This warm, buttery, pull-apart “flaky bread” is based on Yemeni malawah. It’s easy to throw together (just five ingredients) and crazy versatile (eat it with eggs in the morning, with dip for a snack, or wrapped around grilled meat at dinner). Best of all, you can make the dough ahead of time, freeze, and when a craving strikes—boom! Just griddle and you’re good to go. One pro tip: An unfloured surface provides some traction, so it’s easy to roll the dough very thin.
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more, room temperature, for brushing (about 10 )
- Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)
- Olive oil (for parchment)
Whisk kosher salt and 3 cups flour in a large bowl. Drizzle in melted butter; mix well. Gradually mix in ¾ cup water. Knead on a lightly floured surface until dough is shiny and very soft, about 5 minutes. Wrap in plastic; let rest in a warm spot at least 4 hours.
Divide dough into 10 pieces and, using your palm, roll into balls. Place balls on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest 15 minutes.
Working with 1 piece at a time, roll out balls on an unfloured surface with a rolling pin into very thin rounds or ovals about 9” across. (If dough bounces back, cover with plastic and let rest a few minutes.)
Brush tops of rounds with room-temperature butter and sprinkle with sea salt. Roll up each round onto itself to create a long thin rope, then wind each rope around itself to create a tight coil.
Working with 1 coil at a time, roll out on an unfloured surface to 10” rounds no more than ⅛” thick. Stack as you go, separating with sheets of parchment brushed with oil.
Heat a large cast-iron griddle or skillet over medium-high heat. Working 1 at a time, brush both sides of a dough round with room-temperature butter and cook until lightly blistered and cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer bread to a wire rack and sprinkle with sea salt.
DO AHEAD: Coils can be rolled out 1 month ahead; wrap tightly and freeze. Cook from frozen (add 1–2 minutes to cooking time).
Nutritional ContentCalories (kcal) 230 Fat (g) 15 Saturated Fat (g) 9 Cholesterol (mg) 40 Carbohydrates (g) 22 Dietary Fiber (g) 1 Total Sugars (g) 1 Protein (g) 3 Sodium (mg) 160Reviews SectionTo the "eye-rolling" anonymous review below me: you saw this recipe after BA retroactively edited it, without noting that they did so--years after this recipe was first posted. Prior to then, this recipe was merely called "Flaky Bread" instead of "Flaky Bread (Malawah)," and the only text in the lead was "An unfloured surface provides some traction, so it’s easy to roll the dough very thin." There was no reference to its origins a week before your comment.The recipe was not passed off as an original, and the origins are clearly labeled in the title and the intro. Not sure what the complaints are about, they are not warranted here (eye roll).It's not actually cool to strip away the culture and origins of food to present them as something neutral and for everybody (i.e. white people) - really exposed yourself by saying you think you don't have a culture! (Your culture is theft, dude)Not a single mention of where this food comes from or the people that have been making it forever? This is literally just paratha.This is paratha, it's an Indian flatbread, and I think it's kind of inappropriate to pass it off as original when it belongs to another culture.Great Recipe - makes a beautiful flatbread that is both crispy and chewy. I used a garlic butter compound instead of butter and salt and rolled the final bread a little thicker than suggested here. My family loved them and I’ll be forced to make them again in the future.HannahBanannahAustralia 04/29/20Not a super easy recipe but after a few tries you can really get the hang of it. I probably could have used more butter when I rolled them up, not for next time. I see what people are saying about the saltines, I agree that it’s like a saltine mixed with a tortilla, and I find that to be a delicious combination! Now I need to find ways to use these rather than scarfing them down!Stu521Portland, OR04/22/20I see comments below that say this tastes like saltines - from my experience with this recipe, that means you need to add more butter before you roll up the rounds. Lots of butter! These are meant to be flaky and buttery. Also I think they can be rolled out a bit thicker for cooking, and should be cooked on a high enough heat that they don't dry out. This recipe is a bit labor intensive, but I think it's worth it for something a little different than naan.These are just fine. They're not too much work and they're not too tasty. They're definitely not the best recipe I've ever found with a random google search, and they do taste remarkably like saltine crackers. I had made these in the hope that I could keep them in the freezer and have fresh delicious bread on demand (and certainly the former at least is true), but I think I might be better off just buying some well-larded tortillas from the Mexican market and toasting them up on the stove.Maybe I'll make these again?So maybe something was lost in translation, but I was WAY more hopeful about these. Sigh... they tasted like saltine crackers, though were the consistency of a naan. My husband said just make your naan the next time, they were way better. Maybe I didn't use enough butter before rolling them up?murphy921983209Portland, OR 01/04/19I've made this twice. It is rather labor intensive (as other reviewers have mentioned, but it's so flaky & buttery and lovely that I keep turning back to it. You can get away with not wasting so much parchment paper.AnonymousBrooklyn10/16/18
How Has Bon Appetit Been Handling Their Controversy?
It’s been one month since the scandal of toxic management and pay disparity at Bon Appetit broke, sending shockwaves through the food writing community. Unfortunately, it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.
