Ka'ak is a handbag-shaped bread, a popular street food eaten with tea in Lebanon - Hindustan Times
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Ka'ak is a handbag-shaped bread, a popular street food eaten with tea in Lebanon

ByAbigail banerji
Apr 25, 2024 10:22 AM IST

Baked in a fire over, this traditional bread is crispy outside because of the sesame seeds, and soft and fluffy on the inside

Bread is an integral part of all cultures, and everyone has their own special way of preparing and eating. The baguette from France, Indians eat naan, the bagels by Poland’s Jews or the Arepas from southern America are just some examples of the umteen different kinds of bread that exist around the world. Similarly, in Lebanon, the traditional bread is known as Ka'ak (also known as cake in Arabic) or pocket bread. It may also refer to other kinds of baked goods and cookies, even.

Ka'ak served with Za'atar (Flickr)
Ka'ak served with Za'atar (Flickr)

Street vendor sells Ka'ak(Flickr)
Street vendor sells Ka'ak(Flickr)

However, the traditional bread is akin to a bagel because it is most commonly sold with a hole in the middle. Some liken it to a handbag or a purse due to the built-in handle. The bread is sold by street vendors on a bicycle, on the bustling streets of Beirut. Now, you may wonder, why does a bread have a hole in it? What is the purpose? Well, the hole is for practical reasons: It is so that the street vendors can hang on a peg to cool down before it is sold.

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Talking about her heritage, Nathalie Soubra the co-founder of Sunbun and who has brought this bread to Mumbai for the first time, shares, “The bread is crafted from dough rolled into ropes and skillfully shaped into sun-like discs. They are topped with sesame seeds.” They have a cloud kitchen in Andheri (E), with outlets in Powai and Versova in Mumbai.

 

A type of Ka'ak sandwich paired with falafel
A type of Ka'ak sandwich paired with falafel

She further adds, “In Lebanon, this delectable bread is typically filled with a variety of traditional ingredients such as zaatar, sumac, cheese, labneh, hummus, falafel, and an array of other flavorful options.” It can be eaten as is or dipped into sweetened black tea.

The origins of this bread can be traced back to the Kitab al Wusla il al Habib, a popular cookbook. It is a collection of 635 recipes compiled in 13th-century Syria by an anonymous author. Featured in this cookbook as three recipes for the Ka'ak.

Traditionally, this bread is crafted from whole wheat flour, eggs, sugar and olive oil, with sesame seeds sprinkled on the top. SunBun have introduced an egg-free version that uses date syrup instead. This bread has a slightly crusty taste on the outside but a great airy crumb on the inside. Given its simple ingredients, people can make this at home. However, the secret of a good ka’ak is the flame oven which gives it a golden hue and authentic taste.

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