For thousands of years manoosh has brought smiles to faces and satisfied hungry appetites across much of the Middle East. Manoosh evolved as part of the cuisine of the Levant region (which comprises modern day Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Israel) and has grown into one of the area’s most beloved foods, particularly in Lebanon.
Also known as manoush, manoosheh or the plural, manakish, manoosh is often described as a type of Lebanese pizza. The word itself loosely translates from Arabic meaning to stamp, sculpt or decorate, referring to the indentations made in the dough when flattening it before baking.
Manoosh consists of a round disc of flat bread topped with za’atar, cheese, veggies, labneh or meat and is traditionally cooked over a wood fire. While manoosh is delicious at any time of day, in Lebanon it is usually eaten for breakfast or lunch.
Despite the widespread popularity of manoosh surprisingly little has been written about its history or origins. While some have claimed that manoosh is a recent phenomenon in Lebanese cuisine, the extent with which it is ingrained in the culture suggests a far older connection.
For example, even the smallest villages in Lebanon have one or more bakeries dedicated to making manoosh and older generations of Lebanese people will often recite the names of families famous for their manoosh recipes.
The best way to discover the real history of the manoosh in Lebanon is to trace the history of its three main ingredients; olive oil, za’atar and bread – all three share a long and proud history.
You can’t make manoosh without olive oil and the Canaanites are thought to have been the first to press olive oil around 4500 BC. Considering that they were known to live in the Levant region this key ingredient has clearly been available for a long time.
By far the most famous ingredient in manoosh is za’atar, which is an ancient herb native to the Levant region as well as a blend of spices based on this herb. The earliest evidence of za’atar dates back to ancient Egypt and it is believed to have been growing in the hills and mountains around Lebanon for thousands of years.
The bread of a manoosh is obviously important and it would have taken years to perfect the art of getting it just right. The clearest reference to bread being baked in the Arab world comes from the 10th century when Ibn Sayyar Al-Warraq published Kitab Al-Tabikh (The Book of Cooking) which contained six different recipes for bread. It is therefore safe to assume that people have been baking bread in Lebanon for quite some time.
Considering that all of the essential ingredients for manoosh have been in Lebanon for more than a thousand years it seems very likely that this tasty meal has been around for many generations as well. Ask any Lebanese person about manoosh and it quickly becomes clear that it has long held a special place not only in their diet but in their culture as well.
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