That’s not to say that nothing has improved, of course. Presumably, negotiations regarding equal pay are under way, but are not yet at a stage where any of the involved parties are able to discuss it publicly yet. In addition, BA’s research director Joseph Hernandez wrote about how they would be going back and revising some of their recipes. He cited halo-halo with popcorn and gummy bears, a recipe for malawah marketed solely as “flaky bread,” and a video on how to make kimchi hosted by renowned white guy Brad Leone as several instances of BA’s old regime appropriating and bastardizing a dish of cultural significance, receiving criticism for it, promising to “learn from their mistakes, and do better in the future,” and then not doing any of that. These new revisions are fairly minor, typically adding an editor’s note regarding the country of origin of the dish. But at least it’s something.
Speaking of renowned white guy Brad Leone, “multiple sources” (take that as you will) have reported that his contract with Conde Nast Entertainment (the Conde Nast subdivision responsible for organizing separate “talent contracts” on top of BA’s regular pay that BIPOC had not been receiving for their video appearances) earned him a sum of $1.5 million over the course of three years. Many have speculated that his lack of transparency regarding this sum in the context of the conversation of pay disparities in the company meant that he was directly complicit in the boys’ club mentality that had been fostered there. Others further speculated that this sum may have also included kickbacks for CNE executives like Matt Duckor.
I’m told from multiple sources Brad makes $1.5M for three years. Have a great day thinking about that.&mdash jesus pizza (@shitfoodblogger) July 1, 2020
Possibly the most shocking, if not confusing, developments was the suspension of Matt Hunziker, director and editor of Leone’s videos. Hunziker had been very vocal against BA and CNE’s discriminatory policies and culture, and was described by his BIPOC coworkers as an excellent ally. Many voiced their concerns that, since he was also placed under investigation as part of the overarching investigation of CN from union-busting law firm Proskauer Rose, CN was trying to make an example out of Hunziker to deter others from whistleblowing. Choosing to suspend a white ally as opposed to a BIPOC employee also allows CN to cover their tracks and claim that it had “nothing to do with race.”
BA video editor Matt Hunziker was suspended by Condé, for calling out systemic racism…while the company says it supports people speaking openly. got it.&mdash Priya Krishna (@priyakrishna) June 25, 2020
Some have also pointed out that while Hunziker’s Slack account has been deactivated, Alex Delany (creator of such classics as a Confederate flag cake and a Vine where he says the f-slur) still has his account active during his suspension.
An update on our friends and foes at bon appetit:
Hunzi: slack deactivated
Delany: slack still active
Delany doesn’t even need slack, he doesn’t work!&mdash UNIONIZE CONDE, FAST (@tammieetc) July 6, 2020
Meanwhile, with Rapoport and Duckor gone, many turned their attention towards the remaining executives within the company. Several sexist and racist tweets written by CNE president Oren Katzeff surfaced, although he has yet to face any repercussions.
New: During today's all staff meeting, an anonymous staffer asked Conde Nast CEO Roger Lynch about one of the president of Conde Nast Entertainment's old tweets in which he joked about consent. Here are a few more old tweets that have been circulating: https://t.co/x1tE9WAa9B pic.twitter.com/1vFLgBaaSa&mdash Max Tani (@maxwelltani) June 9, 2020
In addition to the incident I described in the first BA article where she outright stole a coworker’s article out from under her, interim editor-in-chief Amanda Shapiro has also been accused of being dismissive of topics focussing on food systems that she deemed too unpalatable for BA’s target demographic, as well as being complicit in BA’s toxic culture. As of the writing of this, there have been no updates on the search for a new EIC.
one trick pony: Andrew Knowlton&mdash boo appétit #sohladarity (@BonAppetitBot) June 25, 2020
credit-stealer: Amanda Shapiro (okay maybe not enough for suspension but I don't trust her as interim EIC, see 3rd screenshot, from https://t.co/ZMwDmROe5j) pic.twitter.com/ifGfxh134k
While most of the BA Test Kitchen’s staff had, for better or for worse, had their role to play in the scandals, test kitchen director Chris Morocco has simultaneously been both free of controversy (except for his involvement in the aforementioned halo-halo recipe) and hesitant to voice his support for his BIPOC coworkers aside from agreeing to the demand to not make any new video content until the issue is resolved. However, given Proskauer Rose’s investigation, any silence on his- or anyone else at BA’s- part could be the result of a non-disclosure agreement or non-disparagement clause. Alternatively, BA employees may have been warned that anything they say could be spun out of context (especially an issue with Leone, who tends to babble incoherently and go off on tangents a lot in his videos).
While it may be hard to tell just how much change is going on behind the scenes and Bon Appetit, what can be said is that there has been a change in food media as a whole. Thanks to current and former BA employees stepping up to voice their concerns, many food writers began to do the same with other executives in the industry. Peter Meehan was forced to resign after several writers came out with depictions of his inappropriate behavior over the years at both the L.A. Times, where he was the food editor, and at Lucky Peach.
Hi. I needed a few days. A thread, as they say: pic.twitter.com/vZkqdHbGce&mdash Rachel Khong (@rachelkhong) July 2, 2020
Speaking of Lucky Peach, David Chang received criticism for his close ties to and enabling of Meehan and Mario Batali, as well as his own outbursts of anger that he would direct towards the kitchen staff at his restaurants (which doesn’t actually seem all that out of place in some kitchens, which is an entirely different subject matter).
It’s easy to get frustrated at the perceived lack of progress. But Conde Nast would want nothing more than for us to get tired of waiting, or forget this all happened and move on to the next hot topic of the week. It is for that reason we must continue to hold them accountable until some semblance of justice has been served.
