In Karachi, Palestinian mother-daughter trio offers ‘authentic’ Arabic desserts to Pakistani customers 

Eman Al Hajj Ali (right) prepares kunafa at her residence in Karachi, Pakistan on Feb 28, 2024. (AN Photo)
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Updated 01 March 2024

In Karachi, Palestinian mother-daughter trio offers ‘authentic’ Arabic desserts to Pakistani customers 

  • Eman Al Hajj Ali, her two daughters operate an online business selling Middle Eastern desserts prepared at home
  • The venture sells popular Middle Eastern desserts such as Kunafe, Basbusa and Katayef to Pakistani customers

KARACHI: Eman Al Hajj Ali, a Palestinian émigré with a background in electrical engineering and information technology, did not know she would carve a place for herself within the culinary landscape of Pakistan’s bustling Karachi city after arriving here with her family a year and a half ago because of her husband’s job.

Launching an online business named Palestine Sweets, she ventured into a field far from her formal training, armed with nothing but her mother’s traditional recipes. Ali is not a chef by training neither has she ever aspired to be an entrepreneur, yet she has made a noticeable impact on the lives of people around her while living in Pakistan’s biggest and most populous metropolis.

Middle Eastern cuisines are popular with people across Pakistan, resonating with the local palate due to their rich flavors and aromatic spices. But Karachi’s food scene is mostly dominated by people who either arrived there from India after the 1947 partition of the subcontinent or members of the Pashtun community from the country’s northwest, who are known for their passion for good food.

Eman Al Hajj Ali prepares kunafa at her residence in Karachi, Pakistan on Feb 28, 2024. (AN Photo)

“I have learned [these recipes] from my mom,” she told Arab News this week. “Some of these [recipes] I have, you know, created on my own, learning from here and there before tweaking them to come up with my own version.”

While both of Ali’s parents were born and raised in Palestine, she was born in Kuwait where her father worked at the time. She says she used to visit Palestine every summer until the Arab-Israel war in June 1967, when her family was living outside Palestine. Since the war, Ali’s family, like many other Palestinians, have not been allowed to go back to their home country.

Palestine Sweets is not just Ali’s initiative but also involves her daughters, Laila and Isra, who are both business graduates. Together the three described it as a heartfelt endeavor to share a slice of Palestine’s rich heritage with the people of Pakistan.

Especially since Ali says Pakistanis know little about Palestinians and associate the people of her country with only Israel’s war and occupation.

“They know very little about the culture,” she said. “And food is a great part of any culture. So, I thought that it would be lovely to introduce Palestinian desserts into the Pakistani community.”

So, Ali and her daughters started by introducing Pakistani customers to Kunafe, which Ali says is referred to as the “king of desserts” in Palestine.

Kunafe is a traditional Middle Eastern dessert, made with spun pastry and soaked in a sweet, sugar-based syrup. Although the dish has several variations depending on the region where it is prepared, Kunafe is typically layered with cheese, cream, or nuts.

Eman Al Hajj Ali (center), and her daughters Laila Al Qirim (right) and Isra Jaleel speak with Arab News at their residence in Karachi, Pakistan on Feb 28, 2024. (AN Photo)

Other Middle Eastern desserts offered by Palestine Sweets include Basbusa, cakes baked from semolina flour, and the Katayef dessert, stuffed pancakes often filled with nuts, spices, fruits and cheese.

Besides desserts, the online venture also offers customers the Maqluba, a traditional Middle Eastern rice dish that it serves with lamb’s meat and eggplant.

The prices of these desserts, which Ali and her daughters deliver from their apartment in Karachi’s Defense area through a delivery service, range between Rs1,000 ($3.6) and Rs2,250 ($8), which may vary according to the serving size.

Laila said Israel’s recent war on Gaza, which has killed over 29,000 people since October last year, triggered a lot of curiosity among Pakistanis about the people of Palestine, leading many to visit Palestine Sweets’ social media accounts and learn about their venture. 

“With that increase in curiosity, a lot of people found their way to our page,” she told Arab News. ” And praise be to God, a lot of Karachiites have supported our business.”

But Laila was quick to clarify that that wasn’t the only reason for the venture’s success, saying that customers loved the unique and original Middle Eastern taste its dishes offered.

She cited the example of the Kunafe dish, saying that it is not made with any variations. She said what sets Palestine Sweets apart is that it is the only venture that offers authentic Middle Eastern desserts to people.

“It [Palestine Sweets] is fully run by Arabs and Palestinians, specifically,” Laila said. “We have our own original recipes.”

And it is paying off as well, according to Laila. A chunk of their customers are the adventurous ones who want to try out a new dish just to see what it tastes like, however, the bulk are regular ones. 

“We have a lot of customers that are very, very loyal,” she said. “Some even order every week, at least once. It’s become a permanent part of their table.”

Some of their clients in Karachi are Arabs as well, who equally love their food items. But for very different reasons.

“They give me beautiful feedback that it is nostalgic,” Ali explained. “It took them back to memories with their grandparents and families back in the Middle East, especially when they have Katayef during Ramadan.”

