Contributing writer: Camille CESBRON, Food Anthropologist
Bread is on every table at every meal in Lebanon, and during the month of Ramadan fasting one type of bread is particularly appreciated by Muslim families at Suhoor: “Meshtah”.
Meshtah is a long oval flat bread typical to the South of Lebanon and its name is derived from the Arabic word Ishtah – “to flatten”. Meshtah is taste is very singular and is due to the light, anise taste.
Meshtah “antiquity” can be asserted by the nature of its ingredients: a mix of “bulgur” or “jreesh” with anise powder and black sesame seeds. Now, have you noticed the absence of white flour? That’s because in Lebanon, it wasn’t common to find white flour until the 80’s and it was considered by the Lebanese unsuitable for bread production.
The main ingredient Jreesh or cracked wheat is widely use in bread making in Lebanon, because it doesn’t take many steps or technology to process the wheat. It’s basically raw cracked wheat (Durum wheat). Bulgur, on the other hand, is obtained from wheat that is parboiled first to get rid of the envelop, dried and then cracked. Meshtah is convenient because its preparation is faster than other types of bread, which means that you don’t need to let it rest long. Furthermore, you are using locally produced grains!
Jreesh and bulgur contain more protein, they are more filling, and they give a nice yellow colour to the bread. They also absorb more water than white flour, which consequently allows you to make more dough with the same quantity.
Other regions of the world also celebrate Ramadan with special breads like “Pide” in Turkey or the “Mkate Wa Ufuta” in Zanzibar.
Listed as one of Slow Food’s « Ark of Taste » products, Meshtah is produced all year long, and is relatively easy to be found in bakeries around Lebanon. It is commonly savoured with labneh, makdous, olives, and vegetables.