A History of Baklawa

By Danyal Kim

When I was a Muslim college boy in Chicago

I ate at a Middle Eastern restaurant

in the Uptown neighborhood, on Wilson street.

The man behind the counter formed

lime-colored falafel balls with his hands

carrying the scent of his hidden dreams.


He served baklawa,

shards of hardened honey 

studded with pistachios and walnuts.

It came with Arabic coffee

to offset the sweetness;

sugar coalesced into icicles poking at my tongue.


The owner always served me, his favorite customer,

an extra cup of coffee  

and we said, salaam with a smile when I left.

Baklawa crumbs gleamed like golden nuggets

resting on top of my dollar bill on the table.


When I was a Muslim college boy in Chicago

I recited a poem about baklawa during an open mic

hosted by the Muslim student club.

The host, a proud Palestinian man, admonished me

for not pronouncing it baklava.

There is no “V” in Arabic.

Baklava is the way white people

and Ottoman Imperialists say it.

A techno beat spliced with the adhan.


My friend, Sana, a proud Syrian woman,

loved my poem.

She promised she would bake me

an entire pan of baklawa that we’d share.

I promised to cook a kettle of coffee.

I will melt cubes of sugar in a silver stomach

lined with Yemeni coffee beans and cardamom.


She never did make me that batch of baklava

becoming too busy with work and school.

After college, Sana married and moved to Baltimore

and I never saw her again.


The Middle Eastern restaurant closed down,

became a generic coffee shop.

Their coffees are stained with the taste of


and everyone keeps to themselves

staring at their tiny laptop screens.



Several years after graduating college,

I was no longer a believing Muslim

and had a job I hated.

One day, after my shift ended,

head pounding from being yelled at by people in the welfare office,

I ate at a popular, Middle Eastern fast food chain.

Line cooks behind the counter

assembled sandwiches robotically,

like motorized arms in a car factory.


I bought a piece of baklava, encaged in plastic.

It was drowned in salted melted caramel,

an innovation of the owners who thought baklava

was too ethnic for their consumers.

The flesh of the baklava was soggy and limp.

Taste of honey and rose water whisked away

by muddy floods…

they finished me off.