Where to find Arabic breakfast in Austin: Za’atar, labneh and fatteh are the stars of the spread, but it’s really all about quality time together – Food

Oula Nabulsi enjoys a classic Arabic brunch at home (photos by Yasmin Diallo Turk)

Oula Nabulsi meticulously arranges a series of small, colorful bowls she brought from the United Arab Emirates on her breakfast table. “When many Americans think of Arabic food, shawarma and falafel come to mind,” says the real estate investor, Arabic food Instagram content creator and mom of three. “They don’t know much about Arabic breakfast, so it’s like a hidden treasure that they haven’t discovered yet.”

The Arabic breakfast is what brings Nabulsi’s family together on weekends for the longest meal of the week, she explains. “The Arabic breakfast is so special because it’s a bit of everything, shared and eaten slowly with consideration for everyone at the table.”

Fatteh and foul (beans) at Mazaj Cafe

Traditionally, the Arabic breakfast is served as a variety of dishes on small shared plates. Nabulsi likens the style of the meal to tapas or a charcuterie platter, as there are a variety of offerings to share and enjoy in small bites. Her favorite dishes for the savory Arabic breakfast are za’atar (a Middle Eastern spice blend usually made from dried herbs such as thyme, sumac, and sesame seeds) and olive oil. olive, labneh (a strained yogurt), eggs, green olives, pickled vegetables. , cheeses, beans, fresh cucumber and tomato. Some items, like falafel, are considered anytime foods that belong on both the breakfast and dinner table. Although most dishes tend to be savory, Nabulsi says it’s customary to end the meal with a sweet bite of something like halawa (a tahini and honey dip) or jam. Hot tea is essential with the meal and breakfast ends with a small half cup of Turkish coffee.

Manakeesh za’atar at Pita Shack

When eaten later in the day as a brunch, Nabulsi says it’s common to serve heavier hot dishes like fatteh (layered baked pita bread, chickpeas and tahini sauce topped with fried pine nuts) , kibbeh (a ground lamb and bulgur-wheat dumpling), and fried vegetables like cauliflower, potatoes or eggplant. In some areas, breakfast includes manakeesh, a flatbread topped with za’atar, cheese, or finely ground beef.

Nabulsi likes to prepare elaborate and nostalgic Arabic breakfasts when she is with her family, but for those who don’t have an Arabic mother at home, here are three places around town with Arabic breakfast offerings, including one with a full Arabic breakfast menu coming soon.

The first is Cafe Mazaj in north Austin. This restaurant was opened in 2021 by chef Ahmed “Eddie” Jarrah, who came to Austin from Houston, where he previously owned a larger incarnation of Mazaj Cafe with his brothers. Jarrah said he opened his concept cafe and hookah lounge in Austin because he thought it was something different from anything currently available. Jarrah studied and worked in hospitality and catering for decades and wanted to create a place that would bring people happiness and offer the Levantine Arabic cuisine he loves to make. “I’ve worked in the best hotels and in the best places. I make the best food and I want people to have a relaxed place to enjoy it.”

Although traditional Arabic small-plate breakfast setups can be arranged for larger groups, there are popular breakfast items on the menu that can be ordered individually during weekend brunch hours from noon to 15 hours. Jarrah recommends the manakeesh flatbreads topped with spiced ground beef, his special house blend of za’atar, or a pepper, Bulgarian, and pomegranate sauce called “muhammara.”

A fava dish consisting of fava beans, garlic and lemon garnished with tomatoes, parsley and olive oil is one of the most common breakfast dishes. It is available at Mazaj with or without tahini yogurt and is eaten with pita bread, just like hummus or baba ghanoush.

Pita Shack Hummus

Fatteh and shakshuka are popular items on the breakfast menu. Prepared differently in the Middle East, shakshuka may include a fried egg on tomato sauce, but Mazaj’s version is closer to scrambled eggs mixed with diced tomatoes. Mazaj offers hot tea by the glass or pot, with or without mint.

The second place to have Arabic breakfast in the region is pita shack, a small, unassuming place in a strip mall in Pflugerville. Although they removed breakfast from the menu as it was still unknown to most of their customers, it is still available for discerning customers. Traditional Arabic breakfast setups for larger groups can be arranged; otherwise, there are only breakfast dishes that can be ordered individually, including a unique Iraqi omelet dish consisting of boiled eggs over ground beef, parsley, tomatoes and onions called “maklamah”.

Civil engineer-turned-restaurateur Malik Al Hasani would like to share an Arabic breakfast with his customers. Before owning his own restaurant, Al Hasani was always the chef among his group of friends. While in college, he moved on his own and learned to cook out of necessity. Once married, his wife encouraged his culinary enthusiasm. When the opportunity to purchase Pita Shack arose, Al Hasani jumped at the chance to share his love for Arabic cuisine.

The spread at Rumaan Mediterranean Cuisine

He took over Pita Shack in 2021 from the original owner, who was moving out of Texas. As a first-time restaurant owner, Al Hasani had to quickly learn that running a successful business involves much more than preparing delicious, hearty food. Al Hasani says of owning Pita Shack, “I most appreciate how happy people are when they eat well.”

The breakfast dishes that Al Hasani recommends guests try for Arabic breakfast are manakeesh za’atar or cheesy flatbreads, served on a thin pizza crust. Labneh, olives, Akawi cheese and makhlama are also available to complement Pita Shack’s breakfast offerings. Although not traditionally a breakfast food in Iraq, hummus is a breakfast staple throughout the Levant region. Al Hasani insists that Pita Shack has perfected his recipe after many iterations.

The third place to offer Arabic breakfast products is Romanian Mediterranean cuisine. Located at the entrance to the Lakeline Mall, it serves classic Levantine Arabic dishes and a full-service juice bar with an outdoor terrace and indoor dining area. Although currently Rumaan only offers a few Arabic breakfast items on the menu, it has been hosting Arabic brunches for groups, made to order, since opening in February 2022. Owner Allam Steiteh said that he planned to launch a full Arabic breakfast menu on the weekends. this fall, which will include a mezze breakfast with small sample portions of traditional Arabic breakfast items. Steiteh expects the menu to include all traditional Palestinian and Jordanian breakfasts, including two types of chickpea fatteh, manakeesh flatbreads, grilled halloumi cheese, eggs and fried cauliflower. Turkish coffee and hot tea will also be served.

Although Arabic breakfast is still a niche offering in Austin, Jarrah, Al Hasani and Steiteh all see the potential for growth in demand as familiarity with the dishes increases. “I like to encourage people to try different foods that they have never tried before,” says Al Hasani. “If someone still has shawarma and falafel, I encourage them to try the kebab. They will wish they had tried it sooner. It’s the same for breakfast.”

Jarrah agrees: “I think once people try more kinds of Arabic food, more fresh Arabic food, the more they will want to try.”

Nabulsi says most days of the week her kids will have cereal or a typical quick meal in the morning, but when the weekend rolls around and her family gets together, it’s time for a traditional spread. She hopes more people will discover the delicious, often healthy, Arabic breakfast recipes. “The Arabic breakfast has foods that we all share slowly instead of focusing on our own plates. It gives us a chance to be together, have fun, and take our time to enjoy good food.”

Mazaj Hookah and Lounge

13376 Search #100
11 a.m.-2 a.m., daily
mazajcafeaustin.com

pita shack

616 FM 685 Ste. A-108, Pflugerville
11am-10pm, daily
pita-shack.com

Romanian Mediterranean cuisine

11200 Lakeline Mall Dr. Ste. F-18, cedar park
11:30 a.m.-9 p.m., daily
rumaancuisine.com

About James Almanza

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