Walking into Aleppo Sweets was like walking into the Middle East itself. We were transported from the streets of Providence to a beautifully serene bakery in Syria, surrounded by the smell of spices, Middle-Eastern inspired architecture and the faint sound of fast-tempo Syrian music. As someone who loves tea, I was immediately drawn to the wall of tall copper tea kettles behind the counter, but then also to the cast-iron decorated windows above the seating area illuminating the lush green house plants hanging from the ceiling in morning light. I couldn’t help imagine if this was modeled after the chef, Youssef Akhtarini’s memories of his hometown before Civil War hit.
Soon after we sat down, plates and plates of food began to come out to us, beginning with traditional Syrian flat bread accompanied by three dishes of hummus, baba ghanoush and labneh to dip it in. Next to come out were the stuffed grape leaves and stuffed dates. I had tried stuffed grape leaves before and was excited to Akhtarini’s and was not disappointed, but what truly surprised me were the stuffed dates. In the past, I had not enjoyed dates, but these sweet dates stuffed with chopped pistachios, honey and dusted with cardamom spice truly defined my expectations. After this came the hardier, more spicy foods like the kefta lamb kabob, kibbeh, Syrian rice and falafel.
These dishes were all new to me but I thoroughly enjoyed them. Last came the moment we were all waiting for, Aleppo Sweet’s famous baklava. We were presented with a small platter of the nine types of baklava they serve, ranging from chocolate to pistachio to lady finger. I tried the walnut stuffed baklava and it was amazing. The heavy walnut filling between layers of crisp dough soaked in honey was like heaven. To end the meal, we were served slices of authentic pistachio ice cream on a dish. Its light flavor mixed with the rich taste of baklava.
It is easy to feel disconnected from some of the daily struggles that people across the world face in their daily lives. Our trip to Aleppo Sweets reminded me to be mindful of these struggles but also to celebrate the success Youssef Akhtarini has created for himself and his family despite the pain they endured in Syria. I was struck by his humility when we briefly met him at the end of our visit; he was self conscience about getting his photo taken and thanked us profusely for coming. As most of us are citizens of a nation that has never see war in our own country, we cannot begin to understand what the Akharini family has faced, only appreciate the passion they have put into Aleppo Sweets and their willingness to share part of their culture with us.--Lily Sones ’21
On Sunday, February 21st, a select few members of the culinary club woke up early to eat a delicious meal at Aleppo Sweets in Providence, RI. The owner, Youssef Akhtarini, owned and operated his own bakery in Syria since he was 24. However, the civil war caused it to be completely destroyed. He fled from their home with his wife and six children to Turkey where they were registered as refugees and accepted to resettle in Providence, RI after two years. Youssef started baking at a local pizza store and then worked his way up to owning and operating his own bakery in America. The bakery has received a nomination for one of America’s best new restaurants in 2019 and has become a hot spot and safe haven for homesick Syrians in Providence.
As soon as I walked in, I was amazed at the gorgeous décor and intimate feeling of the bakery. The copper teapots, plants, and beautiful patterned windows made you feel like you had walked into a different world. As we all sat down at the table, plates and plates of food came out. The hummus and baba ghanoush were drizzled with olive oil and spices and served with delicious flatbread. My favorite thing was the tender and flavorful chicken kabobs with rice. I tried absolutely everything at the table and there was nothing that didn’t melt in your mouth. After our meal, we had dessert. The crisp and buttery baklava was hot, flaky, sweet and delectable. I had a pistachio chocolate one that was so good, I brought home a full box.
Though the food was amazing, the emotion and hard work put into the bakery made it much more rewarding to enjoy our time there.–Madelyn Knudsen ’20
This Sunday, I went to a Syrian bakery, called Aleppo Sweets, owned by a former refugee who has quickly achieved national recognition for his baking, with his business reaching Bon Appetit‘s Top 50 Restaurants shortly after its founding in 2016.
We were given Syrian bread and various dips as a starter, the baba ganoush being my favorite, along with stuffed dates, which were sweet and with a nice crunch from the pistachios. Next were stuffed grape leaves, filled with rice, beef kibbeh (ground finely yet pointy in the mouth due to its fried casing), and lamb kebabs with an accompanying salad. We had lamb fatayer, a spicy flatbread that paired well with the labneh dip, and a za’atar fatayer, which was almost green from its heavy spicing and very dry on the tongue. I ordered a bitter tea–ginger, cardamom and mint–with a pleasant aroma. They provided us with an assortment of baklava, and I selected the walnut one. It was sweet, flaky, and the perfect end to our dining experience, along with the pistachio-topped vanilla ice cream.–Jamie Shipman ’20