communal bread oven
Bread of Beirut -- Street Food Series
To mark the publication today of Anthony Shadid’s memoir House of Stone – which is full of the tastes and smells of traditional Lebanese cooking – Annia Ciezadlo takes us to her bustling local bakery in Beirut; reveals the mysteries of their best recipes and explains why they can also be places of refuge during times of war.
Photo by Julien Harneis.
Most neighbourhoods in Beirut have a furn, a communal bread oven where men and women gather in the mornings and early afternoons to get mana’eesh. These are crisp, oily little pizza-like pies topped with zaatar and olive oil, cheese, ground lamb, or Armenian sausage scented with cinnamon and fenugreek. You get your man’oushi hot from the furn, slice it or fold it, lavish it with yogurt or lemon juice or hot pepper paste, and stuff it into your mouth, preferably while standing on the sidewalk outside the bakery. It’s the perfect portable street food – especially during a social or political crisis – and so one day in December 2007, when Parliament postponed the presidential election for the ninth time, I went to get a man’oushi from my neighborhood baker, Abu Shadi.
Abu Shadi’s furn is in a tiny storefront, open directly to the sidewalk, so there is nothing but a counter between you and the oven and the area where he holds court. He’s a big football-playing bruiser with a meaty nose and a mane of shoulder length brown hair. Sometimes he streaks his locks with blond highlights and wears a double-breasted Black Panther-style leather jacket: the neighbourhood baker as gentleman gangster.
Abu Shadi has been feeding this block mana’eesh since 1988. In those days, the Lebanese civil war still had two years to go, and militias ran the streets. This makes him something of an éminence grise, and, along with bread and meat, he serves up news and commentary on the day’s events.
Six men stood in a reverent semicircle around the bakery counter, as if at an altar, chewing simultaneously. ‘Is there a president?’ asked a neighbour from our block, his mouth full of bread and cheese.
Read the rest of the article here.