If anyone ever wondered how I come to love markets so much, it's easy to explain. My parents. Especially my mom. We didn't go hiking, camping, skiing, or any other outdoor activities when I was growing up. We shopped. And for my mother in particular, there's no shopping like a food market. For both parents, visiting a good ethnic market is as thrilling as going to Disneyland is for the rest of the world. So I come by it honestly.
Naturally, when we drove up to L.A. for the day yesterday, a certain amount of Jewish deli and bakery shopping was going to be involved. But once we hit the road to return to San Diego we had one more stop -- an international market in Irvine called Wholesome Choice. My parents' Iranian friends had suggested it and, oh, if you do go could you please pick up a couple of loaves of Sangak?
Well, sure. But, there are rules, it turns out. This is a hugely popular delicacy and it's made in house in a large oven. Slowly. So, there's a long line and you're not allowed to cut -- even if you're a friend or family -- and you can't buy more than two at a time. Seriously. There are signs that tell you this. So, my mom and I waited. And befriended a Japanese woman from Century City who was also waiting. And a young Persian couple ahead of us.
Now what is Sangak? It's a Persian whole wheat sourdough flat bread -- about two feet long and maybe a quarter of an inch thick. Sometimes referred to as "nan-e sangak," it's a traditional bread that originally was baked on a bed of hot river stones in an oven. Sang means stone and sangak means little stone. They can be plain or, as ours were, topped with sesame seeds or poppy seeds.
At Wholesome Choice, you can see the baker pull about a pound of loose dough from a vat, spread it out on a metal paddle until it drapes over the paddle, the carefully fling the dough into the oven, where it bakes for about 15 minutes.
Then another man pulls it out of the oven onto long brown sheets of butcher paper, folds it into thirds and hands the very hot parcel to the customer.
It's worth the wait. The bread has a marvelous spongy texture and you can taste a hint of sourness. This is a great treat eaten hot with feta cheese and olive oil, or labne, the delicious Lebanese yogurt. The shop suggested eating it with lamb kebab. And the good news is that Sangak freezes well. Just cut it into manageable pieces and put in freezer bags. When you're ready to eat it, defrost, pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees for five minutes and then heat the Sangak for three to five minutes.
Of course, like my mom, you can just eat it fresh out of the market's oven, which is why people wait so patiently for a fresh loaf.