I grew up eating Za’atar. We used to eat it multiple times a week for breakfast growing up. My friends used to gag just looking at it, but it is SO good!
Zartar is an arabic word, so when it translates into english, there are multiple spellings: (Arabic: زَعْتَر, in english: zaatar, za’tar, zatar, zatr, zattr, zahatar, zaktar or satar).
What is it? It’s a mixture of thyme, oregano, basil, savory, salt, dried sumac and sesame seeds. We used to eat it baked onto pita bread with olive oil or butter.
My grandparents always had it at their house (my grandfather is Lebanese).
Another variation, that we called sim sim, was also a household staple. This is a mixture of honey and sesame seeds baked into a pita. We’d always have a slice of each for good measure.
It’s hard to find really good Za’atar around here. You have to find a really good Lebanese or Arabic market. I’ve found it a few times in LA before, but nothing quite like the bakery back in Boston.
And then I went to Dubai. Oh. My. Gosh. Za’atar EVERYWHERE! I had many za’atar croissants when I was there. I got awkwardly excited when I saw them! I even had a Za’atar mojito one night at the Burj Al Arab.
We did a bus tour of Dubai one day that included a walking tour of the spice souks. Our guide stopped and showed us different spices and let us smell and taste some of them.
In one particular stall, on a whim I asked “do you guys sell Za’atar?” The man smiled and said “of course!” and showed me a giant bag of my beloved spice, it must have been 1 pound or so. I was so excited! I’ve never seen it sold in that quantity before! I kept saying “oh my gosh! are you serious?” I turned to Irving. “Do you see that? They have Za’atar! Look at all that za’atar!” I don’t know why I was so shocked to see it. I mean, they do use it a lot in the middle east. I was practically jumping up and down. I asked “How much?” and he told me 120 dirhams. I didn’t do the math in my head very well, but I said “well, what if I buy three bags?” He said “oh, well if you buy 3 bags, only 100 dirhams each. Sounds like a deal! I said ok, I’ll buy three. And I made Irving fork over all the money we withdrew from the ATM that day. “Irving, I can’t believe we found it! What a good deal!”
(keep in mind, my entire tour group is watching this happen inside the little store!)
Irving smiles at me, maybe a little concerned over how excited I just got over seeing za’atar sold in bulk. He whips out our currency converter (which I highly recommend by the way) and tells me that I’ve just spent about $80 on za’atar. WHHAAA????
I mean, I love za’atar, but not THAT much! By now, our tour has moved on and we’re walking through the open market. I start bawling in the middle of the street. “How did I spend $80 on za’atar? I thought it was a good deal? What was I thinking? How did I just get ripped off? I’m so stupid. What a dumb traveler I am. Such a rookie mistake!”
I ended up going back and returning one of the bags. In the end, I spent about $45 on two bags… I gave one bag to my mom and grandparents for Christmas last year (You guys better eat that by the way!) and I kept one bag for myself.
And today, I opened up my za’atar for the first time, and inhaled deeply to smell the sweet aroma.
I decided to try my hand at making my own za’atar bread using authentic middle eastern flatbread. just kidding. I used Trader Joe’s brand.
I mixed it with
some a lot of olive oil to make it a pasty texture.
I also brushed some olive oil on the bread, but I don’t think I needed to do that.
All ready to go in the oven!
I only baked it for 10 minutes, but next time, I’ll do it a little longer. The perfect breakfast! (as long as you floss your teeth after!)
So there you have it. All you needed to know about my love affair with Za’atar. If you see it at the farmer’s market or in an Arabic restaurant, don’t be afraid to order it! It’s delicious.