PIN This for Later!
As I said making this is very much similar to the way we make parotta, though this involves using black seeds on top. I wanted to make sure I got the right way in making it, so though I landed on the website that gave instructions to make this, I checked the video which explained it much clearer.
I should have done my research much better, as I read later that this bread is served with skhug, which sounded so much like the coriander, chili chutney we would be making and I knew it would have tasted so good. Anyway, I have bookmarked a couple of interesting versions of this condiment, so will be repeating it again.
Meanwhile, just enjoy this flatbread and serve with a dip of your choice.
Can't Stop, Won't Stop Eating Flaky Malawach
When you see malawach, you might assume it’s just another flatbread. Upon a closer look, however, you’ll notice the craggy surface of the dough is glistening with butter, and the texture looks more flaky than crumbly. Malawach, a Yemeni Jewish flatbread, is a brunch pastry that can slant savory or sweet as its piled with toppings.
Similar to North Indian paratha and Somali malawax, malawach is essentially a layered puff pastry made with flour, butter, salt, and water. The dry ingredients and water are mixed, rolled thin, and then spread with softened butter. The buttery dough is rolled up and then twisted into a circular spiral. Malawach are then rolled out flat like a pancake, but the layers created from the twisting create wafer-thin flakey layers while the pastry is fried.
Tomar Blechman, Chef and Owner of Miss Ada in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, features malawach on his restaurant’s brunch menu. Blechman grew up in Israel, eating malawach at restaurants with his family, and he was instantly drawn to the pastry. He explained to me that malawach was brought to Israel by Yemeni Jews, and the flabread quickly became a staple in Israeli homes of all backgrounds.
“It’s always very satisfying,” Blechman says. “Something about it makes you feel fulfilled.”
While malawach are stunning on their own, the pastry only gets more exciting with the addition of toppings. Blechman’s favorite way to eat malawach is to spread them with a raw grated tomato sauce schug (also spelled zhug), a spicy, garlicky condiment and a sliced hard-boiled egg. Though tahini isn’t as common a spread for malawach, Blechman puts sesame paste on the pastry as well to add depth to the dish. To turn malawach into more of meal, you can spread the pastry with other dips often found in a Mediterranean mezze, like hummus, baba ganoush, labne, and harissa.
French pastries may be common brunch fare, but a malawach shouldn’t be missed if you see it on a menu. In the same vein as ordering pancakes for the table, it’s easy to split a malawach at the table with friends. “You can eat it with your fingers and dress it however you like,” Blechman says. Of course, no one will blame you if you𠆝 rather just eat the whole thing yourself.
Debating the term ‘ethnic’ and where it fits in food and restaurants
I was surprised, Bret, when the wonderful Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho accepted one of his numerous Oscars last February by thanking the Academy for giving him the inaugural Best International Feature Film Award. He noted that the category had formerly been known as Best Foreign Language Film and he “applauded and supported the new direction that this change symbolizes.”
I’d obviously missed the memo, which circulated last year and called the notion of “foreign” outdated in a global marketplace. The new classification, execs of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said, “promotes a positive and inclusive view of filmmaking … .” Coming from an institution that is frequently criticized for its tin-eared insensitivity to social issues and woeful lack of wokeness, this was at least an admission that words do matter.
It brought to mind a similar, words-can-hurt controversy sparked earlier by David Chang, the gifted and influential Korean-American chef. During a podcast last summer, he declared that the ethnic food aisles in supermarkets are inherently racist in fact, he blasted them as “the last bastion of racism that you can see in full daylight in retail America.”
He recalled that, as the child of immigrant parents living in Washington, D.C., the experience of shopping in a mainstream grocery store and finding the food his mother cooked at home relegated to a separate ethnic food aisle was a reminder that he and his family were different from white Americans. It’s an outmoded form of Jim Crow, he insists, and he asks why, since “all the foods in the ethnic food aisle are already accepted,” do we even have them?
Chang was subsequently interviewed in a Washington Post story on the subject, and lots of readers responded thoughtfully both for and against his contention that “ethnic” connotes marginalization to the average grocery shopper. This controversy echoed an earlier story in the Post that was titled “How Americans Pretend to Love ‘Ethnic Food,’” and leveled the same charges of fostering outsider status directly against our own industry.
It’s a very provocative screed, which boils down to the thesis that our acceptance of foreign cuisines is actually a “form of bias, a subtle hypocrisy that suggests we think these foods are inferior.” This inferiority is underscored by the fact that we demand that they be cheap. The author proffers as proof that we’re generally willing to pay much more for roasted chicken and vegetables in a French restaurant than when those same ingredients are used in, say, a Chinese or Mexican dish.
I’m doing a disservice to the nuances of this last article, which includes a thought-provoking interview the estimable Krishnendu Ray, chair of nutrition and food studies at New York University, because I am anxious to engage you, Bret, and get your thoughts on these complex and loaded charges being directed at restaurateurs and grocers alike. There’s lots to unpack here, and I don’t think it’s quite as simple as black and white.
