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Bring up the Middle East and people get ready for HEAVY.

The bombings, the stabbings, the tanks, the martyrs, the endless strife. But what gets sometimes forgotten when you’re talking about the region is that in a very real way, real life always asserts itself, and real people are going about, or trying to, their days, nights and whatever else is happening in between. Including eating, drinking and even making merry. Because in some ways, in places under existential kinds of pressure, the push for pleasure is even more pronounced than ever.

Which is how I found myself working my way through tight knots of tourists and a smattering of Jordanians in Amman until the streets finally narrowed, and there were fewer tourists and many more Jordanians. You see, it was that search for pleasure that pulled. Right up counterside to an open-faced restaurant where, spinning on a huge flat disk — think a pizza platter large enough for you to take a nap on — was a yellowish-red confection called kanafeh that filled the whole platter and that, in all honesty, I’d kill to be able to eat again. Who? Anyone actively impeding my way to a slice of it.

That is, a slice of an absolutely insanely great cheese pastry soaked and slathered in syrup, heated in a base of palm oil, spread with more cheese, more pastry, rose water, a little red food coloring and crushed pistachios, sprinkled across the 6-foot spread of what might be called a pie. And it’s to die for. Which, if you’re counting calories, you might just end up doing. But if you absolutely had to choose a way to exit the planet, death by kanafeh might be a pleasant way to go.

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A Palestinian cook prepares the typical Palestinian sweet kanafeh in the West Bank.

Source Jaafar Ashtiyeh/Getty

“I know here we’re worried about fats and fried foods and all,” said California culinary specialist Karin Spies, “but foods that have made it this long haven’t killed enough people that it’d make sense to stop eating them just yet.” Which is sort of precisely what anyone seeking to sup on kanafeh exactly needs to hear. And after three slices and about 83 million calories what I’m desperately needing to hear. It’s clearly part of the mythos of this kind of meal that it be eaten heartily. In fact, they have kanafeh competitions on the basis of the sheer size of the kanafeh offering, with the record holder, according to the Guinness World Records book, currently ensconced in the Palestinian city of Nablus, where the winner weighed in at almost 3,000 pounds.

“Would you like another piece?” the Jordanian cook, eyebrows raised, asked me. Or maybe it was more of an insinuation, and he smiled at me, my lower face shining from the syrup, as he turned without asking again to cut me another slice. “Yes.”

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