Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Arabic Bread: an important part of culture

© 2010 jeffreyw, Flicker from

Arabic bread is more than just a food. It is an integral part of the culture across the Arab world, and no wonder, since historians believe that wheat and barley were first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent about 10,000 years ago. At that time the first grinding stone was invented in Egypt, and the first grain was crushed. The first bread was flat and thin, similar to tortillas. ("History of bread," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed December 23, 2015).
     It is widely thought that the Egyptian skill with brewing beer and the warm climate led to the discovery of levening. Around 2500 BC, the first leavened breads were made in Egypt. (Encyclopedia of Food and Culture | 2003 | Franklin, Peter S. COPYRIGHT 2003 The Gale Group Inc. as quoted in
     Ever since that time, Bread has been part of each meal. The soft flat loaves can serve as a plate. Its soft, pliable texture make it perfect for dipping in liquid or semi-liquid foods. It can be folded into a scoop to pick up anything solid or semi-solid. Endlessly adaptable, it is the plate, the utensil, or the meal itself. Often called aish, which also means life, it is clear that for Arabs, bread is truly the staff of life. With a ten thousand year history, is it any wonder Arabs say that Bread is Life?
     Food plays a large part in my novels, Born a Refugee and Checkpoint Kalandia, just as in real life.  It truly is part of the culture. (
     Pita bread, also known as pocket bread, can be made from any standard bread recipe. When it is time to shape the dough, shape into balls about two inches in diameter. Cover with a clean cloth and let rise. After the dough rises, roll each ball into a disc a little less than a half an inch thick and let it rest for 10 or 15 minutes. Baking will puff the loaves into shapes resembling improperly inflated footballs. After the bread cools, each loaf will flatten out into its characteristic shape and there will be a pocket in the middle.

© 2010 jeffreyw, Flicker from
     Although everyone thinks of pita bread when the topic of Arabic bread arises, that is not the only kind of bread native to Palestine. Taboon (or tabun) bread is named after the domed stone ovens that villagers used to build. The ovens resemble stone igloos. On baking day, a fire is built inside the oven. As the fire subsides into embers, the village women slap the thin rounds of dough onto the oven walls. When the dough begins to fall off the wall, it is done. At least that is what I remember from a conversation with an elderly relative who lived in the small village of Burhahm. Today there are other ways of getting similar results. I have seen people bake the bread on an inverted wok over an open flame. It can also be approximated at home. that suggests preheating a flat baking dish covered with small rocks or pebbles to duplicate the texture of the original.

All recipes for good pita bread. It is easy to make at home. Some people use ovens, others used large flat frying pans. There are many videos available that walk you through the process. Here are a couple of my favorites.

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