Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tandoor Bread

Back at the end of March, just before I left for Europe, Anestes over at alerted me to a post on Kay Horton's blog about a guy who was baking Samoon bread in the  middle of the night in the community kitchen at the Portland Public Market House.   "We have just started carrying “Samoon” made right here in our Community Kitchen. A gentleman from Iraq, thirty years a baker, has started making them. He speaks almost no English, but his wonderful joy and energy speaks clearly. He works in the middle of the night, baking in his Tandoor oven, so as we walk into the Market in the morning we are greeted with heavenly smells. Samoon is a oblong shaped air pocket bread. We slice it the length, open it and fill it with any of our wrap ingredients."

Last tuesday I contacted Chris  from Kay Horton Foods at the Public Market trying to get in touch with the gentleman and to my surprise she called back later to say I could stop by later that night... as in 5AM! later.  Now I'm not an early riser, never have been and if I'm up at that hour it's because I haven't been to sleep yet. And I haven't been up that late for a long time, 1-2 ish is about it nowadays. I was more then a little worried about my ability to focus my camera, even thou it is an Canon EOS with auto focus. Usually any pictures I take before mid day are pretty bad.  So off to bed at 11:30 and up at 4:15 hoping for the best.
Five o'clock rap on the backdoor of the market and a 40-ish man in shorts, a tee shirt, flip flops and a baseball hat, turned backwards lets me in. It's Mr. Audai Naser.  He leads me down cellar goes right back to work as I take a quick look around for a place to put my gear down and introduce myself.  For the first half hour I mostly watch noticing how his hands move quickly in making the bread.

As I start to wake up I take a few pictures trying to get good exposures in the two main work areas.  Finally I try a little conversation. We stick with short simple words and a few hand signals and I find out that he comes from Karbala, which is south of Bagdad.  His father owned a bakery and he has been making bread for thirty years. He first moved to Atlanta in the fall of 2008 with his family, to get away from the fighting. Coming to Portland seventeen months ago. He has six daughters and one son. He started his business in December 2009 and now works mostly 7 days a week making two types of bread.

Tenur, a round flat bread made of a mix of white and whole wheat flour, water, yeast , sugar, salt.   And Samoon, the smaller diamond shaped pillows, which have only the white flour and which he had finish making before I arrived. When I leave just after seven, with a package of each bread, he still has a couple of racks to bake up and clean up to do before he loads his van and makes his deliveries. 3000 loafs a week.
Flash forward thru a little nap I wake up and have my usual lunch of sliced tomato & cuke, some feta cheese and a glass of wine, tearing off half a fresh Samoon to soak in the pepper & olive oil.  When Toby comes in for supper I look at the round flat bag of Tenur. How about we make pizza? Very nice as a crust, not quite thin, tasty and no fuss no muss. We throw the other 3 pieces in the freezer and the next night I'm on my own for supper.  I grab one of the Tenur's from the cold before I prepare my toppings: garlic, onion and peppers cooked with three strips of Appledore Bacon, five minutes more I'm saucing and slicing a hard boiled egg onto my toppings. A little olive oil on the bottom and into the hot oven it goes. Eight more minutes and out it comes! Very successful, very quick. I highly recommend keeping a package of these around if you make pizza at home.
The next night we cooked up a bag of mussels and I take out one of the Samoons from the freezer, slice it in half, open it up and pop it into the toaster, heat about 4 on a scale of 1-10.  Holds up very well, tastes great.
Mr Naser said he'd like to moved to his own place soon. Once the word spreads about his bread, he'll need too! Look for it at Sidibad Market, 710 Forest Ave ( where you'll also find a nice selection of other middle east food items ). 


  1. awesome! i love the shot of the bread sticking to the side of the tandoor. what a great treat to document a lesser known aspect of portland's food culture. thanks!

  2. Yum! I love making pizza from his bread.

  3. Great photos! Thanks for the fantastic shots and profile of a true artisan cooking such unique breads.

  4. Is this the same bread that's served at the Stareast cafe?

  5. Yes It is the same bread sold at the Star east. It is absolutely awesome.

  6. Conrad, I don't believe so. Star East bread comes under it's own label. Also I've had both of the Samoon breads and this (Tandoor Bread's) is better. The round Tenur type bread from Star East has a different look to it and I'm guessing doesn't have a double crust as it feels thinner. Also I don't know if it is made in a Tandoor oven.

  7. Lovely photos.
    I was looking for on the net what exactly is samoon and was guided to your article,the perfect place.