Friday, June 12, 2009

North Jersey's pita bread wars

I have been eating pita bread all my life and can recall the enterprising salesman who hawked bread baked in Brooklyn from a baby carriage he pushed through the sun-splashed streets when we summered in Bradley Beach, part of the annual migration of Sephardic Jews. We called it Syrian bread back then and the loaves were a foot across.

When I moved to North Jersey three decades ago, I naturally gravitated to the Middle Eastern food bazaar in the South Paterson section of Paterson that straddles the Clifton border. As the years passed, great pita bread bakeries came and went, including Amir's, which formed the bread by hand and turned out a deliciously chewy loaf that stood up to stuffing with meat, salad, hummus and whatever else you could cram into it. In those days, no preservatives were used -- just flour, yeast, water and salt.

Today, only a few bakeries in Paterson sell the bread, including Fattal's and Nouri's. But for a decade or more, I have noticed a preference at some restaurants for the thinner, Lebanese-style pita over the slightly thicker Syrian-style loaf. No big deal you would think, but some Lebanese restaurants refused to buy freshly baked local pita and served thinner bread imported from Canada that often was cardboardy and didn't stand up to stuffing with food.

Fattal's loaf, although it is no longer baked in Paterson, has been my preferred bread since Amir's handmade, preservative-free, Lebanese-stlye pita disappeared. Despite the addition of calcium propionate to retard spoilage, Fattal's pita is pliable and stands up well to heating in the toaster. (Calcium propionate is an organic salt that inhibits the growth of mold and is considered one of the safest food additives, according to

This week, I purchased a bag of Nouri's pita and found it is thinner and doesn't heat as well or stand up as well to stuffing. And since any meal can be eaten stuffed into pita, a pita you can't stuff is a pita you don't want.


  1. My family calls it Syrian bread too, I don't think I have ever used the word Pita. Since my wife is from another Arab country I now call it Arabic bread sometimes.

    One brand of the Lebanese bread from Montreal is pretty decent, they sell it at Nouris and it comes in packs of 6, they are slightly larger than a Nouris or Fattals loaf. There is a green cedar tree on the front of the bag, the name of the brand escapes me. I believe there might be Armenian writing on the bag as well. If you go to Nouris on Wednesdays you will catch it fresh.

    I sure do miss Amir's

  2. I'll check out that Montreal bread. If you don't have a Middle Eastern background, the phrase Syrian bread is puzzling, I think. It's the right phrase, but not to outsiders.


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