Pakistan’s independent election monitor says by-poll irregularities overshadowed improved result management

Updated 52 min 44 sec ago

Pakistan’s independent election monitor says by-poll irregularities overshadowed improved result management

  • FAFEN says its observers were stopped from monitoring elections at 19 polling stations in two Punjab constituencies
  • It mentions a decline in the number of votes cast despite an overall increase in registered voters since February 8

ISLAMABAD: An independent election monitoring network in Pakistan highlighted low voter turnout and procedural irregularities in provincial constituencies in Punjab on Tuesday, saying such teething issues dominated improved result management in the by-polls held on April 21.

Established in 2006, the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) aims to promote electoral transparency, integrity and fairness in Pakistan through citizen observation and advocacy efforts.

It operates independently, monitoring various aspects of the electoral process, including voter registration, polling procedures and result tabulation to ensure impartial elections in the country.

“Low voter turnout, procedural irregularities and restrictions on independent observation in two provincial constituencies in Punjab overshadowed the improved results management and lower numbers of ballots excluded from the count during April 21 elections in 22 national and provincial assembly constituencies,” FAFEN said in its report on by-elections.

“Polling station establishment, voter identification, and counting at polling stations were observed to have been largely compliant with law and procedures,” it continued. “However, instances of omissions in ballot issuance requirements by Assistant Presiding Officers (APOs) were reported from around 14 percent of the observed polling stations.”

FAFEN said while polling agents and accredited observers could generally access voting and counting process, security officials or Presiding Officers barred its observers at 19 polling stations in PP-36 Wazirabad and PP-22 Chakwal-cum-Talagang.

“In PP-22, the accreditation process of FAFEN observers was also delayed until the midday on the polling day causing last-minute changes in the observation scope,” it added.

The report said nearly 36 percent of registered voters cast their votes on polling day, which was nine percent less than the turnout in 18 of these constituencies on February 8.

Votes polled by women decreased by 12 percent, while votes polled by men declined by nine percent, despite an increase of 75,640 registered voters, including 37,684 men and 37,956 women compared to the general elections.

“Lahore’s five constituencies recorded the sharpest decline in the voter turnout with PP-147 reporting a mere 14 percent as against 35 percent on February 8,” it noted. “Similarly, NA-119 Lahore registered a 19 percent turnout against 39 percent on February 8. However, the voter turnout in Gujrat and Khuzdar constituencies recorded an increase compared to general elections.”

FAFEN said it deployed 259 Election-Day observers, including 187 men and 72 women, to observe the voting and counting processes at 1,036 polling stations in five National Assembly and 17 Provincial Assembly constituencies in Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.

It said that its report was based on the observations received on Election Day from 532 polling stations through FAFEN Election Day Observation mobile application.

US warns of sanctions risk as Iran, Pakistan agree to boost trade ties with new agreements

Updated 38 min 48 sec ago

US warns of sanctions risk as Iran, Pakistan agree to boost trade ties with new agreements

  • State Department statement came as the Iranian president concluded his Pakistan visit to discuss energy and connectivity
  • US also defends its decision to impose sanctions against four international entities supplying missile components to Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: The United States warned on Wednesday countries doing business with Iran faced the “potential risk of sanctions,” as President Ebrahim Raisi concluded a three-day visit to Pakistan where his government signed eight memoranda of understanding (MoUs) for cooperation in different fields and to boost trade to $10 billion.

The Iranian president arrived in Islamabad on Monday as the two Muslim neighbors sought to mend ties after unprecedented tit-for-tat military strikes earlier this year. The visit also took place as tensions continued to remain high in the Middle East after Iran launched airstrikes on Israel a week ago and Israel retaliated with its own attack on Friday.

During his stay in Pakistan, Raisi held several official meetings in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi to discuss issues related to trade, connectivity, energy and people-to-people contacts.

Asked about his engagements in Pakistan and signing of MoUs, US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel cautioned against possible sanctions in a brief response.

“Just let me say broadly, we advise anyone considering business deals with Iran to be aware of the potential risk of sanctions,” he said. “But ultimately, the Government of Pakistan can speak to their own foreign policy pursuits.”

He was also asked about the US administration’s decision to announce sanctions against three Chinese and one Belarus-based entity supplying missile components to Pakistan last week.

“The sanctions were made because these were entities that were proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and the means of their delivery,” Patel said. “These were entities based in the PRC [Peoples Republic of China], in Belarus, and that we have witnessed to have supplied equipment and other applicable items to Pakistan’s ballistic missile program.”

“We’re going to continue to disrupt and take actions against proliferation networks and concerning weapons of mass destruction procurement activities wherever they may occur,” he added.

Pakistan, China sign multiple MoUs focusing on flood rehabilitation, IT and development

Updated 23 April 2024

Pakistan, China sign multiple MoUs focusing on flood rehabilitation, IT and development

  • Agreements were signed during meeting of Chinese International Development Cooperation Agency officials with PM Sharif
  • Pakistan PM commended CIDCA for its vital support during 2022 floods that killed 1,739 people, caused $30 bln losses

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and China on Tuesday signed multiple memorandums of understanding (MoUs) that focused on flood rehabilitation, information and communication technologies, and development, Pakistani state media reported.

