There is not really an Israeli cuisine. Israel is a country of minorities founded by immigrants from a multitude of ethnicities from many countries.
The gastronomic heritage of Israel is extremely varied and in this country of immigrants, people praise as much shakshuka, hummus, falafel, or schnitzel (breaded chicken cutlets) as the national dish. But if there is one staple that is omnipresent on any authentic Israeli table, it would be pita bread aka pita (plural pitotes).
What are the names of pita bread?
Pita has different names depending on the country: كماج (kmaj) or خبز عربي (Arabic bread) in Arabic, питка in Bulgarian, Հաց պիտա (Hats pita) in Armenian, πίτα in grec פִּתָּה or פיתה (pitta) in Hebrew, pita in romanian or pide in Turkish. Incidentally, the word pita is the etymological origin of the word pizza.
The pita bread recipe is widely popular in several cuisines in the Middle East, Near East, the Balkans and the Mediterranean.
Pita is a Greek term that literally means “flat”. So, besides its round and flat shape, the main distinguishing characteristic of this bread is that it has an air-filled pocket between two flat layers.
How to make pita bread
But how exactly do you create this very surprising pocket, quite unusual and different from most other types of bread?
The pocket is actually formed as the dough rises through the huge amount of steam and very high baking temperature. The bread has two flat layers and it is baked very quickly at extremely high temperatures. Thanks to this process, the dough bakes rapidly and separates in its center.
This immediately creates a large air bubble, like a balloon that is inflated, and the two layers are separated to form the inner pocket between them. The pita deflates as soon as it cools, and lo and behold, the pocket remains!
The history of pita bread
This small round pocket has been a staple in the Middle East for over 4,000 years. In fact, this bread was originally served both as a bread and as a utensil. Pita bread then spread out to all the East, and to many Mediterranean countries. It spread to North Africa, to all the Levant, the Arabian Peninsula, but also India and Afghanistan.
Pita bread would draw its origins in the Babylonian Talmud.
Marcus Jastrow’s Dictionary of the Talmud explains that the Hebrew word פיתא (pita) is the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew פת (pat), which means a piece of bread and the Encyclopaedia Judaica transformed פַת into פִיתָא, adding vowels.
Since you can also read in The Collins Concise English Dictionary that the etymology of the Greek word pitta means “cake”, would the word pita come from Hebrew or Greek?
Although pita bread is very common in Greece, everything indicates that there would be no connection between these two words. Their only similarity is their sound.
The root, פת (pat), also appears in the Tanakh (Bible and prophetic texts) and comes from the root פתת, meaning “to break into pieces, fall apart.” This is also the origin of the modern Hebrew word פתיתים (ptitim), these famous little pasta known all over Israel and also the word fatut, the well-known bread from Yemen also very common in Israel.
Shawarma and kebabs are served in a pita and other local sandwiches are made with cheese or charcuterie. As for market stalls and bakeries, they are both always overflowing with piles of pitotes.
Full on Israeli atmosphere today. My pitotes were delicious and we were all in Tel Aviv for an evening!
- 8 cups flour
- 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- ½ cup olive oil
- 2½ cups warm water
- Water spray bottle at room temperature
- Dissolve the yeast in a little warm water and let rise for 10 minutes.
- Pour the flour into the bowl of a stand mixer, make a well in the center and add the yeast, sugar and olive oil.
- Begin to knead with the dough hook and incorporate warm water gradually until obtaining a smooth and homogeneous dough.
- Stir in salt and knead for 10 minutes until reaching a soft dough.
- Cover with a cloth and let the dough rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
- Punch down the dough on a work surface and divide into 18 pieces. Form a ball with each piece and let rest for 15 minutes.
- Roll each dough piece using a rolling pin, to a thickness of about ½ inch.
- Preheat oven to 460 F and place a baking sheet in the oven. The oven and the baking sheet must be very hot.
- Spray all the loaves with warm water and place them on the hot plate. Bake bread for 5 to 6 minutes.
- This bread is supposed to swell during cooking. If it does not swell like, this could mean that the oven and the baking sheet are not sufficiently preheated. The pita deflates once it has cooled. This bread can be stored in plastic bags.