Arabic Bread/Khubz is commonly known as pita in the west where it is usually thicker and in an oval shape. Traditional Arabic bread is flat, leavened, circular and usually about 10in/25cm in diameter although it can vary. It is baked at high temperatures causing the dough to puff and create pockets. Once cooled, the bread deflates and can then be opened around the seams and the layers used to form sandwiches/wraps, or pieces are torn off randomly to create bite-size scoopers for dips and other foods. It can also be toasted, then gently crumbled and used as a garnish on salads and stews. It is essential that Arabic bread be baked using high temperatures. It is easy to bake the bread in a conventional oven at home and this will yield successful results as long as the aforementioned factor is practiced.
The traditional way of cooking Arabic bread is on the Saj, or a convex metal disc. It is what is called Markouk and was the bread of choice until the later 50’s although people are now going back to making it for it’s health benefits. It is something really sensational to witness; the dough is tossed across from one hand to the other, as the dough continuously stretches yielding a large, circular, and paper-thin dough that is then placed onto the Saj using a big cushion. It will then bake for a couple of minutes before being peeled off. This wonderfully precious, paper-thin bread is called khubz markouk. In the west it can be found in Middle Eastern specialty stores labeled as village bread.
Another traditional but sadly uncommon way of baking Arabic bread is using the clay oven or tannur (also known as tandoor). The clay oven is built into the ground and the dough is slapped onto the sides of the oven, again, with the help of a cushion. Once cooked, it is then removed with a long wired hook.
In the past women would make the bread at home and the villagers would gather at each others houses to help in the baking in a rotation. However these days, fresh Arabic bread abounds in bakeries around Lebanon, thanks to sophisticated machinery and so few people still make their own bread. Thus the beautiful process of artisan bread making is really reserved to Lebanon’s villages.