As you can se, Labib’s bakery is nothing to write home about if you simply drive by. However, this little one man show in the Dekwani area in Beirut is the best new discovery on this trip. My brother kept saying “You have to go to Labib’s bakery for Mana’ish baked on the Saj. They are like no other’s mana’ish.” A quick tutorial might be in order. Mana’ish (the plural of Man’oushi) are a typical breakfast/snack food in Lebanon. Think of them as Lebanese pizza pies. Traditional topping is made from zaatar (wild thyme, sesame, sumac and olive oil), but other toppings include cheese, kishik (fermented yogurt and cracked wheat), Qawarma (lamb cooked in lamb fat = lamb confit?) and Armenian sausage to name a few. These can be either baked in a regular gas powered oven or on a Saj. Both are good, but produce different results. The Saj looks like an upside down wok and is fueled traditionally by wood, but in most cases by propane (or butane?).
Oh boy was my brother right! As opposed to almost all other Saj places, Labib’s pies are very rustic. His dough is very wet and cannot be handled and rolled paper thin as is the norm. Instead he removes a ball of dough from the stash and puts it straight on the hot Saj where he uses his hands to ‘form’ it into a roughly round shape. Then he applies, again using nothing but his hands, the topping. The result is a wonderfully light, crispy and airy Man’oushi. I loved these so much I came back the next day to snap all these pictures.
Ok, Labib’s menu includes:
Zaatar plain, with creamy cheese, with regular cheese (probably salty Akawi), with Labneh or with Kashkaval cheese.
Lahm bil Ajeen (meat pie)
Sujuk (Armenian Sausage)
Qawarma (with all the variations of the zaatar one)
Cheese, also in several variations and styles and with meats or without
Chocolate (usually Nutella) with banana and hazelnut
A couple of things to drink.
I tried a few of these. My favorites were the Cheese with vegetables (tomatoes/mint/olives all placed in the pie after it’s baked), the Zaatar in the same style and the Qawarma with Labneh (boy is this one rich).
You can see a cheese pie in the back and he is working on a meat one in the front here.
I am pretty sure the one in the forefront is mine here. It’s half zaatar and half cheese.
A finished and sliced pie ready to eat. This was my cheese and vegetable pie.
A closer look.
This was a Labneh and vegetable pie.
I crave these pies on a daily basis…another three years before I can have another…