From the retailer perspective, supermarket operators argued in the Washington Post that ethnic, sometimes referred to as international, food aisles have nothing to do with segregation and everything to do with convenience, since customers don’t want to search a massive store with upwards of 40 thousand SKUs to find a bottle of oyster sauce. What’s more, a representative of Goya Foods, the Hispanic-foods company in the news of late, reported that they’ve actually lost sales when absorbed into the larger supermarket ecosystem and that they prefer to have shelf space on an aisle of their own.
From the foodservice point of view, I agree that there’s a perception that ethnic food frequently equates to cheap. You’ll recall that when you and I pondered why Indian cuisine, long-heralded as the next big ethnic trend, hasn’t truly gotten a footing here, we were contacted by an Indian chef who explained that the costs and complexities of running a true Indian kitchen were incompatible with the inevitable American expectation of cheap eats.
I wonder, though, if this expectation truly indicates knee-jerk prejudice on the part of the patron or if it reflects the harsher realities of commercialism. So many ethnic operations are Mom and Pops, without the trappings that command bigger bucks. They’re selling the steak without the sizzle in a market where sizzle commands a higher price. I’m not suggesting that our restaurant culture is free from bias, but I am arguing here that customers expect to pay midscale prices in a place that resembles a midscale restaurant, regardless of the costs and complexities in the kitchen. But when the ambiance, service or buzz are elevated, as in some of David Chang’s operations, they’ll gladly part with more money.
Bret, this entire debate raises questions that I’ve wrestled with unsuccessfully for a very long time: Namely, when does ethnic cease to be ethnic and become mainstream American? Does it depend on the size of the immigrant community, the timing of their arrival, the color of their skin, the fluency of their English or the flavor of the foods they eat?
And in the bigger picture, do you think that the notion of “ethnic” food, like the concept of “foreign” films, is outdated in a global marketplace?
Bret Thorn responds:
Nancy, I despise the word “ethnic,” and I’m working to remove it from the pages of Nation’s Restaurant News and Restaurant Hospitality, not merely because I think it’s often a pejorative term, but because it’s meaningless. Are English and French not ethnicities, and if not, then why is Italian? As you know, the National Restaurant Association does a rather extensive periodic study of “ethnic” cuisine in the United States, and the top three have long been Chinese, Mexican and Italian. So they definitely think the Italians are ethnic, or at least their food is.
The term certainly implies that something isn’t normal. Since about 18% of the global population is in China and another 17% is in India, compared to 14% in the United States, Canada and Europe combined, what exactly are we calling abnormal?
It can be a challenge to completely get rid of the word “ethnic” because potential replacement terms like “global” and “international” are similarly meaningless. If, for example, Sriracha sauce is manufactured by a company in Southern California, even if the sauce itself originated in Thailand, how is it more international than mayonnaise, which originated in France?
So instead, I try to be as specific as possible. We don’t say that marinara sauce is European it’s Italian, and I’ve met more than one expert on Italian cuisine who would sneer at me being too general for not saying that it was from southern Italy.
Then the conversation might devolve into an argument about whether marinara originated in Sicily or Campania.
If we get so granular about European food, why would we call gochujang, the Korean chile paste, Asian? The fish dish thiebou djenn is Senegalese there’s no reason to call it African. Painting cuisines with such a broad brush is marginally better than just calling them “ethnic,” but it minimizes the complexity of those cultures.
However, it’s better than painting them all white.
That’s what critics argued that cookbook author and New York Times contributor Alison Roman did with her recipe in The Times for Spiced Chickpea Stew with Coconut and Turmeric.
The dish, which also has ginger, cloves, chile powder and greens, among other things, was such a smashing success that it went viral. It got its own hashtag.
It also raised the hackles of many people, because #TheStew is quite obviously a curry.
No it’s not, Roman protested as the scandal escalated.
“I’m like y’all, this is not a curry . I’ve never made a curry, I don’t come from a culture that knows about curry,” she told Megan Reynolds on the web site Jezebel. “I come from no culture. I have no culture. I’m like, vaguely European.”
Everyone has a culture. Just because you’re unaware of your heritage, possibly because it’s the same heritage as most of the people you associate with, and most of the people you see in media, doesn’t mean you don’t have one.
Saying you don’t have a culture is an example, in modern parlance, of white privilege. It’s implying that you’re, you know, regular.
What, then, is everyone else?
Commenting on the Alison Roman scandal, such as it was, in The Washington Post, Molly Roberts argued that by pushing a curry dish so far into the mainstream (“mainstream” — we could have a whole separate discussion about that loaded word), it ignored the heritage of the people who inspired the dish.
“It’s impossible to be the everywoman without leaving any woman behind,” she said.
Some people wrapped up in their own wokeness might argue that Roman shouldn’t be profiting from curry recipes at all. That is, in my opinion, nonsense. We’ve discussed that in the past when we took on the topic of cultural appropriation.
But she could extoll the origins of #TheStew, which, as Jezebel pointed out, The Times ultimately did, saying in an edited introduction to the recipe that it “evokes the stews found in South India and parts of the Caribbean.”
And Nancy, what a wonderful opportunity this is for restaurant operators who can trumpet the origins of a dish.
You mentioned David Chang. Well, the founder of his Momofuku Group’s Milk Bar, Christina Tosi, got into some social media hot water for uploading a video on her Instagram account of “flaky bread,” which detractors pointed out looked an awful lot like the paratha of South Asia.
