As a child, Oum Ali avidly remembers her time in the village of Majdelzoun, south of Nabatiyeh. One particular episode is deeply engrained in her memory – – when Bayt el Kabou’eh, a large grain storage warehouse was about to be demolished. She recalls the female bakers’ solidarity at the time, who were able to stop the demolition and save, to this day, the folkloric tradition of saj baking
Saj baking conventionally calls upon more than savvy culinary hands. An art reserved for the country’s women, Oum Ali describes the practice as a balance between perfectly leavened dough and cultivated social skills.
Early in the morning, woman line up their clay ovens and start rolling thin sheets of dough from last night’s fermentation. The act mirrors the Italian pizzeria gestures, however, Oum Ali insists that they are two very separate processes.
Her farm now wholesales some of its produces whilst the rest is packaged and retailed within the Souk El Tayeb boroughs.
Saj baking is her ultimate and only career path, and Oum Ali’s soothing and soft voice when describing her profession portrays a love similar to one for her children.
Souk El Tayeb’s support along with Oum Ali’s rising popularity and participation in food events has allowed her to send her children to school. She has forged new partnerships, most notably, her joint venture with Nelly Chemaly in Zouk Mkhayel on the outskirts of Beirut where combined entrepreneur skills and traditional art have brought the Souk El Tayeb clientele a new taste.
And who knows…. long before reaching China, Marco Polo’s journey across the eastern Mediterranean coast may have catalogued the sight of women in the area perched in front of their ovens delicately spreading thin sheets of dough. Pizza may have well derived its origins in humble Middle Eastern grounds.