Ali Aziz started making baklava back when Jerusalem was still part of the British Mandate of Palestine. He opened up his first Miami bakery in 1972, when bell-bottoms were still in, and set up shop at his current Coral Way location in 1996.
Aziz came to the United States as a chef for the Intercontinental Hotel, and still does brisk business selling hummus, pita, falafel and baba ganoush. But it’s the baklava that draws customers in.
“I give every new customer a piece, and they love it,” says the owner.
Ali makes seven different kinds of baklava, from walnut and pistachio to chocolate. He even has a sugar-free baklava for diabetics. The crunchy, flaky, nut-filled pastries are drizzled with honey and give off an intoxicatingly bright, floral aroma when you take a bite.
“That’s the orange blossom water, for the flavor,” Ali explains.
The store’s shelves burst with products from all over the Middle East and North Africa. There’s harissa, a hot chili paste from the Maghreb, olives from all over the Mediterranean, and at least five different kinds of feta cheese. Customers hurry in to purchase pita bread, or stroll in just to loaf.
“I’m friendly with everybody. I don’t have no hate for nobody, and they (the customers) love me. If they don’t love me, I don’t stay 44 years in business.”
Ali’s store also offers a bit of home away from home for Latin America’s extensive, but somewhat invisible, Levantine diaspora.
“In Chile they are Palestinian, in Colombia, they are Syrian-Palestinian,” explains Ali. “In Venezuela, it’s the same, but with some Lebanese.”
Ali bakes pita six days a week, but he loves making baklava.
“Baklava, it’s easy to make it, believe me, it’s not hard job. But if you are intelligent! If you not intelligent, you can’t make it, because the dough is very thin, and you have to know what you’re doing!