When Bay Space chef Reem Assil conceived of her bakery, Reem’s California, she knew she needed to seize the heat of an Arab street-corner bakery, the place locals might collect over freshly baked breads. A za’atar-covered man’oushe, a Lebanese road meals staple and a continuing throughout Assil’s childhood on the East Coast, appeared becoming because the bakery’s icon. However she additionally needed the meals to have a good time California.

Consequently, her man’oushe dough is made with grains sourced from Central Milling in Petaluma, slowly leavened within the type of Northern California’s famed breads and topped with native produce. And Assil isn’t the one one branching out. A handful of cooks and bakers within the Bay Space are combining strategies and flavors from California and Center Japanese cooking to create advanced, deeply flavored breads. At Berkeley’s Lulu and Badan and Oakland’s Mishmish, these breads have change into fashionable objects on their respective menus. For some, the creations symbolize a return to ancestral traditions; others are incorporating components that make the breads vegan or gluten-free to accommodate extra diets; and others nonetheless are going past their very own cultural backgrounds to create dishes that symbolize the immigrant expertise in California.

“I really feel like Arab kind of unites us, as in we come from Arabic-speaking international locations and that is the land we lived off of, and listed below are the traditions we introduced, that are crucial for me to be happy with,” stated Assil. “However that doesn’t need to compete with our celebration of Oakland and celebration of California. These issues are intersectional.”

Reem’s and Mishmish are among the rare Bay Area establishments serving Ka’ik, a Jerusalem-style sesame bread.

Reem’s and Mishmish are among the many uncommon Bay Space institutions serving Ka’ik, a Jerusalem-style sesame bread.

Scott Strazzante/The Chronicle

Assil acquired into baking throughout her three-year stint at Arizmendi Bakery beginning in 2010. Whereas studying the ins and outs of creating sourdough, Assil realized her ancestors had been making fermented breads too, not the extra widespread, fast yeasted, industrially made breads like pita which are usually related to Southwest Asia and North Africa — a geographic term many individuals equivalent to Assil desire over Center East as a result of latter’s Eurocentric origins. Earlier than globalization and political destabilization affected flour entry within the area, naturally fermented bread was extra widespread than fast yeasted bread. Even right this moment, bakers in Lebanon villages nonetheless use their very own starters and milled grains for saag, or Arabic bread.

“The irony of it’s that the extra that I realized about Californian delicacies, the extra I spotted my ancestors did this too,” Assil stated.

That grew to become the inspiration behind Assil’s man’oushe at Reem’s California, the groundbreaking restaurant she opened in Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood in 2017. Her man’oushe is a cross between skinny Lebanese and heartier Palestinian kinds and leads to a flatbread that’s pillowy however nonetheless has a glutinous, chewy chunk and is substantial sufficient to bear toppings like avocado or sumac-slathered rooster. She provides white rye from California as a nod to native sourdough traditions. “However time is the actual secret,” she stated, referring to the 48-hour chilly fermentation course of for the dough. The flat disks are coated in olive oil and za’atar earlier than being cooked at excessive temperature for a couple of minutes in a pizza-style oven. Earlier than their brick-and-mortar days, the Reem’s crew transported a saj, a convex steel griddle, to farmers’ markets to organize the bread.

At Berkeley’s Lulu, smaller, fluffier man’oushe (seen on the top right) are part of the brunch spread.

At Berkeley’s Lulu, smaller, fluffier man’oushe (seen on the highest proper) are a part of the brunch unfold.

Supplied by Lulu/

Equally at Lulu, the California model of chef Mona Leena’s weekday man’oushe is serving it flat, pizza type, with za’atar, labneh and an egg on high. In the meantime her weekend man’oushe emerges from the oven smaller, fluffier and meant for dipping and consuming with California-influenced mezzes like butternut squash muhammara and roasted beet hummus. The latter bread is a mode generally present in Palestinian properties, made with small balls of high-hydration dough proofed straight on the olive oil-coated pan they’re baked in. Leena additionally showcases her Palestinian roots in her breads and pastries equivalent to sumac focaccia or a Tcho chocolate brownie topped with a tahini caramel.

Some cooks adapt conventional dishes for their very own dietary wants and their gluten-free or vegan prospects. Michelle Nazzal of vegan pop-up Mishmish makes use of almond milk reasonably than dairy in her ka’ek, a Jerusalem-style sesame bread not often discovered within the Bay Space. The oval ring-shape Ka’ek is often torn into items to dip in za’atar or cheese; Nazal additionally makes a nondairy cheese from tofu, dietary yeast and coconut oil.

Her cooking is essentially influenced by her grandmother, who immigrated to San Francisco from Palestine within the Nineteen Sixties and cooked many basic vegetable dishes that had been naturally vegan. However at household gatherings Nazzal would usually miss out on central dishes that featured meat. Consequently, she began experimenting with seasonal produce, permitting her to make variations of the identical dish. In a standard rooster dish baked over bread, Nazzal makes use of oyster mushrooms. Whereas nonetheless paying homage to her household’s cooking, Nazzal stated it might be a misplaced alternative to not mess around with California components.

Badan’s Alsaidi combines the grains from his childhood in Yemen, like sorghum and millet, to create a gluten-free flatbread.

Badan’s Alsaidi combines the grains from his childhood in Yemen, like sorghum and millet, to create a gluten-free flatbread.

Santiago Mejia/The Chronicle

Equally at Badan, which opened throughout the pandemic inside Berkeley Natural Market & Deli, proprietor Hafez Alsaidi mixed the grains from his childhood in Yemen, like sorghum and millet, to create a gluten-free flatbread served someday every week. Alsaidi remembers every family in his village utilizing no matter yard grains had been obtainable for home-cooked breads, and he was impressed to create a brand new type of flatbread at Badan. His creation, which satisfies his gluten-free prospects, has chia, nigella and flax seeds to have a good time the abundance of components within the Bay Space. As well as, he makes use of unprocessed complete wheat flour from native provider Group Grains for his each day vegetarian wrap layered with hummus and za’atar.

“We just about lived off of both our land or the kitchen backyard, so I went again to reflecting on how my grandparents raised me to provide you with one thing new,” he stated.

For a lot of, defining what’s Californian isn’t just in regards to the components utilized in creating these breads but in addition about recognizing the state’s range of cultures.

Mona Leena makes use of her man’oushe dough to make jian dui at Lulu, the Chinese language sesame rice flour balls full of pink bean paste. The skin crust crackles with the identical sugary sesame coating however has a fluffier, much less chewy inside.

At Reem’s, Assil’s man’oushe is a vessel for tales of individuals working and consuming on the bakery and the locations they arrive from. The el cornish man’oushe, topped with corn and cotija cheese like a Mexican elote, celebrates the immigrant communities within the Mission and Fruitvale (the place Reem’s two places function) and California’s historic reference to Mexico. Arab meals is supposed to be versatile, in response to Assil, and sharing the way it modifications by nation or by means of diaspora will help to push again on a few of the restricted understanding of the area’s meals within the U.S.

“We’re unapologetically utilizing the meals to inform a narrative about land and place and folks,” Assil stated.

Ferron Salniker is an Oakland primarily based author and occasion producer. Electronic mail: food@sfchronicle.com

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