Monday, February 28, 2011

Lebanese pizzas at Amanie's Bakery

I first discovered Lebanese pizza when I was studying Arabic at a primary school in outer suburban Melbourne.  A Saturday morning "ethnic" school ran out of there each week and I had been placed into Year 9.  If you thought high school was awkward, try being 23 years old and in a class full of 15-year-olds for whom Saturday Arabic school is the definition of pure torture.  The classes were good, but what truly kept me going back was the canteen at break time.  Parents would lug bulging cardboard boxes into the playground and line them up on card tables.  Everyone would forget how much they did not want to be there and rush to form a long, jostling line.  In the cardboard boxes lay pocket after pocket of warm, savoury Lebanese pizza, each wrapped in a single square of greaseproof paper.  There were only two choices - cheese or za'atar, a special herb - and they were ridiculously cheap.  I could never decide which to get so I always got both.  Those pizzas, eaten on an old bench seat under a peppercorn tree, are still the best Lebanese pizzas I've had in Melbourne.

Sadly I no longer attend that Arabic school and am none the wiser where they sourced their pizzas from.  The biggest choice of Lebanese bakeries or makhaabiz (singular: makhbaz) is in the northern suburbs but we have a few options here in the west.  There's the bakery at the Circle in Altona North, a small range at Babylon as well as Al Nada in Spotswood, but none are really a match with what is on offer in the north.  That is, until I found Amanie's.

Amanie 002

This is a very traditional Lebanese bakery dealing in man'oush or Lebanese pizza.  There are a few classic types and they are always insanely cheap.  The owner here is really lovely, very friendly.

Coconut Hse Shanghai Makhbaz 039

There will be some pizzas ready-made and lying behind the counter, often protected by a long sheet of paper.  Make your selection and they will be placed deftly on the floor of the long, flat oven using a special long-handled slidey tool.  They seriously only need 1 or 2 minutes before they are piping hot - the oven is kept at such a scorching temperature.

Coconut Hse Shanghai Makhbaz 040

This is one of my all-time favourite drinks - I only know it by its Turkish name, ayran.  It's the original drinking yoghurt - thin, salty yoghurt that is tangy and surprisingly refreshing.  You can make it easily at home but it's somewhat of a tradition to always get it when I have Lebanese pizza.

Coconut Hse Shanghai Makhbaz 045
Jibnee (haloumi cheese), $3

The mothership Lebanese pizza pie.  Salty, rich, creamy, almost squeaky on the teeth melted haloumi cheese, sometimes with a little butter, soft and melty in a delicate bread pocket.  Sometimes the dough can be way too heavy or there is too much cheese (sounds strange, I know, but haloumi is pretty intense) but Amanie's was 100% perfect.

Coconut Hse Shanghai Makhbaz 047
Sbanegh ma'a jibn (spinach and cheese), $3.50

This was a perfect example of what is actually one of my least favourite pies.  Often the balance is not quite right - there's too much spinach which gets bitter and overpowering, or the bread becomes wet and claggy from the wet vegetables.  This really was excellent, though - tender, just-cooked spinach with just enough mild feta-style cheese.  The plain spinach is also really excellent - it doesn't have any cheese but the spinach is sweated with onion and allspice and is so tasty and healthy.

Coconut Hse Shanghai Makhbaz 050
Lahmi (meat), $3

Another classic done superbly.  A flat disc of dough is thinly topped with a lamb mince and tomato mixture that is heavy on the onion and allspice.  Indeed, allspice is probably the most used spice in Lebanese cooking - something I found quite remarkable at first as I always associated it with cakes.  Traditionally this is sprinkled with lemon juice and chilli powder before folding in half.  There is always some on the counter; just ask them to add it!

Coconut Hse Shanghai Makhbaz 049
Za'atar ("oregano"), $1.80

The original and always the best.  Za'atar is both the name for this indigenous Middle Eastern herb, a kind of local oregano/thyme often translated into English as one or the other.  Here za'atar means the spice blend made with the dried herb, sesame seeds, salt and the optional addition of other spices such as lemony sumac berries or cumin.  Here it is smoothed onto a simple circle of dough along with olive oil.  At around $1.50 each, this is probably the cheapest lunch in Melbourne.  They can be filled with tomato, cucumber and other salad items to make a sort of wrap.  We like to use them as pizza bases!

Coconut Hse Shanghai Makhbaz 053
Kishik, $4

I was so excited I mistakenly ordered this instead of shankleesh which is a spherical, aged feta-style cheese, rolled in herbs, that is quite delicious when smooshed onto a pizza.  Kishik, it turns out, is a fermented and dried grain/yoghurt product that is then rehydrated as a kind of porridge or paste.  It tasted to me a bit like mashed potatoes.  It was sprinkled with raw onion, lemon and chilli.  I wasn't really a fan but it was fun to try something different.

