-in-the-wall store in the market’s main stretch, tucked between cobblers and clothing stores, and bustling with people.
The place wasn’t exactly where you’d expect to buy a treat. Dates, bulgur, and raisins by the pound, but not dessert. Dark, small, and crowded, with bags full of grains waiting to be weighed, this seemed like more of a general store. The only clue that there was treasure within was the line tumbling out of the door—the place selling much the same stuff next door had no line.
Owner Abu Hamad can’t remember exactly how long the store has been open, but says it’s “at least 60 years,” so he clearly knows how to do business. Or maybe it’s so popular because they are the only store in the market selling khabeesa.
Many Arabic desserts are a meal in themselves, soaked in sugar syrup and often stuffed with heavy cheese or nuts, but Salt’s sweet of choice is more of a snack. The closest thing you’d find to khabeesa is a school lunchbox staple, the fruit roll-up. This version is decidedly more adult: the same elastic texture, but with less processed sugar. According to Abu Hamad, it boosts the immune system. (This remains to be seen, but I bought two pounds of the stuff, so if anyone can discover the truth, it’s me.)
With khabeesa, my playground nostalgia—ripping pieces off this Levantine fruit roll-up—meets Arabic flavors. In Salt, old ladies make your fruit roll-ups, with a regional twist on trail mix thrown in. The juice of local grapes is boiled with semolina until a paste is formed, then they add aniseed, sesame seeds, juniper seeds, and almonds. Khabeesa may make a speedy snack, but it’s not quick to make: the paste is laid out thin and flat under the sun until it dries.
Apparently, Salt is the only town that makes khabeesa in Jordan, though Hebron, in Palestine, is also known for it. Khabeesa reminds me of Jordan and the Levant: many flavors mixed together, but each retaining its distinct character.