Kaak (street bread)

January 7, 2010  • 

 

My first and last day in Beirut is always the same: I have to get some kaak.Kaakis the street bread that Beirutis love more than anything, it is our pretzel, our simit, our croissant; you get my point. This time, my new friend, Hind, took me to a bakery in Basta (the neighborhood in Beirut that no tourist will ever venture in unaccompanied); I was in heaven!

The place was a grotto! You had to first climb a few steps, then see through the darkness and smoke the flames of a medieval-looking oven and the bustle of men getting their first shipments of kaak ready for delivery.


Kaak is delivered to all the cart vendors throughout the city. They dangle them on a rail in their chariot, covered in plastic for protection. You buy it and they will fill it with a choice of zaatar or picon cheese (a cheese spread similar to cream cheese). I always want mine with zaatar, of course!

Some stores specialize in kaak and will fill it with every imaginable topping and will even toast it. The best kaak is eaten warm, fresh from the oven. It is irresistible! Chewy, faintly pungent with thyme, sesame and sumac, it just feels so comforting whenever you are walking the streets of Beirut and feeling the first pangs of hunger.

the furn (bakery) owner, standing guard at the steps, tending to business

and having fun at the same time, in the typical fashion of a bastawi

kaak lined up like little soldiers ready for delivery to all the cart vendors in town

Comments

51 Comments  •  Comments Feed

  1. northshorewoman says:

    this is a great post! It really brings to life in a down-to-earth daily way the kaak bakery and its people and environs. I’m going to find this bakery next time I go to Beirut!

  2. Rosa says:

    Thanks for sharing! An interesting bread!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  3. SE says:

    J,

    This is so interesting..and nice to read all about beirut..

  4. M. A. Salha says:

    I also love ka’ak. Last time I was in Beirut I’d noticed there were very few street vendors left but I’m glad to see that has changed.

  5. Juliana says:

    Oh! Love this kind of bread…I can almost smell them. Thanks for sharing Beirut 🙂 By the way, Happy New Year Jourmana!

  6. Marysol says:

    You know, I found it interesting that the neighborhood where no tourists dare venture would be appropriately named “Basta,” which is Spanish for: “Enough.” That alone made me smile.

    But the breads, oh my! Just one of those beautiful breads would not be Basta for me. And I love their baby bib shape.

  7. HistoryOf GreekFood says:

    What a wonderful street bread! Thanks for sharing! 😉

  8. Ivy says:

    This looks delicious. Does it open like pita?

    • Joumana says:

      If you wish to have it with zaatar, the street vendor will slit it once, throw in the zaatar mix (thyme, sumac and sesame and salt) and you will then shake it all around to spread it evenly. If you want it with cheese, then he will open it like pita and cover one side with cheese.

  9. diala says:

    Love this one sooo much! Remember my childhood in Sad El Baouchrieh and the sound of the vendors when they came into our street!! 🙂

  10. sabah says:

    I love all kind of bread, that one looks fabulous, I would love to try it, thanks for sharing.

  11. Arlette says:

    Marhaba Joumana and welcome back
    this is my favourite bakery its between Ras Al Nabah and Basta, in a tiny street… the smell of the kaak filling the air , my sister still stops there and buy some kaak if she is in the neighborhood, or if dont have anything one afternoon they drive from Sin el fil to Basta specially to buy the Kaak… the old guy is the one who taught me how to do it, and I did a posting about the kaak, but too bad I dont have any photos taken from the bakery… now we do… Thanks Joumana you took me back to my Beautiful Country and favourite snack

    • Joumana says:

      Hi Arlette, how amazing that this is the same bakery! I did mean to link to your recipe and forgot! I am going to try it by the way! The only hint I got this time in Beirut was to use Flour 00.

  12. jihad says:

    hi, kifik, ca va
    please informe the recipe ingredient of kaak ( street bread)

    thanks
    shao

  13. georges says:

    Hi,please informe the recipe ingredient of kaak ( street bread)

    thank you in advance

    • Joumana says:

      @Georges: I have yet to make kaak, sorry I don’t have a recipe available right at this moment/ I will make one soon.

  14. Farid says:

    Hi Joumana,

    Have you ever managed to post the recipe for kaak? Appreciate if you could post it.

    thanks

    Farid

  15. Nisrine says:

    hey! yummi it looks so good

    i also would highly appreciate if you can post the kaak recipe thanks

  16. Roro says:

    We used to call them “3asriyhe Ka’ak” afternoon ka’ak, street vendors used to sell them in the afternoon by the “corniche el ba7er” in Rouche district. I missed those days where Beirut was a cornucopia of multiculturism and we all shared our benevolence with our neighbors.

  17. Mike says:

    Hi there
    This place is in zahrawi street in basta tahta
    The man in the picture is abo ali
    That’s why they call it kaak abo ali
    And they call him abo ali elka’ak this guy is a history him self
    Beside the delicious kaak he make ,he use to solve all the street
    Troubles , such as people fighting , car accidents and others
    And never put down his argille(hookah)even during the fight.
    Any way I know all this because I live just across the street from that place
    Too bad abo ali has been sick for the past two years
    last year I went to Lebanon and I didn’t see him at all

  18. Mike says:

    The kaak vendors use to come at 5 am
    I remember before going to school I use to hear them talking
    And telling the previous day stories
    Abo ali was well known person too all kind of people use to visit him
    Especially in Ramadan night when the furn is open24 hours
    Like I said the place called after him,and he called after the place
    They were like one
    always sweet talk to every body pass by
    Ya Hala ya Hala , all day long you hear him saying
    Habibi ,3yoni, sharrif
    he was never tired
    As for the ka’ak they only sell the good Looking and Buffy one
    they give away the latieh one (bad)
    I have a lot of things I can tell about it
    may be next time