The agreements were signed during a meeting between a high-level delegation of the Chinese International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA), led by Luo Zhaohui, and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Islamabad.

The MoUs pertained to flood rehabilitation, information and communication technologies, Juncao technology to address soil erosion and desertification, and China-Pakistan Development Cooperation Planning (2024-2028).

“Welcoming the delegation, the Prime Minister said China is Pakistan’s most trusted friend and appreciated China’s steadfast support to Pakistan,” the state-run Radio Pakistan broadcaster reported.

“Acknowledging CIDCA’s pivotal role in bolstering Pakistan’s economic development, the Prime Minister specifically commended CIDCA for its vital support during the 2022 floods and for its relief, rehabilitation, and reconstruction efforts in Pakistan.”

In 2022, downpours swelled rivers and at one point flooded a third of Pakistan, killing 1,739 people. The floods also caused $30 billion in damages, from which Pakistan is still trying to rebuild.

The prime minister witnessed the signing of agreements alongside a Letter of Exchange on the establishment of a First Aid Center in Balochistan and Protocol on Cooperation in Human Resources Development under the Global Development Initiative.

“These agreements signify the deepening cooperation between Pakistan and China across various sectors,” the report read.

The meeting was also attended by China’s Ambassador to Pakistan Jiang Zaidong, members of PM Sharif’s cabinet and senior officials of Pakistan.

Beijing has been one of Islamabad’s most reliable foreign partners in recent years, readily providing financial assistance to bail out its often-struggling neighbor.

In July last year, China granted Pakistan a two-year rollover on a $2.4 billion loan, giving the debt-saddled nation much-needed breathing space as it tackled a balance-of-payments crisis.

China has inked more than two trillion dollars in contracts around the world under its Belt and Road investment scheme, with billions pouring into infrastructure projects in Pakistan.

Three militants killed, one arrested in Pakistan’s restive southwest — military

Updated 23 April 2024

Three militants killed, one arrested in Pakistan’s restive southwest — military

  • The militants were killed in an intelligence-based operation in the Pishin district of Balochistan
  • Military says one militant apprehended in injured condition was identified as an Afghan national

ISLAMABAD: Three militants were killed and another was injured in a shootout with security forces in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, the Pakistani military said on Tuesday.

The shootout took place during an intelligence-based operation in the Pishin district of Balochistan, according to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the military’s media wing.

The militants were killed after intense exchange of fire during the conduct of operation.

“One terrorist was apprehended in injured condition, who has been identified as an Afghan national,” the ISPR said in a statement.

“A huge cache of arms, ammunition and explosives was also recovered during the operation.”

Balochistan, which borders Afghanistan, is the site of a long-running insurgency by separatists and religiously motivated militants, who have recently carried out a number of attacks in the region.

Gunmen this month killed nine people, who hailed from the eastern Punjab province, after abducting them from a bus on a highway near the Noshki district. The outlawed Balochistan Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the attack.

Although the government says it has quelled militancy, violence by various groups has persisted in the region.

Last year, Islamabad also set a November deadline for all undocumented migrants, mostly Afghans, to leave or face arrest, forcing more than 500,000 Afghans to flee Pakistan.

Pakistan defended the crackdown by pointing to security concerns and is expected to begin a renewed push to deport more Afghan nationals in the coming weeks, according to officials.

At $306 million, Pakistan reported highest ever single-month IT exports in March — representative

Updated 23 April 2024

At $306 million, Pakistan reported highest ever single-month IT exports in March — representative

  • The Pakistani IT exports surged by $49 million in the last month from $257 million recorded in Feb.
  • Representative calls the achievement a result of hard work of all stakeholders and favorable policies

KARACHI: Pakistan recorded highest ever single-month exports in the field of information technology (IT) in March, chairman of the country’s software houses association said on Tuesday.

The Pakistani IT exports surged by $49 million in the last month from $257 million recorded in the month of February, according to Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA).

The exports, which stood at $225 million in March 2023, recorded an increase of 36 percent on a year-on-year basis.

“Crossing $300 million in a single month makes the IT industry second to only textiles in Pakistan,” Zohaib Khan, the P@SHA chairman, said in a statement.

“It is pertinent to note that IT exports for the month of March 2024 is also the highest exports of the industry in a single month in the country’s history.”

Khan said this achievement was a result of hard work of all stakeholders and favorable government policies over the past several months.

“All we need is policy continuity coupled with new initiatives vis-a-vis skills development and branding of the IT sector on a global-scale for the country’s soft-image,” he said, urging the country’s finance and revenue authorities to give due consideration and incorporation to their budgetary proposals that had already been submitted at concerned forums. 

The P@SHA Chief reiterated the IT industry would fully support the initiatives of the Pakistani IT ministry in achieving the export target of $3.5 billion for the outgoing fiscal year, which ends in June.

“We should aim for $5 billion for the forthcoming fiscal year, i.e. FY25,” he added.