Bettina Makalintal, writing for the Vice food outlet Munchies, noted that Alison Roman herself fell similarly afoul with a recipe for flaky bread in Bon Appétit in 2014 which ultimately changed the name of the dish to “Flaky Bread (Malawah),” explaining that it was based on a Yemeni food item.
Indeed, there are lots of flaky breads out there, but restaurateurs know which one inspired their own creation, why not just say so?
You can still call it Flaky Bread. Just point out somewhere what inspired it. If you end up offending some racist who doesn’t want to eat bread that’s from India or the Middle East, well, you have a good chance of exchanging their money for someone’s who appreciates your gesture.
Nancy Kruse, president of the Kruse Company, is a menu trends analyst based in Atlanta and a regular contributor to Nation’s Restaurant News.
E-mail her at [email protected]
Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary
This distinctly Omani bread yields a deeply flavorful, flaky bread with a subtle molasses sweetness that complements spicier dishes/curries. It’s so delicious that I often eat it by itself.
- 1/2 cup dried dates pitted, 7-15 depending on size
- 1 cup boiling water
- 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour plus more for dusting and rolling
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 large egg at room temperature
- 1/4 cup ghee, melted plus more for brushing and frying (at least another 1/3 cup)
Place the dates in a small bowl and cover with the boiling water soak until softened, at least 1 hour. Mash by hand, then puree with the soaking liquid in a blender or using an immersion blender. Strain over a bowl through a fine-mesh sieve, using a wooden spoon to firmly mash and press the date pulp to extract as much liquid as possible. Scrape the date pulp on the underside of the sieve into the bowl discard the date pulp in the sieve and set aside the date puree liquid.
Whisk the flour and salt in a large bowl. Stir in the egg and the ghee and mix with a wooden spoon until a crumbly dough forms. Slowly add the date puree, a little at a time, and begin mixing with your hands (add about 2/3 cup of the date puree in total) until the dough comes together knead the dough until smooth and elastic, 2 to 4 minutes. Divide the dough into 10 to 12 golf ball- size balls and briefly knead each baII in one hand until smooth and crease-free. Place in a shallow baking dish or bowl and cover with a damp kitchen towel let rest at room temperature1 hour.
On a lightly floured surface, using a rolling pin dusted with flour, roll each ball of dough into a thin circle, 8 to 10 inches wide. Brush the surface with melted ghee fold up the bottom edge about 2 inches from the top, then fold the dough down from the top over the folded half so the dough just touches the bottom edge. You should now have a long, thin rectangle. Brush the surface again with a little ghee and fold each side in, one on top of the other, to make a square. Roll the square dough out, turning several times, to make a large, thin piece about 8 inches square. Brush the surface again with plenty of ghee.
Heat a medium or large cast-iron skillet over medium heat and fry the chapati, ghee side down first, for 45 seconds to 1 minute per side (if it doesn't puff up, the pan isn't hot enough), brushing the top with plenty of ghee before flipping to make sure both sides brown evenly.
Transfer to a plate, sprinkle with more salt, if desired, and serve with a curry.
I hope you enjoyed this “up to date” lesson and Omani Maldouf recipe from Oman. Who knew date syrup was used for survival, killing, building and of course pleasure. What a multifunctional fruit that will never go “out of date” in my opinion.
…and then, she paused for thought.
When It Comes to a Recipe, What’s in a Name?
Back in May, the response was swift when Milk Bar’s Christina Tosi uploaded a video of what she called her “flaky bread.” Instagram commenters quickly pointed out that the unleavened rounds were essentially South Asia’s paratha by another name, while Tosi’s recommendation to add scallions might also call to mind a riff on Chinese scallion pancakes. With neither mentioned in Tosi’s description, critics on social media saw the dish as another food industry whitewashing gaffe. But this wasn’t the first time “flaky bread” caused problems online.
In 2014, Bon Appétit posted a similar dish. Developed by Alison Roman, that “flaky bread” recipe was simple, accompanied by no context besides a quick prep tip in the headnote. As with Tosi’s recipe, keen observers homed in on its similarity to paratha, and by May 2020, readers had begun weighing in with comments like: “Not a single mention of where this food comes from or the people that have been making it forever? This is literally just paratha.” By June 2020, BA had changed the recipe’s name to “Flaky Bread (Malawah)” and expanded its headnote to state that it was based on a Yemeni dish.
All over the world, different cultures have developed flaky rounds of dough—from paratha, to malawah, to cong you bing, and certainly more. That’s something you’d never know from a name like “flaky bread,” as accurate as it may be. Flaky bread can come from many cultures rich in culinary history “flaky bread,” meanwhile, suggests no culture in particular.
As the online recipe space grows more competitive, the names of a world’s worth of dishes morph. Avgolemono becomes the New York Times‘ “egg lemon soup,” “lemony egg soup with escarole,” or “slow cooker creamy chicken soup with lemon, rice, and dill.” Roti gains new life as “whole wheat balloon bread” or “Asian flat croissant,” and “Korean rice bowls” are a longer, more Westernized way of saying bibimbap. “Spicy chocolate milk simmered chicken” becomes a new phrase for mole, and chana masala is revised as Alison Roman’s “spiced chickpea stew with coconut and turmeric,” which internet colloquialism transforms into just “The Stew.” What’s to be gained by changing a dish’s name? But also, what’s lost?
