Sahlab has the rich aromas of the Levant and the spices of joyful ceremonies across all religions, whether it is sipped at a household table in California or from a heated urn by a street vendor in Bethlehem.

For Palestinian Christians, the holiday season is closely associated with the winter beverage Sahlab. It is similar to a creamy, thick latte made from milk, sugar, and spices. Blanche Shaheen, a cookbook author, still follows this tradition with a few adjustments. Sahlab powder, a flour prepared from wild-harvested orchid tubers, was used to make the version her mother drank as a child while walking the streets of Bethlehem. Like many other Palestinians, Shaheen copies the texture and flavor of the original Sahlab powder using corn starch (corn flour) with either orange blossom or rose water.

Sahlab in Bethlehem symbolizes a friendly, joyful environment. It represents Christmas for Shaheen in Bethlehem, where a majority of her mother’s relatives still live.