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From Michael in Doha, Qatar ~ Regular readers of this blog know about my carb fetish. It probably stems from when I was a little boy and my Sicilian immigrant grandfather owned a bread bakery on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. Since then the smell of baking bread will send me on a Pavlovian hunt seeking its source.
Today we were walking down a street in Doha, Qatar. I stuck my nose into the wind whipping off the Persian Gulf and detected the familiar aroma of pita bread baking. Added to it was the pungent smell of a wood being burned in a brick oven. We followed the scent wafting over us to the Al Raas Bakery. A scrum of men standing eagerly outside an open window told us there were delights waiting for us inside.
Every few minutes a stack of fresh flatbreads would appear on the window ledge. A man would hand over some riyals, shove the bread into the plastic bag he had brought along and walk away. In typical bread-lover fashion they would tear off a piece to sample it as they ambled down the street.
I eased my way into the crowd but for some reason my attempts to look like a local failed. However, the other men, knowing we had something in common more important than appearance or nationality, welcomed me into their inner circle.
My grandfather taught me that bread making is all about rhythm: the way you slap the dough, knead it and shape it for baking is an art as much as any painter or musician. I watched the men inside the stifling bakery work through their routine with the skills of a rock band on tour.
One man poked the wood to stoke the embers and generate more heat. The bread maker flipped the dough back and forth in his hands before smacking it onto a round mold to create its distinctive shape. The baker slid the mold into the oven and deftly tipped it so the dough hit the sizzling hot brick.
Flatbread like this is ready in about a minute. Each eager customer already had the money in his hand. One riyal for five loaves, about a nickel apiece.
Typical of the Muslim hospitality we have experienced throughout our stay in the Middle East, the man wearing the red-and-white ghitra headcovering in the photos could sense my eagerness. I didn’t realize it but he asked the others to let me go next. When the next batch appeared they stepped aside and handed it to me.
Larissa and I thanked them profusely and eagerly walked away with our treat; juggling our hot flatbread right from the oven. Where’s a stick of butter when you need it?