Aish Baladi: Bread of Ancient Egypt
BY: Noura Anwar/Ambassador Blogger
Do you like eating bread? Pita, Rye, Cornbread, Baguette… You name it and the world loves it!
When I thought about history of this lovable food, I dug deeply into its origins until I found this image…
Egypt, where it all begins!
In ancient Egypt, bread was made of a kind of ancient wheat called “Emmer”. At that time, there were two types of grains that ancient Egyptians planted: wheat and barley.
Wheat had an important status in the Ancient Egyptian economy. It was not only used for bread making; it was also a form of payment. Wheat was both a strategic commodity of the state and kept in vaults, as well as an investment for more difficult times. Emmer earned its worth from its high fiber content, low gluten content, and organic quality. It was the food that both the rich and the poor ate, and it was a sacred plant to ancient Egyptian Gods, particularly Osiris.
Harvest time was a great celebration in Ancient Egypt, especially when prayers were answered and the great Nile River flooded generously to water different crops, most importantly wheat. Even today, growing wheat brings happiness, hope and thankfulness to God by Egyptian farmers and their families. This wheat growing tradition, which dates back more than 5,000 years, brought about Egyptian “Baladi Flatbread” – a very special bread that is not like any other. Though it may look similar to pita bread in shape, Baladi Flatbread has a much different taste.
Ancient Egyptians baked bread from emmer wheat or barley, and added wild yeast to help the dough rise. They used to flatten the dough on a round baking board and bake it on high temperature in ovens built from Nile red mud. The baking method and ingredients have remained the same in every farmer’s house in both lower and upper Egypt since the pharos started the tradition.
But what is really unique about Egyptian bread?
Bread in standard Arabic is “Khobz”, which is the most common word for bread in Arab countries, except Egypt. There, Egyptians call bread “Aish baladi”.
Baladi means traditional or authentic in English, but the word “Aish” is the key to understanding the special place of bread in Egyptian heritage. Aish means “life”, which is how Egyptians have perceived bread since ancient times. Bread is considered a commodity that Egyptians cannot live without in their daily diet. It is on every table, breakfast to dinner. It never fails to make a person feel full and happy. It is a thermometer of mood.
Poor or rich, everyone eats bread. If a person doesn’t have money and is hungry, just get a loaf of “Aish baladi” and a cup of tea. If a farmer wants to take a break from his work, he eats “Aish”, and maybe some onion, arugula, or cottage cheese.
Bread is the sign of friendship, love, loyalty, and long-lasting relations. You can hear it in friendly conversations over “breaking bread.” Aish is a symbolic expression of prosperity, as it has always been a secure job and income source for Egyptians of all ages throughout time.
“Aish Baladi” has been a dear friend to Egyptians since ancient times. A prayer to get God’s blessings during harvest time is immortal in Egyptian genes. The country sings for the bread, celebrating wheat harvest.
“Aish Baladi “is not only a food item for Egyptians; it is a reflection of Egyptian culture and a significant meaning of life. Watch this video from 1946 where Egyptians cherish grain through song and dance.
Recipe for “Aish Baladi”
1/2 tbsp. active dry yeast
1 1⁄4 cups warm water
2 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1/2 tbsp. salt
Cracked wheat bran for proofing
In a bowl, whisk the yeast with warm water and leave it until foamy.
Add flour and salt and stir using your hands.
Cover the dough and leave it to stand for one hour.
Shape it into small size balls and leave it to stand for half an hour.
Flatten each ball of dough into circles.
Add bran to the top and bottom of each piece of flattened dough.
Bake on a stone in an oven at 450 degrees.
Noura Anwar is a professional in education development and likes reading in history. She has publications in different fields and an award research winner of UNDP-EEC in corporate social responsibility.