New Hampshire’s Ethnic Food Markets: Aissa Sweets
Where the Capitol City and Syria Converge
As New Hampshire’s diversity grows with an influx of new residents from all over the world, ethnic food markets located in different parts of the state are meeting the demand to give them a taste of home and an open invitation for everyone to discover new dishes.
After moving to the U.S. with his wife, a New Hampshire native, Ahmad Aissa, owner of wholesale bakery Aissa Sweets, found himself longing for food from home.
“I wanted to enjoy the familiar things that I used to enjoy,” he says.
Passionate about food and spurred by New Hampshire’s need for diversity, he started his business from scratch in 2012 to share his favorite Syrian desserts.
Today, the Concord-based bakery makes three kinds of Syrian baklava: chocolate-walnut, coconut chocolate and classic walnut; and date-, apricot- and fig-filled maamoul butter cookies, commonly eaten during Eid Al-Fitr.
The bakery also sells spinach and feta pies with phyllo dough made by hand.
Syrians are “a proud people,” Aissa says. “Mom and pop” markets are often passed down through generations, perfecting and serving “inherited” recipes. These stores also sell just one item, like cheese or meat or vegetables.
“Just go to the neighborhood — (it’s) the freshest stuff ever. That’s basically where the culture is,” Aissa says.
Other favorites include barbecued shawarma, rolled stuffed grape leaves, and almost anything made with phyllo dough.
“Mahashi” is a dish made with eggplant, Mexican squash, or
peppers stuffed with meat and seasonings like walnuts and crushed red pepper and cooked in tomato sauce or yogurt sauce.
“Oh my god, it’s a religious experience for sure,” he says.
“Ful” is boiled fava beans mixed with olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, black pepper and garlic, garnished with diced fresh tomatoes and parsley.
“That’s one of the things I’m kind of addicted to. I make a lot of it,” he says.
But there are no boundaries to the food Aissa prefers. He says Syrian cuisine is a diverse “marriage” between Italian, Mediterranean and Indian-style cuisine.
Common ingredients include eggplant, zucchini, sesame seeds, chickpeas, lemon, mint, cucumbers, olive oil, fava beans, lentils and vine leaves, along with meats like lamb and sheep.
Spices also sway between Mediterranean and Indian styles – incorporating sumac, mint, basil, and turmeric. He also cooks Ethiopian and Indian food.
Syria isn’t shy about adding heat, either. An onion grown in the Salamiyah region has a “hot kick.”
“You could like smell it two blocks away and cry, and it’s really tasty,” Aissa says.
Aissa Sweets are found around New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, New York State (at Haggens) and Washington State; online; and in natural food stores and grocery stores like Hannaford, Market Basket; and Whole Foods.
603 Diversity’s mission is to educate readers of all backgrounds about the exciting accomplishments and cultural contributions of the state’s diverse communities, as well as the challenges faced and support needed by those communities to continue to grow and thrive in the Granite State.