  19. Laura McMullen says:

    Have you found a recipe for the street vendor version of kaak? This was my favorite treat growing up in Beirut and as I haven’t been back- I would give anything to make it. I did find your recipe for kaak but they look more like solid bagels and not sure that the recipe would work if I tried to shape them into the rings.and if it puffs up so that it’s hollow.
    One of my favorite recipes that I do make is zaatar bread- it’s very good but wondering if you have a recipe that would be a little more authentic than the one I’m using.
    Thanks Laura

    • Joumana says:

      @Laura: The recipe for kaak is first on my to-do list! I am enjoying kaak as much as possible while in Lebanon, but I know I will miss it! Stay tuned, I even bought an electric oven to test it in.

  20. Sanna says:

    Hi! Got to this blog in the pursuit of ka’ak-recipe, have you by any chance found one? 🙂

    • Joumana says:

      @Sanna: Ka’ak made in a home kitchen is going to be a recipe in my cookbook; as of yet, I don’t know of an authentic recipe and the stores that sell it here like Abu Arab would not divulge such a winning recipe!

  21. imm abbas says:

    Did you ever get around to making this ?
    Is this the same type of kaak that goes with the kanafe if not do you have q recipe for it?
    thank you

    • Joumana says:

      @imm abbas: I tried many times to make it at home and have temporarily given up; this is difficult; according to the guys at the bakery the oven is kept at a special temp; the oven is key.

  22. imm abbas says:

    That’s unfortunate I found a couple recipes on the net and I have them rising before putting them in the oven hopefully they turn out at least decent if I have any luck I’ll definitely let you know.

  23. imm abbas says:

    I sent you an email with some pictures I think it turned out pretty well!!

  24. Sossie says:

    How come no bakery in California can duplicate the kaak,they make it but it is nothing like the Lebanese kaak with zaatar
    Our street vendor would come in late afternoon on Sodeco St carrying his tray full of kaaks on his head and yell; KAAK ASSREYEH we would lower a basket tied to a long rope from our 6th floor balcony and buy kaaks
    I can still smell the aroma after 40 years

    • Joumana says:

      @Sossie: I can relate; I still adore the kaak but I have become much more demanding when it comes to the zaatar inside! 🙂

  25. sossie says:

    Joumana; where do you live now? In our area of Glendale CA we can buy Zaatar imported from Lebanon or Jordan

  26. Mike says:

    Last update
    Abo ali passed away (Allah yer7amo)last summer
    His son is taking care of the furn
    But unfortunately nothing like before
    The building where the place at is too old
    Some one bought it and wants them to
    Leave so they will demolish the building
    And now they waitng the court decision
    I told the bakers who w

  27. Mike says:

    I told the bakers who work there about your website
    And thy willing to share the their secret of making
    The precious kaak

  28. zeinab says:

    thank u for posting this post now….i am so proud of having a grandfather like geddo abo ali….we missed him alot…. i am so happy of what u said about geddo… he was a great person ….it was a great loss not just for us as his family but also to everyone he knew him.
    it is correct that the old foron was closed..but abu ali sons opened a new foron close to the old one..

  29. aya says:

    thank u for this post.we r all proud of haj abu ali(may his soul rest in peace ) he left his love in everyone’s heart.his family and this bakery are a continuous of his legacy

  30. amal hoteit says:

    Hi everyone . I’m abu ali’s daughter . I would like to thank you all for what you said about dad . the bakery was his life . Believe me , he used to use the same words at home:ya hala ,3youne ,yes3ed hal sabah . He would have been so happy and proud of what you said . His dream was to improve the bakery and the ka3k and hamdella my brothers are doing that by opening a new branch in Bshara al khouri in front of the building of al melieh . It would be a small thank for a man who dedicated his life to us, others , and his work . Thank you all

  31. sawsan says:

    thank you all for your comments,
    it is been almost a year since abou ali,my father,passed away
    a reading them at the time like this,meant soo much to us
    i personally consider them like condolences.
    Yes!!. he left an impact on everyone around him through his kindness, generosity and hospitality.

    @mike

    • Joumana says:

      @sawsan: I was so sorry to hear about his passing; I consider that your father was a pillar of Lebanese life and culture. It will be difficult for someone else to fill his shoes. My heartfelt condolences.

  32. Hisham Assaad says:

    I love Kaak.
    Kaak from Abou Arab (Safra Highway) is a stop everything we go to Jbeil/Byblos for beach.

    I love mine with Akkawi cheese and Mouhammara

  33. Richard says:

    I was born in England and came to Beirut with my family when I was 6 months old and lived there for 25 years until the civil war. Ka’ak was part of my childhood. We used to go twice a week to the Sanayeh park where I learned to ride a bicycle and our treat was a ka’ak from the vendor in one corner of the park. As I grew older I tended to prefer a man’oushi from the Dib Bakery in Patriarchat (Zarif) although I used to enjoy a ka’ak from time to time. I still make many Lebanese dishes and I have taught my English wife to make excellent madadarah.

    • Joumana says:

      @Richard: Sounds like we had similar childhood memories, since we lived behind the garden and Sanayeh was our playground on a daily basis 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing bits of your childhood memories! 🙂

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