Tired of always eating pizza, pasta, or cookies at almost every on-campus event? Consider trying out some Syrian fare at Aleppo Sweets to add some spice and variety to your diet!

I have always been fascinated by food cultures and ethnic cuisines. You can imagine my excitement when, flipping through Bon Appetit magazine's Our 50 Nominees for America’s Best New Restaurants 2019, I discovered that a homey cafe by the name of Aleppo Sweets, located on 107 Ives Street, was included on this list!

Curious, I began asking my upperclassmen friends about this cafe, and Aleppo Sweets won near-universal praise from everyone. Naturally, I dragged some of my friends with me to try out the food (and, especially the baklava) that I had heard such rave reviews about. It's safe to say that the cafe did not disappoint at all, and here are 5 things that I would absolutely recommend getting at Aleppo Sweets.

1. Falafel

Jared Ong

I know we get these at the Ratty or the V-Dub at Brown from time to time, but Aleppo Sweets' falafels are definitely on another level. Falafel is a very famous Middle Eastern dish commonly made out of ground chickpeas and fava beans along with a mix of spices. The mixture is then shaped into a ball or patty before being deep-fried to crispy perfection.

Aleppo Sweets' falafels are crunchy on the outside, but don't let the exterior deceive you. Once you get past the outer layer, a fluffy, intense flavor bomb hits you instantly. Before you know it, you will have already chomped down the entire plate! 

If you are worried about the dryness associated with most fried foods, rest assured because falafels are also served with tahini sauce. Dipping the hot falafel into a cool and refreshing sauce adds another layer of complexity to the flavor of this snack!

2. Red lentil soup

Jared Ong

The red lentil soup, a staple of Syrian cuisine, served at Aleppo Sweets is a warm and hearty appetizer to start off your meal. Served with an aesthetic dash of spices on top, this bowl of soup is extremely Instagram-worthy with the vibrant contrasting colors it presents.

Although, more importantly, the flavor delivers. Don't be deceived by the simplicity of its looks - this soup packs a zingy punch that really whets your appetite. Think of it as having the kick of lemon but balanced at the same time with some earthiness from the lentils. I could also taste notes of garlic and onion as well. The harmony of this soup makes it a calming dish to savor in the wintry cold.

The texture of the soup is interesting as well - it is smooth enough for it to be consumed easily, but you can taste hints of lentil that haven't been completely blended down yet. Just remember to give everything a mix first before trying it.

3. Hummus

Jared Ong

Going to a Syrian restaurant, of course we had to get the hummus. Say goodbye to all the packaged hummus cups you usually eat because this fresh one trumps them all. A Syrian version of this iconic Middle Eastern blend, Aleppo Sweets' hummus is made from pureed chickpeas, tahini, lemon, and olive oil. It has an extremely smooth texture and a mild kick to it (thanks to all of the fresh spices) that makes it more delicious than normal store-bought hummus. 

This plate of hummus is also served with, and best paired with, pita bread. The pita at Aleppo is soft and fluffy. It can be enjoyed by themselves, but its light flavor makes it the perfect blank canvas to pair with any of the Mezze (appetizers) on their menu. The pita provides a wonderful textural contrast to the creaminess of the hummus. 

4. Ginger, Cardamom, and Mint Tea

Jared Ong

This was an unexpected find. A perfect warm complement to the wintry chill of Providence, Aleppo Sweet's Ginger, Cardamom and Mint tea is exactly what it appears to be.

Though it does not have a fancy name, drinking this tea gives you an instant feeling of being loved. Growing up in a Chinese household where ginger is frequently used to combat colds, the subtle gingery kick to the tea reminded me of home.

Don't let the spices scare you out of it - this tea is both spicy and sweet. The intensity of the ginger and cardamom is tempered so well that they can be tasted without becoming overpowering. All you taste is a mildly-sweet, mildly-spicy tea brewed with lots of love. Everyone at the table slurped it down with glee!

5. Baklava

Jared Ong

And now we have come to the champ, the signature of Aleppo Sweets - baklava. No words here can do justice to the experience of eating it, and I'm not just being melodramatic. 

Aleppo Sweets' baklava features extremely crisp layers of homemade phyllo pastry, drizzled with simple syrup which makes it both crispy and sticky at the same time. What I loved about their baklava was the simplicity of it - there is no attempt at all to make this dessert more pompous or extravagant than it already is. Yet, behind these simple ingredients, is the painstaking labor of love that produced these delicious snacks.

Filled with either pistachio or walnuts tossed in orange blossom water, these crunchy nuts provide a fulfilling textural contrast to the crispiness of the phyllo dough. What's rare is that they never go overboard with the orange blossom flavoring like in some other baklava. The result is an exceptionally harmonious blend of sweetness and very subtle acidity. 

The significance of baklava to Aleppo Sweets cannot be ignored as well. It was the pastry that its owner, Mr. Youssef Akhtarini, used to make as a baker in his native city of Aleppo. After arriving in Providence in 2016 to escape the unrest in Syria, it was with his bare hands and rolling pin that he built a new life here in a new country for his family by making baklava. Baklava is not only a connection to his memories of home, but it is also a symbol of newfound hope. Knowing this story makes tasting this baklava an even more special experience.

After the meal

Aleppo Sweets was indeed an experience to be had. I walked out of the homely cafe extremely satisfied and fulfilled - not simply by the deliciousness of the food, but by the touching stories behind this eatery.