What we call a dish can either ground it in a particular culinary history, or it can remove a dish from that culture entirely. With translation comes a level of separation, as the idea of a dish’s audience is shifted calling roti a “balloon bread” or bibimbap a “rice bowl” is a choice to appeal to a specific sensibility. As platforms diversify their selection of recipes, each one is trying to sell you on dishes it assumes you don’t already know how to make, and every online recipe aims to make an argument for why you should rely on it above all others. To make that case, food is packaged for “mainstream” consumption: Ideally, anyone should want to click on it.
As Eric Kim—the recipe developer and writer behind the “Table for One” column at Food52—works on his debut cookbook about Korean American food, he’s been thinking about recipe names. Kim’s book, currently scheduled for release in spring 2022, will be informed by his Korean background, Georgia upbringing, and his approach to pantry cooking. Writing through its recipes, some of which lean conventional and others that are entirely new, Kim finds himself repeatedly changing their names.
“It’s such an interesting question because a lot of these dishes are traditional—traditional bulgogi, for instance, or traditional kalbi—and I almost don’t want to call them that, but calling them ‘soy-marinated short ribs’ feels flattening or disregarding their inspiration. I feel like this is something I’ve grappled with as recipe author, but also as a food editor, for years,” Kim told VICE. He’s found welcome inspiration in Priya Krishna’s Indian-ish, which uses names like “spinach and feta, cooked like saag paneer” to find the middle ground between innovation and tradition.
Writing recipes for the internet poses a particular challenge: Like every piece of content in the digital world, recipes must pull in readers through the quickest glance. Terms or names that are assumed to be unfamiliar might be replaced with something more widely recognizable and immediately comprehensible, and trending phrases get thrown in for the sake of appealing to what people are searching (think “bread without yeast” during the baking-crazed days of the pandemic). More and more, algorithms shape how content is presented online, and search engine optimization (SEO) dictates the best practices for giving a website a chance at ranking high in a Google search for a specific keyword. As UCLA professor Safiya Noble has explored in the book Algorithms of Oppression, even search engines can be subject to cultural bias in ways that privilege whiteness.
Casey Markee is the founder of Media Wyse and an SEO consultant who works exclusively in the food, DIY, and lifestyle space. Acknowledging that unconscious bias can play out in everything, he thinks that the renaming of recipes might be done to gain an advantage in the crowded food space. Anglicized names might have more visibility online due to less competition and more search interest for that particular term, he suggested. People creating recipes online may think: “My audience might not understand what this original name is, but maybe they understand the more English or Anglicized version here, and that’s what I’m gonna focus on,” he said. The idea of accessibility, however, should also prompt the question: accessible to whom?
On The Sofrito Project, blogger Reina Gascon-Lopez takes a different approach to food media’s usual centering as she presents recipes for Puerto Rican dishes as well as what she grew up eating in Charleston. Puerto Rican dishes are named in Spanish, with English left in parentheses: “berenjena guisada (stewed eggplant)” or “asopao de gandules (pigeon pea rice stew),” for example. “I honestly try to stick with the traditional name for the recipes, particularly the Puerto Rican dishes,” she told VICE, “because honestly… naming them something that would be more palatable for white mainstream media, I feel like that kind of takes away from the dish, at least in my opinion.”
Anglicizing a recipe’s name can be done out of a sense of making it “neutral” and therefore “mainstream,” but as we know from the recent conversations around race in media and other industries, that version of objective neutrality is actually a stance centered on whiteness. The idea that a dish can be rendered culturally neutral still relies on the construction of a culture: one for whom “flaky bread” is assumed as more appealing and recognizable than its alternatives.
White, vaguely European-influenced food is positioned as such a default in modern American culture that it exists without being explicitly stated, as Navneet Alang deconstructed for Eater. “Only whiteness can deracinate and subsume the world of culinary influences into itself and yet remain unnamed,” he wrote. With this guiding food media, figures like Alison Roman—who at the peak of Stew fame once described herself as coming from “no culture“—can then pick and profit from global culinary traditions without ever tying herself to one.
While white food culture can weave in and out of global inspirations and not lose anything, the reverse isn’t true. Dishes from cultures outside the white American norm and the people who make them are made less visible, told they don’t draw as many views, relegated to trend pieces, and subjected to quotas.
The appeasement of translation can seem like a self-fulfilling prophecy: If people aren’t given the word “bibimbap,” if it’s called a “Korean rice bowl” instead, will the original term ever enter “mainstream” parlance? Food publications have the power to steer the conversation for readers and home cooks suggesting that a dish’s traditional name is too complicated or unfamiliar to include is a cop-out for platforms that dictate these trends.
“It all goes back to the othering of food, and readers are only as smart as the information they’re given,” said Rebecca Firkser, a freelance food writer and recipe developer. Since her official start in food media five years ago as an intern at PopSugar, which led to becoming culinary editor of the now-defunct Extra Crispy, Firkser thinks people have overall become more knowledgeable about food and cooking. “I do feel like readers are smarter they’re interested in the real dishes, and so, why do we bother dumbing it down for them?”
In their staff roles at large food publications, Firkser and Kim—who have worked together on recipes at Food52—told VICE that SEO has been a consideration in the recipe process. But according to Kim, Google is “a lot smarter than people realize,” and its algorithm changes all the time. “You don’t have to have to bludgeon the title with some straightforward whitewashed title just to get it to show up on Google,” he said. Whether it’s putting keyword phrases in different parts of the page or in the URL, “there are ways to do it without disintegrating the integrity of the actual title.”