Coconut Hse Shanghai Makhbaz 058
Toum, $3

Wait til you try this.  It is Lebanese aioli or toum and it is totally divine.  Silky, garlicky, rich yet light.  Amazing!  This is eaten lots of ways including with grilled meats or just as a dip.  It apparently keeps up to a month if you use a clean spoon to take some out each time.  We ate it with fresh Lebanese bread from Amanie's - speaking of which, Lebanese bread really should be eaten that day or the next day in a pinch.  When fresh it is so fantastic, chewy yet light, and is a million miles away from the horrible stale specimens the supermarket sell up to five days past when they were baked.

I am so stoked to find such a wonderful Lebanese baker so close to home.  Now the only question is deciding which pizza to choose.  You can always try the Mr Baklover special - take za'atar pizza, open, insert cheese pizza, close.  Eat.  Genius!

Amanie's Bakery
Shop 4, 280-284 Main Road East, St Albans (map)
Phone:  9364 5333
Hours:  Mon - Sat 7.30am - 7pm, Sun 7.30am - 5pm

For more Lebanese delights, check out Sydney-based Fouad's modern as well as traditional takes on the food of his homeland, augmented by his gorgeous photos and cheeky style, at thefoodblog.com.au.

Wheelchair Access
Level entry

I'm very happy to be participating in From Cup to Crop, a new initiative by Plan International to raise both awareness and funds to fight hunger in the developing world.  You can either take part in the Cup to Crop Challenge - living on $3 for food per day, one day per week for one month or choose to donate $3 on top of your bill at participating venues.  That $3 will feed a child for a staggering 10 days!  As my contribution, I pledge to donate $3 for every meal I have out over the campaign month, 14 March to 14 April.  I will keep a tally at the bottom of each post and perhaps you too could consider supporting From Cup to Crop.

16 comments:

  1. Ooo think I tried these pizzas at Suzuki Night Market. They were very odd to me, the filling was tangy and very salty! Can't tell you whether it's authentic or not since that was my very first time.

    ReplyDelete
  2. There is also Al Nada in Spotswood - well worth a try if you haven't, the owner is a gem .. hilarious and he can make a good pizza!

    ReplyDelete
  3. "long-handled slidey tool" - right on!

    Blogging = freedom to make up words!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Al Nada is Great! but not as cheap as these prices. They look delish.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I only had lebanese pizza once or twice. Didn't know they had so many different types.

    ReplyDelete
  6. yum...drooling on the keyboard yet again....

    ReplyDelete
  7. I love the chicken pizza's from here, they put a real nice garlic flavour. The sausage pizza is also very very good. Oh and yes, they are always friendly!

    P.s will you be trying Kabayan Filipino Restaurant in Cairnlea anytime soon :) ?

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi all and thank you for your comments! Courtney and Jodes, I will have to revisit Al Nada - has been a long time.

    Marine, I heard a rumour that Kabayan was closed for renovations?? I do desperately want to go though - I have been meaning to for, like, a year! Is it a favourite of yours? I love your tips...any recommendations on particular dishes would be very welcome!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Yes they are renovating at the moment but i heard they should be running shortly if not already! A favorite Filipino dish of mine is the Pinakbet, i haven't tried it at Kabayan but i too plan to visit when they re-open :) I haven't been there in years!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I don't have as much experience eating lebanese pizza as you do but I've heard that there are some really good lebanese bakeries on sydney road. There's one called A1 bakery and my partner swears by the bread there. If you ever go to sydney road, may I please suggest you visit Balha's pastries and Tiba's. They do some amazing lebanese food :)

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hi Choux-Fleur - yes, A1 is unreal! I so want to have another favourite in the north as I want to support the underdog but it has to be said, A1 is seriously one of the best. I looove Balha's! The rosewater icecream there is delicious too. Will have to try Tiba's - so many people I know love it and apparently it is so cheap. Middle Eastern Restaurant (that is the name!) up the road is great too.

    ReplyDelete
  12. We've become totally addicted to amanie's ... And I mean, pregnancy addicted. The spinach and cheese pie is up there with what A1's was like when I started eating lebanese pizza there in the mid-nineties - in other words, heaven. My top 3 in Melbourne are now - Amanie's, Al Alamy in Coburg (best foul ever), and A1.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Mrs M that is great!! Al Alamy looks gorgeous - http://wanderingspice.blogspot.com/2011/05/little-lebanon-al-alamy-nuts-coffee.html Definitely stopping in there next time I'm in the northern suburbs.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I am so excited by this post!!!!!
    I live down the road from this bakery, always drive past it but never fully paid attention to it.
    REading your blog posts on bread is really torture for me, someone who is cutting down on carbs :DD
    It is so wonderful to have this gem bakery in my neighborhood, woot woot!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Amanies is the best!! Tried a few places nothing beats Ahmed n hussans pizzas

    ReplyDelete

I love getting your comments! They're what make blogging worthwhile. Unfortunately, the amount of spam I get is obscene and it is so tiresome to have to moderate every comment, so I have had to turn on annoying word verification. I'm sorry for the inconvenience, but please know how much I love you having your say!

Related Posts with Thumbnails
Related Posts with Thumbnails