I heard about Ha’Malabia from a friend, who mentioned that there was a place a stones throw from my front door that served only beer and rosewater pudding desserts. Cool concept, I thought, but I think I’ll pass, I hate it when my food tastes like soap. Rosewater, which is made from distilling and pressing fresh rose petals, just isn’t my thing. For once, I wasn’t too sad that there was another place without an option for me. But then my boyfriend came back one afternoon, having accompanied aforementioned friend to said beer and desserts place, and uttered the words “I think you could eat it!”
Game changing words. Who cares if it tastes like soap? I’ve got to at least try.
The first bite, my eyes lit up, and I giggled. Giggled. (My boyfriend raised an eyebrow at me, ‘That good, eh?’). But after my second bite, I resigned myself to gaining ten-pudding-pounds. This stuff is just that good. Generally speaking, I’m not a gelatinous dessert kind of person. I hate flan, I’ve never eaten a Creme Brule that I liked, and in my eyes, Jello is a perfect vessel for alcohol and nothing else. But there was something about this cup of heaven that worked for me.
Before I go much further, I suppose I should pause here explain what a Malabi actually is. Traditionally, Malabi is a milk based pudding flavored or topped with rosewater, although the other accoutrement vary by location. Malabi is an extremely popular dish across the Middle East, and in Israel, it’s common to see it as a street food or in upscale restaurants alike. The Malabi base consists of sugar, milk, and cornstarch, though of course different spices and extracts can be used on top of that. The traditional recipe calls for rice flour instead of cornstarch, but nowadays the corn starch is said to yeild a smoother texture (Ha Malabia uses corn starch).
This wasn’t going to be my first Malabi – somewhere along the way during our Birthright trip, someone identified the white and pink jello desserts as containg rosewater – but all my previous experiences with Malabi had ranged from “Super Soapy” to “Reminiscent of Soap,” so I went into this experience expecting to come out with a rosey fresh mouth.
Boy, were my preconceptions wrong.
Ha’Malabia is a little place off of Allenby near the entrance to the Shuk, but it’s in a bit of a hard to describe location since it’s on a “side street” that you don’t drive on. It’s a small, nondescript building with a glassed in front and a long picnic table outside. The best way to find it is to look for the two nearly identical businesses that are completely packed (If you know the bar Minzar, it’s next door) just off Allenby north of the entrance to the Shuk. Glance at the picnic table. Are there any plates on it? Nope, only glasses? Then you’re in the right place. Once you’ve found it, head inside and press through the throng of locals to find your way to the front.
Now you have a few choices to make! First up – Vegan (made with Soy milk and Coconut Cream), or Regular? I chose regular, although I would have loved to try the vegan too (I hear it’s great), but I’m also allergic to Soy. I know, I know, enough about my long list of allergies already, so let’s dive into your second choice (and this is the hardest one!) – Which syrup? Ha Malabia offers four different flavors: Original (Pomegranate and Rosemary – he told me Rosemary, but I wondered if he meant that or Rosewater…), Vanilla and Cinnamon, Lemon and Cardamom, or Caramel.
Yeah, just sit on that decision for a second. I know it’s a tough one.
I chose Cinnamon and Vanilla for my first Malabi, since that’s what our friend had recommended. (Uh, I was not disappointed). But then came the harder choice for me – rosewater? At first I said no, but then I doubled back. “Do I really need it?” I asked the clerk, who told me yes, so I consented to “Just a little, then.”
And finally, the end was in sight and it was time for my last choice – the toppings! This was an easy choice for me as I was allergic to 3 out of the 4, but I love coconut so I was very happy to have it. The other things they offer are peanuts, carmelized peanuts, and “Ido’s Mom’s Cookies,” (obviously not Gluten Free!). So with my Malabi in one hand and the tiny coffee that comes with it in the other, we now get to travel back to that moment where I took my first bite.
Slightly thicker than a straight pudding, but not creepily chunky, the base was delicious, aided textually with the toppings. The coconut was a perfect paring, and I can only imagine that nuts would add another layer to the texture. The “just a little” bit of rosewater was perfect for my tastes – giving it a hint of something unique and floral in the undertones, but not overpowering the other flavors. Not only is it just plain delicious, but there is something truly different about it. I am always searching for that special something in a dish that takes it above and beyond just a Gluten Free copy of something and launches it into the realm of just plain amazing. For me, this Malabi definitely was in that category.
However, there are three things that scare me about Ha’Malabia:
1) I have 3 more flavors I need to try.
2) It’s less than a 5 minute walk from where I live.
3) It only costs 10 shekels per Malabi.
So I guess that’s one shekel for every pudding-pound I’m going to gain?
Sounds about right.
Run – don’t walk – to Ha’Malabia. You can thank me later.
Ha’Malabia – המלביה – Allenby 60
Hamalabia can also be found in Shuk Hapishpashim and in Shuk Allenby Rothschild
This blog post was written by a very close friend of the blog, Zoë of Gluten FreeTLV. Zoë lives and works in Tel Aviv. You can find her on instagram eating @glutenfreetlv and exploring @travelswithzoe. In her free time she’ll be on a horse or singing along to musicals.