As the sun rises and the sky is not yet blue but waking up from its deep sleep, the forns (ovens) are hard at work preparing this dough pressed flat and baked with a topping of choice (zaatar, cheese, minced meat, vegetarian), The man’oushé.
The man’oushé is the classic Lebanese breakfast, derived from the Arabic word na’sh, which refers to the way the fingertips of the baker “engraves” the dough. The bakers engrave the dough so whatever topping is used doesn’t spill over from it. Tiny bakeries across the country from south to north sell this absolute divine pleasure in the morning, from the poorest of areas to the richest ones.
Traditionally, women would bake dough in a communal oven (the forn) in the morning, to provide their family with their daily bread needs, and would prepare smaller portions of dough with different toppings for breakfast at the same time.
There is nothing that is more Lebanese then a hot crisp man’oushé in the morning. The way it’s done is just pure culinary poetry. First the dough is rolled with a wooden rolling pin as little bit of flour dust is sprinkled on the wooden plank, roughened by time and experience. Quickly as though his hands have a life of their own, the baker engraves the side of it with swift and gentle hands, to create something that looks like little ripples of waves on the shore. A big spoon is then used to scoop from the bowl a gorgeous lump of zaatar, salt, sumac and olive oil to be spread on the dough. Meanwhile the oven is churning, salivating over what it’s about to embrace. As he adjusts the temperature of the oven and the colors of the fire start changing from blue to orange and then yellow, a dance of light is formed that both of them have practiced so well over the years. And before the curtains of fire fall down on it, the baker throws the man’oushé gently yet with a firm hand into the fire. The oil starts to bubble up and you can feel the zaatar and all the other flavors merging together into one exploding flavour. As the dough starts to crisp up on one side, the baker takes a long metal rod and quickly turns the man’oushé to where the fire is strongest making sure that this little perfection he has created is truly perfect and crisp on every side. A purely, utterly, warm, and gorgeous smell fills up the forn as the baker hands it to you rolled in a little beige paper. Sahtein!
Remember as you are about to experience the pure pleasure of it, as simple as it looks and tastes, it’s been a work in progress over a century. There is beauty in perfecting such a small skill that brings joy to millions of people every day. So next time when you visit your forn ask the baker to make you one “a3la Zaw2ak” (to your liking). You most probably will get one, perfectly crispy on all sides with just the right amount of zaatar!
Because The man’oushé is as important in life as the discovery of fire, and any other great shift in human civilization and the search for the perfect man’oushé, much like the fabled fountain of youth, continues to this day, I #livelovelebanon and I will #fighton