But naming a dish the way it’s historically known and loved isn’t a panacea, either, as tradition creates a tight box of expectations. As Gascon-Lopez pointed out, her Puerto Rican dishes have at times garnered responses that her recipe isn’t how a commenter’s family made it, or how they make the dish. She clarifies that even traditional recipes are her version, as dictated by the ingredients available to her in South Carolina. “I do find that there is a little bit of a line to walk when I call something by the traditional name, and I don’t have something that’s been in that dish for years,” she said.
Thankfully, Gascon-Lopez’s blog gives her flexibility. While she said it sounds “crazy” as a food blogger, she doesn’t consider SEO very much. “I try to stay aware of how I need the recipe [to be] from the aspect of accessibility on the blog, and I try to keep it short and keep the title tight. But other than that, if it’s in Spanish, it’s going to be in Spanish,” Gascon-Lopez said. “That’s something that I’m willing to sacrifice to stay true to my style of cooking.”
So what’s the answer to fixing all of this? Multiple recipe developers told VICE that presenting a recipe online comes with a responsibility to do ample research. With constant cooking comes the ability to riff in the kitchen, but even still, said Firkser, a recipe developer should go the extra step, even if it seems like a dish just popped up in your head. The act of putting a recipe on a public platform implies authority, and while there’s leeway for modification in individual cooking, the recipe itself is perceived as objective—the standard from which one can then diverge.
“Even if I independently was thinking like, What would be yummy to eat? A white bean and tomato soup with tiny pasta,” Firkser said, “I would search the internet, search cookbooks, and see: Have other people have done this—white bean and tomato soup with tiny pasta? Oh, wow, looks like there is a dish, and it’s called pasta fagioli and I’m going to acknowledge that.”
At Food52, Kim takes a generalist approach, creating dishes like “beef short rib bourguignon with garlicky panko gremolata” and “chicken-fried steak katsu with milk gravy.” When he cooks from cuisines outside his culture, Kim tries to be “as responsible as possible,” he said, by citing inspirations and adding context in the headnote as to how he learned the techniques. “Coming from an academic perspective is a way to make sure you close the loops and honor every possible inspiration for a dish,” he said, “and that’s one way to make sure that you’re avoiding any semblance of tokenization or appropriation.”
With the racial inequity in food media, we frequently return to the question of who gets to profit from other cultures’ foods it is still often the case that globally inspired dishes are presented by white recipe developers. Following Bon Appétit‘s organizational reckoning over these exact issues, the publication has announced plans to not only address its pay disparities and lack of staffers of color, but also to re-envision its content to better address cultural biases. As part of this push into the future, the magazine’s research director Joseph Hernandez announced in a newsletter last month that he would be working with Test Kitchen editors to “address many of these problems of authorship, appropriation, the white gaze, and erasure.”
Referencing its past controversies regarding flaky bread, “white guy” kimchi, pho, and Filipino halo-halo, Hernandez wrote that BA “has been called out for appropriation, for decontextualizing recipes from non-white cultures, and for knighting ‘experts’ without considering if that person should, in fact, claim mastery of a cuisine that isn’t theirs.” In response, “our team will be auditing previously published recipes and articles that may not have been thoroughly fact-checked or read for cultural sensitivity when originally authored,” he announced. Addressing the most popular recipes first, the publication will add context and address past problems in editors’ notes: “Do we give credit where it’s due? Did we properly credit our inspirations, or did we shoehorn in a trendy ingredient with no explanation?”
There’s no clear-cut answer on how to handle recipe names, as each recipe developer has their own perspective. As tidy as it may seem for recipes to exclusively come from authors of that specific cultural background, no one person can stand-in for an entire culture’s culinary history, and that approach is unrealistic in a media landscape in which there are many, many more writers than there are jobs. Further, that set of rules also ignores the ways culinary traditions meld both naturally and by force. Despite those constraints, we can at least push for more thoughtful and contextual approaches to recipe development—ones that respect the interplay between cultures, instead of stripping foods from their histories.
As recipe developers broaden the context they provide with dishes, home cooks can in turn become more conscious consumers if they choose to engage with that added knowledge. “I absolutely think it’s the responsibility of the recipe developer to do that extra research, because it’s only gonna help someone,” Firkser said. “I don’t think anyone’s ever been bitten in the ass for doing the homework, right?”
Joy Luck Kitchen
For those of you have been asking about the malawah recipe, here it is again. It was down temporarily. Enjoy :D
- 3 cups of all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups of milk
- 1/2 cup of water
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup of sugar
- 1 tsp of salt
Using an electric hand mixer, mix the above ingredients until the batter is smooth and free of chunks.
1. Put a non stick pan on medium-high heat and grease if necessary
2. When the pan is hot, apply 1/4 cup of malawah onto the pan and spread it out in circular motions using a ladle
3. Peek under neath the malawah, when it appears to be golden brown, apply 1 tsp of butter
4. Spread the butter on the malawah and flip
5. When that side is golden brown, you may take it off of the pan and apply a pinch of sugar.
6. Eat :)
I'm still so happy over the fact that I managed to bake an allergy free banana cake that is fluffy today that I'm looking at this recipe and thinking in my head,
"Hey, maybe I should give this a try..make an allergy free version!"
