The warm gluten filled aroma knocks at my door. My unconscious mind still manages to command my body to salivate. I force my heavy eyelids open and jolt my head towards the clock. It reads 5 am and it’s still pitch black outside. What on earth is going on in my kitchen at 5 am? I immediately get up and sneakily tip toe my way down the stairs only to find my aunt kneading one of the two batches of gooey ajeen (dough).
“Ahlyen ya Khadija! Are you ready to learn how to make Khubz? The young stay asleep, while the old get moving. So let’s get moving!”
I tie my hair and wash my hands ready to experience the traditional way of making soft tender flat bread, Arabi Khubz. I lift the covering on the stainless steel bowl. Lo and behold, the thick treasure has puffed up almost spilling over the edges of the bowl! With a soft punch, the dough slowly deflates and I begin to knead. The ajeen is stickier than gum on the soles of my shoes. The dough oozes out of my clamped hands sticking to every finger and every crevice reminding me of the hands of my grandmother. As I fold the dough from all directions into itself, I weave myself through each fold with my Sito, A’mtee, and Sidi. I transport myself back home spending the time kneading in the warm temperate summer with Sito. I can hear her soft, tender voice guiding me through the process.
“Shayin Fashayin Ya Khadooj; Little by little; take your time.”
Pinching off small enough pieces, we quickly stretch out the dough gently among our fingertips, the best tool you can find in the kitchen. I feel like a chef at the pizzeria tossing the dough gently and quickly. At first my hands cramp in an uncomfortable structured manner. I feel like a stiff, lifeless piece of wood. Thinking with my mind instead of my heart makes the movements feel so rigid and calculated. After my third attempt, I soon get into the rhythm of the motions of my grandmother. I start to bake with my heart and the dough gently glides through my fingertips. Going through the same motions, following the same recipes, kneading dough with the same precision I am able to interweave my personal history with my ancestors’ histories.
“Da’ee ‘ala alfurun! Yallah! Hurry up! Put it on the fire!”
This is probably the trickiest part of the recipe; I have yet to master it completely, but I try. I maneuver my hands to gently and quickly place the dough on an upside-down, cushioned wok. We spread the dough thinly and evenly to capture the balance of life. It quickly bubbles up and colors nicely within three minutes. The rustic air reminds me of Falasteen, the forgotten occupied land of my ancestors. Family and friends who have been persecuted, discriminated, and innocently murdered for their mere existence. The world may have forgotten and stood still, but we’ll never forget. I’ll never forget, as long as I knead and bake this bread. Although I may have never met my great-great grandmother and great-great-grandfather, their spirit resides in the Khubz. In the recipes of our families; in the parables my grandparents told my father who passed them along to me. Making the Khubz was never really about learning to make bread. It was learning about my roots and carrying on the traditions of my family’s strong heritage.
We flip the Khubz over and take it off the fire. I take a piece and rip off a warm crispy piece of bread. With just one bite, I can taste my family’s heritage infused into the Khubz reminding me of my cultural roots.
By Khadija Snowber