No matter how old you are, you will never outgrow the little voice in your head that sounds exactly like grandma, telling you to eat your Zaatar. Sworn in the book of all things “Teta”, zaatar apparently can make you into the next Albert Einstein. However, lucky for us, it comes in the form of the most delicious breakfast treat, which made our childhood and even adulthood – exquisitely delicious. The manoosheh is a timeless Lebanese breakfast food that is made out of dough, topped with cheese, thyme or meat and is baked to perfection. In other words, it’s what we can thank for the current 6 packs on our stomachs – or lack thereof. Despite our imaginary packs, it is suffice to say, that as a Lebanese, if it wasn’t part of your everyday meal plan growing up – you didn’t have a normal childhood.
The origins of this delicious breakfast food has no solid foundation, but an Arab cookbook from the 10th century mentions recipes for flatbreads with thyme and olive oil – all ingredients that would have been available to cooks back then. The fact that very little is known about the origins of our beloved manoosheh suggests that it’s been around for a very, very long time. Proof that a manoosheh is easily the number one breakfast choice in Lebanon is the abundance of bakeries that make them on almost every other corner. Since we are regulars at the bakery in our area, (yes he has memorized our orders) we figured it made sense to see if the person behind the counter enjoys a manoosheh just as much as we do.
Two cheese manoosheh, three thyme, and one mixed is our usual order almost every morning. We walk into Saade bakery and are greeted with a smile and the usual nod to indicate our order was on the way – but we explained to Michel Saade, the owner that today was a little different. Instead of ordering our usual we sat down with Michel and asked him where did his love of the manoosheh come from. (Don’t worry we ordered our usual right after.) Michel Saade has had his bakery for 6 years, just off Abdel Wahab Street in Ashrafieh. However, the story started long before that. His father started the business in 1932, opening up his bakery near Hôtel Dieu (a branch which is still being run by Michel’s brothers). Michel joined his father at a very young age, at first delivering bread and then learning the ins and outs of the business. Although Michel aspired to be a mechanic, he put his ambitions aside to take over the business and provide an income for his family, especially in the tough times of the civil war. But he doesn’t regret it – today the job has become his love and passion. He has continued using his father’s original recipes and aims to expand the menu to include more baked delicacies on the menu. After being in the business for so long, he says that the consistent, most satisfying feeling is seeing the first smile after his customers take one bite of the freshly made manoosheh, and we can vouch that it is impossible to leave his bakery without either the manoosheh or the smile.