‘I’ve been eating zaatar ever since I can remember’


Drew Dies: Zaatar Bread Duo, 2011 (CC)

From Brick:

I am mixing zaatar and olive oil in a small bowl. Zaatar is a particular blend of herbs and spices—thyme, sumac, marjoram, oregano, sesame seeds—and the trick to making a paste from it to spread on bread is getting just the right balance of oil to spice so that, when beaten with a spoon, it turns silken but not lumpy, smooth but not runny. It must not soak into or compromise the bread that carries it, but it must also not be chunky, pasty, or grainy. The mixture must be thinly spread to not overpower the tongue, which zaatar can easily do. I am preparing a snack for my son, who likes to pair his zaatar sandwich with cucumber slices. I prefer thick wedges of juicy tomato to finish off my zaatar. I also like it with green olives and mint, or simply a pickle.

איתן פרמן: Origanum syriacum, New Growth, 2007 (CC)

I’ve been eating zaatar ever since I can remember. I would run to the kitchen and ask Mama for something to eat, and she would take a pita, peel it open along its spine to make two equal surfaces, fill one with a tablespoon’s worth of prepared zaatar paste she kept in a jar on the counter, spread the paste in thick lines across the bread, push it evenly with the back of the spoon, make a little fold at the bottom end so that none would drip out, and then roll it tightly like a cigar before handing it to me. The snack could be ready within a minute of asking for it. It was so simple even my dad used to make it for me sometimes.

Gilabrand: Za’atar Shrub, Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, Jerusalem, Israel 2009 (CC)

I’ve eaten zaatar across four countries. I ate zaatar all throughout my time in Lebanon and Greece and Dubai, and it was even easy to find during my family’s first two years in Canada, when we lived in Montreal and would spend our Saturdays driving up the Décarie Expressway in our used Chrysler LeBaron to go to Ville Saint-Laurent, where we could buy bags of it at Lebanese grocers in the strip malls after visiting with my uncle’s family. But when we moved to Richmond Hill, north of Toronto, at the beginning of the nineties, there was no zaatar or even good pita to be found anywhere on the local market shelves or in the food courts. There just weren’t that many other Arabs around.

Davidbena: Origanum syriacum, in Springtime, 2015 (CC)

In any case, by then I wanted nothing more to do with zaatar sandwiches. I was fourteen, and I’d figured out that I could get by much better in the world with a cheeseburger or a bag of chips. Food that everyone else ate and that raised no one’s eyebrows.

“Zaatar”, Brick, Dimitri Nasrallah


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