And when you say allergy-free, what exactly does that mean?
ahhhhh a short question but long answer :P
the top eight most common allergens are wheat, soy, peanut, dairy, eggs, tree nuts (like walnuts, pecans etc), shellfish, fish.
Zeyd is allergic to the first 5, and i think so is nusaybah. So basically when I say allergy free, it's free of these allergens.
That means I can't use normal flour (it's made of wheat), I can't use eggs, and I can't use milk (with regards to the malawah). So i have to sub. Milk is the easiest to sub. Eggs, a little trickier, but not as difficult as flour to sub.
For eggs, you have to know what the eggs in a recipe function as, a leavener, a thickener or binder. Once you know, you can find the appropriate substitute. if it's for leavening, baking powder would suffice. Sometimes vinegar.
The flour. you have to turn to other types of flour, name rice flour, brown rice flour, buckwheat (not wheat, but from the rhubarb family), tapioca starchm potato starch, quinoa, etc. the problem is, these gluten free flour has their own propeties. Rice flour is grainy. Buckwheat's color is slightly dark and it has a taste to it. potato flour is heavy, butpotato starch is light. So when you want to sub wheat flour, it helps a lot, well, you NEED to know the propertites of these flour to make your own combo. For my banana cake I used brown rice flour with sweet potato starch (it's light, so I hoped it would make the cake light and I think it did!) and buckwheat.
So if i were to sub the eggs, flour and milk in the malawah, I'd have to figure out what flour combo I'm going to use.
i didn't know all the above before, until shida motivated me through her many experiments and I started reading it all up and now experimenting myself :)
hi thanks for your comment, unfortuately I don't have a good answer for your question. The fenugreek that I used in the recipe above was from Yemen and I had very good luck getting it to whip up. Since then I have tried the fenugreek from arab/indian stores and it did not whip up to be nice and fluffy. i don't know why because it looked exactly the same. I think if you grind it you will get the same results I did but maybe not. Perhaps there is some other step or ingredient that's missing and I am looking more into this if I get any info will post In Sha Allah. good luck.
We got Fenugreek powder from Indian Grocery. We tried making Saltah for the first time. The Hulba did not come out as demonstrated in the video, it did not whipe up. Is there any thing else that we should add, or what kind of Fenugreek should wwe be using? Thank you in advance!
Jordanian food experiences
Hot mint tea
This is an ever-present aspect of a lot of Middle Eastern society (including in Turkey), and it’s completely lovely. Everywhere we went, from a Bedouin pit stop in Wadi Rum to a random shop in Petra, we were offered hot sweet tea with mint—it’s a major part of the Bedouin cuisine.
And you’d think that hot tea in the desert sounds like a terrible idea, but it was surprisingly refreshing and I started to really look forward to it to rinse the dust from my throat and have a moment of peace. Bedouin tea is a hallmark of their culture’s hospitality as well, something always offered strangers as a welcome.
Salads and vegetable stew in Wadi Rum
I found the Bedouin cuisine even more vegetable-based than Israel’s, such as the hot vegetable stew and mixed salads we had for lunch out in the desert of Wadi Rum. Other than the cucumbers EVERYWHERE (ugh), the flavors and freshness were delicious.
Our day doing a jeep tour in the otherworldly landscape of Wadi Rum and then staying overnight in a Bedouin tent were one of my favorite things of the entire trip…from sandboarding down a sand dune to experiencing the bright stars at night, it’s a lifetime must.
If I knew how to make one of those emojis with the googly heart eyes here, I would.
Similar to my feelings on Wadi Rum, the day and night we spent in Petra were probably my favorite part of the trip. Petra had been #1 on my travel bucket list since I was a teenager, so this really was the trip of a lifetime. We stayed in a lovely hotel in Wadi Musa, and the owner asked if we’d like to do dinner that night since they were making a traditional Jordanian dinner. My initial reaction to this is, “Hotel dinner? Thanks but no thanks!” But due to some scheduling challenges and my need to get back into Petra quickly for the Petra by Night experience, we said yes.
WHOA. This was one of the best things we ate the entire trip. Mansaf is the national dish of Jordan (with Bedouin roots), served on a large platter for communal eating. It includes tender meat (traditionally lamb, but chicken and camel are common as well) layered with thin flatbread and piled on fragrant rice. Then there’s a thin white sauce (jameed, a tangy yogurt sauce) poured on top and toasted nuts and fresh herbs are sprinkled over. IT’S AMAZING.
We also ate a similar traditional dish (zarb) in Wadi Rum where the chicken and vegetables were cooked in a pot underneath the sand all day in the desert, making it fall-off-the-bone tender. The flavors weren’t as great as the mansaf, but it was a really cool experience.
If you don’t know much about Petra or it hasn’t been on your radar, you definitely need to check it out. It’s like something out of your imagination. I’ve written about our experience of Petra overall and then specifically the magical Petra by Night experience if you want to see more!
Whew! So that was a lot to throw at you, but hopefully I’ve given you a glimpse of how amazing the food is in Israel and Jordan, and also how amazing the places themselves are! I’m still looking for ways to experiment with some of these foods myself at home, and would love ideas for recipes so hit me up in the comments.