The best Lebanese pizza, and the baker’s top pick

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“Unbelievable chutzpah.”

That phrase is used to describe the tax minimisation behaviour of corporate behemoths, according to Edward Kleinbard, a law professor at the University of Southern California.

Behemoths like:

  • the fruity one that created my computer, and
  • the oh-so-hip one that – aptly – rhymes with “frugal”.

Behemoths that use elaborate tactics with quaint culinary names like “Double Irish Dutch Sandwich”.  No, these don’t involve potatoes, soda bread or Edam cheese.

Key ingredients of that sandwich include transfer pricing and divergent cross-border tax systems.  Yum!

Honey oat soda bread 1Edam cheeseJjimdak ingredients 3

Centre: Single cheese image courtesy of Grant Cochrane/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Brad Pitt and his Very Hungry Characters

Unbelievable chutzpah is also exemplified by George Clooney and Brad Pitt et al in the Ocean’s 11/12/13 heist movies.

Did you notice Brad Pitt eating non-stop in those films?

Apparently, his movie characters spend a lot of time eating.  NextMovie has done this uproarious mash-up of Pitt’s eating scenes (yes, these Pitt fans are a talented, dedicated lot…but that doesn’t mean you have to sit through the whole video):

I was heartened to see Pitt sharing screen time with food as diverse as dumplings and popcorn.

But Middle Eastern food seems to have been overlooked.  More’s the pity, because that cuisine has countless offerings you can eat with one hand and on the run (which seems to be the Pitt characters’ eating style).  And I’m not even talking about kebab rolls.

So today, I profile two of those offerings.

The local Lebanese bakery

My local Lebanese bakery occupies a functional, unembellished space.

That suits me to a T: when I get takeaway, I’ll happily pay for the food.  Not so keen on paying for a fancy fitout.

The main feature of this place?  A fearsome whopper of an oven, with rows of naked flames inside.  Furnace, more like.

I arrived at the bakery at the supposed off-peak hour of 11am, thinking I could chat to the Lebanese baker while the shop was quiet.  Except I couldn’t because it wasn’t.

People sure lunch early on Fridays around here.  Or maybe, like Hobbits from Lord of the Rings, they embrace the laudable concept of elevenses.

Pictured: “My Precioussssss” from Lord of the Rings

RingRingRingRingRing

Hot breads from this 13-year-old Lebanese bakery were selling like, well, hot cakes.

I hung around as patiently as an iJunkie queuing up overnight for the latest model of iMac/Phone/Pad/Pod.

I was rewarded at noon.  A lull!  Clutching my just-bought ocean perch destined for the steamer, I sprinted across the road.

Steamed fish 1 Ocean perch Chinese steamed fish

The Lebanese baker’s pick from the bakery: Shienkliesh bread

“What’s your favourite thing from here?” I quizzed the baker.

“Shienkliesh,” was his answer.  That would be the bread triangle containing shienkliesh.

“Shienkliesh” (pronounced “chahn-gleesh”, commonly spelt “shanklish”) refers to the feta-like cheese in the bready pie, which also encases onions, tomatoes, olives and a touch of chilli.

shienkliesh 1

The onions were sweet, cooked through and slightly crunchy.  The bread was chewy and smoky.  The crumbly cheese was mild-tasting and not too salty.  All in all, it’s a combination that works.

How’s that for a compact parcel containing all major food groups?  No wonder it’s the baker’s personal favourite.  You don’t even need cutlery to eat it.

shienkliesh 2

Things that made me go “Huh?”

On the counter, next to the pre-packed biscuits, were takeaway containers of honeycomb for sale at $9 each.

Well, why not?  The boss’s cousin keeps bees, and the bakery is as good as place as any to sell honeycomb.

Even more intriguingly, next to the honeycomb was a generous bowl of foil-wrapped chocolates.  Not something I’d expect to see in a bakery.

baby girl chocolatesbaby girl chocolatesbaby girl chocolatesbaby girl chocolatesbaby girl chocolates

The explanation?  Those were New Baby Celebration Chocolates.  Our young baker’s baby girl arrived 3 days ago!  Everyone together now: “Awwww…

The shy guy didn’t volunteer the news; it was divulged by another regular customer who’d strolled in to enquire after the bub.

Once the news was out, though, a chocolate was pressed into my hand, and Mr Grinning Dad was forthcoming with the details.

Baby's footImage courtesy of anekoho/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yes, 48cm is long for a wee one weighing in at 2.5kg.  Yes, she’s healthy and already back home with her mum.  And look, she has her father’s fair skin – I was pleased to be shown iPhone baby photos.

The baker had named his daughter after her maternal grandma, whom he loves to bits.  I ask you, how many men can say that about their mother-in-law?

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My pick from the Lebanese bakery: Za’atar Pizza

When I visit this bakery, my mission is to leave with at least 4 salty, tangy za’atar pizzas.

Also called man’oushe or manoush, these are Lebanese flatbreads topped with za’atar and olive oil.

zaatar zaatar 2Extra virgin olive oil

Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice mix comprising (typically):

  • dried thyme,
  • dried oregano,
  • sumac (a pulverised, dried, sour, red berry),
  • sesame seeds, and
  • salt.

Simple, rustic and healthy, za’atar pizza is a common Lebanese street food breakfast.

It rivals Weetbix as the breakfast of champions.  With za’atar believed to enhance the memory, Lebanese mothers have been known to give their children this pizza for breakfast on exam day.  A mum-sanctioned pizza for breakfast – what’s not to like?

Here is AnnaharTV’s 2-min video of goings-on in a Lebanese bakery.  It doesn’t depict my local Lebanese bakery, but the creations are similar, and so is the oven/furnace.

Pay attention at the 40-second mark: see how the za’atar pizza dough bubbles up inside the oven.  That bubbling is what makes it taste divine.

The baker folds my 4 za’atar pizzas, and wraps each one with grease-proof paper.  Back home, everything will be hoovered up within 2 days flat.

Za’atar pizza freezes well.  That’s just a hypothetical statement, because my purchases never make it into the freezer (see above reference to “2 days flat”).

One-step za’atar pizza recipe

Za’atar pizza is easy to make at home.  Most Middle Eastern grocery shops will stock za’atar, olive oil and rolled-out pita bread dough.

Here’s the one-sentence recipe:
Make a paste with the za’atar and olive oil, spread it on the bread and brown it in the oven.

What’s special about this bakery?

Despite being easy to make, I like buying za’atar pizza from this bakery because its house-made bread:

  1. has a bubbled-up brown surface,
  2. is crisp outside,
  3. is chewy inside, and
  4. has a topping that isn’t excessively salty, sour or oily.

Besides, at $2 for a whole pizza, it’s cheap as – no, cheaper than – chips.

For added zing, the shop can serve your za’atar pizza with the traditional accompaniments of raw onion, fresh mint and puckeringly sour pickles as pink as this text.

Now that’s za’atar pizza with chutzpah.  Just like the Ocean’s 11 gang, and the tax advisers of a global giant whose name rhymes with Tar Ducks.

If you liked this post…

…use the buttons below and share the laughs.  Or send me a comment telling me when you last encountered unbelievable chutzpah (with the exception of what follows).

Stuck buying a present for The One Who Has Everything

For an effortless yet splendid gift that doesn’t clutter, and that reaps lasting benefits in the kitchen, give a FITK gift voucher.  More details here.

Gelato cake

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