On Christmas, Arab Bakery Decks the Halls With Jewish Doughnuts

The Khiel Barkan bakery, a Muslim-owned business in Jaffa, serves up a traditional Hanukkah treat – sufganiyot – for Christmas.

Forget Christmas fruitcake, eggnog and peppermint candy canes. At one particular family-run joint in Jaffa, customers celebrating the Christian holiday will be treated to a rather untraditional delicacy today: sufganiyot – the classic Hanukkah doughnuts.

To be fair, the Khiel Barkan bakery, a Muslim-owned business on Yefet Street – smack in the commercial center of Jaffa – has been serving up the deep-fried, jelly-filled balls of dough for 10 years now. But this is the first year it will be extending the sufganiyot season beyond Hanukkah to Christmas, and perhaps even into the new year, if all goes well.

“Arabs actually eat more sufganiyot than Jews,” says Wael Khiel, 36, one of seven brothers who run the business. “We start making them a month before Hanukkah, earlier than most of the Jewish bakeries. By the time Hanukkah is over, the Jews don’t want to look at them anymore – they’re coming out of their noses already. But the Arabs still want more. So as long as people aren’t sick of them around here, we’ve decided we’re going to continue making them.”

Roughly 85 percent of Khiel Barkan’s customers are non-Jews, he says. (According to him, “The Jews mainly come on Shabbat.”) But despite not having a natural captive market, the bakery sells an average of 250 of the doughy delights a day.

“Did you see that little kid who just came in?” asks Wael, following a brief exchange in Arabic with a very young customer. “Do you know what he wanted? He asked me if we still have sufganiyot.”

The Khiel brothers maintain they’re the only Arab-owned bakery in Jaffa that sells hand-made sufganiyot. “You can also buy them at the supermarket here, but they bring in the mass-produced ones that don’t taste as good,” says Wael.

Wael’s brother, 33-year-old Wafi, is frying up a batch of sufganiyot at the little kiosk attached to the main store, gently flipping them over as they turn a golden brown.  Handwritten on a piece of orange construction paper taped to the wall above his head is the following basic information:

Hot Sufganiyot

1 = NIS 3

4 = NIS 10

“Much cheaper than Roladin,” he says, referring to the huge Israeli bakery chain famous for its exotic-flavored sufganiyot. “They also taste better,” he asserts.

In a nod to Christian sensibilities, Wafi has prepared a special batch of chocolate-coated sufganiyot today to usher in the Christmas holiday. “On Christmas, people are used to eating chocolate,” he explains, “so we figured we’d add some chocolate to our sufganiyot today to make them more appealing.”

Are they expecting an uptick in sales on this Christmas day? “With God’s help,” responds Wafi.

Moti Milrod