Allow me to tell you a little and true story.
When little me had achieved around 8 years of life, I was old enough to go with my parents to the land of the Pyramids and Mummies and Hieroglyphics. We did not remain where those prestigious three artifacts usually were to be found, but went off into the sandy distance, bouncing away in a rented 15-passenger van with the windows slid open and dust settling gently on our faces. We were going to see grandma and grandpa, known to me as Sitti and Sedi.
There was much to explore there, but I was rather timid. I didn’t speak the same language as the other kids, and most of my cousins were younger than me. Plus, I dressed funny – compared to them. I knew they were excited to meet me and would run around, grabbing my hand and talking excitedly, mostly amongst each other and some to me. One morning, I awoke as usual to the rapid voices of a couple of my aunts at the door – I knew by their quick knock that they were bringing breakfast to us in my parents’ former apartment, where we were staying.
I lay on my bed, which was very firm and didn’t give at all when you sat on it, yet it wasn’t hard like a board either. It had taken me a few days to get used to being woken up several times during the night to the prayer calls of the Imam. I was getting better at sleeping through the night, but still tired in the morning. I bounded out of bed, and before I even went to brush my teeth or get ready, I peeked into the tiny kitchen and saw huge oval aluminum trays with plates of food – a baked fish, a tomato and cucumber salad, fresh white cheese, freshly made falafel, and of course, freshly baked pita bread. It was time for breakfast.
Sometime during that trip, I went downstairs and across the yard to visit Sitti. She was in the back kitchen, baking bread. I remember being so short and small compared to her, with her patterned dresses and hair pulled back with a dark-coloured scarf, and I vaguely remember her voice and gestures as she shoved a big paddle with pita dough into an open oven with blazing, orange flames. I had never had a pita like that in my life. It was hot, soft, and buttery. Somehow, she had managed to bake in a salty, light butter into the inside of the thick bread. I bit into it, hot and all, and polished the whole circle off while standing there, watching her powerful baking rhythm. My Sitti. She baked a truly special bread.
Those ten bites, I’ll never forget. I wish I could make bread like that. This memory is one of the hardest to pull in detail for me since I only saw her a few times when I was very young before she passed away. And, since then, I remember that pita bread every time I eat pita.
I have so many little moments like these that I could write about, many histories, and tales to spin. A great part of who I am can be found in the subtle elements of culinary traditions that have been passed down to me.
The pita, is but one claim I have to culinary heritage.
It is simple, soft, spacious, and strong.