Give Us Our Daily Bread
By “Awake!” correspondent in Lebanon
NOWHERE is the expression “daily bread” more appropriate than in the Middle East where it originated. Even today bread is the food of greatest importance in a household. No matter how many dishes a meal may have, if bread is not included, the Middle Easterner will not feel he has eaten properly.
Here, the amount of food a person consumes is measured by the amount of bread he eats, not by the number of helpings of any one dish. So the expression, “I really ate! Two loaves!” is common. If unexpected guests arrive just at mealtime, it presents no problem to the Lebanese housewife if she has plenty of bread in the house. The rest of the meal can be stretched to meet the demands.
Necessarily, then, when something happens that cuts down the bread supply, panic can result. A bakers’ strike can cause panic even though the markets are full of all other kinds of food.
Varieties of Lebanese Bread
One may wonder why bread is so important to the Middle Easterner. The answer becomes apparent when one learns of the many kinds of bread that are eaten and how they are used as edible “spoons” and “forks.” Consider a few of the kinds of bread eaten in Lebanon.
By far the most popular is “khubz Arabi,” or Arabic bread. The yeast dough, made with either white or whole-wheat flour, differs little from Western bread dough. It is made with water, in place of milk, and is only slightly salted. That is where the similarity ends, however.
The mixed dough is divided into balls about the size of a fist and allowed to rise. After rising to the proper extent, the loaves are either flattened by hand or passed through a machine that looks like a washing-machine wringer. As a result, the loaves are now thin and flat and about the size of a large dinner plate. Again they are allowed to rise slightly. Now the bread is ready for baking.
As the loaves bake they puff up so that they look like overturned mixing bowls. In just a couple of minutes they are baked to a turn. When they cool they collapse again, but now the loaves are like pockets, seamed all around, crisp on the outside and moist on the inside.
Six of these hollow loaves make up about one kilogram, 2.2 pounds, of bread. Big families consume five or six kilograms of bread in one day, so the housewife has quite a stack of bread to carry home from the bakery!
A delicious variation of Arabic bread is “kaak,” which is sold wherever children congregate. This is a smaller size loaf, and only half of it is hollow. The other half is shaped like a handle, somewhat resembling an oversized, lopsided doughnut. It is covered generously with sesame seeds and toasted crispy.
Every afternoon when schools let out, or near any park, vendors carrying large trays of “kaak” on their heads can be heard shouting their wares. If you stop a vendor, he will let you choose the loaf you want. Then, poking a hole in the hollow part of it, he will sprinkle the inside with an herb mixture of thyme, sumac and salt. A tasty afternoon snack!
A popular bread for breakfast here in Lebanon is a dry “kaak” that comes in the shape of a doughnut or a finger. It is flat to the palate by itself as it contains no salt, but is quite tasty when dunked in one’s favorite beverage.
Another type of bread that is almost as popular as Arabic bread is “khubz marqook” or “khubz as-saj,” a paper-thin variety. The basic dough and the weight of the loaf are approximately the same, but the loaf is formed into thin, two-foot-in-diameter dimensions by being tossed from hand to hand, as pizza dough is prepared. This bread is quite crisp and almost devoid of moisture, so it keeps a long time. Since village women bake only once a week for their large families, this is very practical for them. Week-old bread of this type is as good as that freshly baked.
Still another style of bread, popular mostly in the mountain villages, is “khubz at-tannoor.” Again, the dough recipe is standard, but the loaves are of another consistency due to the way they are baked. The oven used is a convexly curved stone kiln.
After the loaf has been flattened and tossed, it is placed on a covered cushion and lowered into the preheated kiln and slapped to a curved side, where it sticks till baked. It is then peeled off when done. These loaves are thicker than the “khubz marqook” and remain moist several days.
Not to be overlooked are the Armenian varieties of bread. These are not much different from French-style bread. The loaves are sprinkled with sesame seed before baking, which gives them a nutty flavor.
Many Lebanese dishes are similar to stews, and are eaten with rice. In place of forks, each one has his loaf of Arabic bread, or the paper-thin “khubz marqook” variety if preferred. For each mouthful of food a piece of bread about two inches square is broken or torn off the loaf, folded into a scoop, and used to convey the food to the mouth and eaten right along with the food. Even the thinnest of sauces can be scooped up in this manner without any leaks; the crusty surface of the bread prevents such a disaster.
Most Oriental restaurants do without cutlery, but serve all the bread one wants. For dinners like shish kebab (broiled lamb on skewers) or charcoal-broiled chicken, handy pieces of bread can be used to pick up the meat. A favorite evening meal is “maza,” plates of finger foods, salads, meats, cold cuts, nuts and, of course, Arabic bread.
An Arabic sandwich is also different from the sandwich made of bread slices. Either a whole Arabic loaf or half of one can be used. The loaf is split apart, making two complete rounds. A favorite filling or spread is applied and then the loaf is rolled up, beginning at one edge, till it becomes a long cylinder with all the filling inside. Children may eat several a day, in addition to their regular meals.
Here in Lebanon where we eat bread every day, regardless of what else we consume, we can easily appreciate that Jesus Christ meant ‘daily food’ when he taught his followers to pray for their ‘daily bread.’ May we ever be content and thankful for this provision of God.—Matt. 6:9-11, Authorized Version.