by Julia Brainbridge
Throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, tables overflow with flatbreads as diverse as their countries of origin. We looked to some of our favorite bakers for the lowdown on these global breads.
Bread has always been the staple.
“Rice didn’t make it to this region until maybe this last century. Bread has always been the staple,” says Azhar Hashem, owner of Tawla restaurant in San Francisco. The region she’s referring to is the Eastern Mediterranean—Turkey, Greece, the Levant, and Iran—and the bread there is flat.
“These are breads that may be humble in appearance, but they’re so nuanced,” says Azhar, who moved to the United States from Jordan when she was 16. They are crispy, soft, and chewy. They act as utensils, scooping up hummus and eggplant spread, or as vehicles for entire meals, or as sponges, soaking up meat drippings in kebab shops. “Laffa is the burrito shell of Israel,” says award-winning Chef Michael Solomonov of Zahav, a modern Israeli restaurant in Philadelphia. The flatbreads are thin, so they cook fast, which means they’re usually prepared to order and land in your hands still warm. Can you say the same for baguettes or focaccia?
“Bread is the first thing listed on our menu, and we charge for it,” Azhar says. “I want customers to pause and say, ‘I’m going to order bread.’ That’s a deliberate action versus the arrival of a basket at the table with no announcement.” So yes, they’re flat, and they’re humble, but they’re ancient and exquisite. That’s the kind of staple we all want.