SNACK TREK: The Hunt for Zaatar

The Spice Station sign.

I first tried zaatar (there are various ways to spell it and apostrophes to stick in there, but I’m doing it my way) when I was hiking in Israel, during Birthright. As I recall, a Druze man sold me a zaatar-covered piece of flatbread (maybe laffa?). I ate it as we walked past a water-powered mill, thinking, “This is a new flavor. Hmm.”

Once you know zaatar, it starts to pop up in your everyday life. On the free bread at Desert Rose. On a pide at Momed. With the falafel at The Bowery. You can order a plate of zaatar and olive oil for dipping at Byblos in the Orange Circle (you will have to order it once or twice before your family acquires the taste).

Googling Byblos reveals that it’s a city in Lebanon. I’ve found that zaatar-using places seem to be primarily Lebanese-ish. But I haven’t done a lot of scientific research to back up that theory. I just noticed that Lebanese dishes seem very zaatar-friendly.

Once you acquire the taste, you start to crave it. I got to the point where I was jonesing for some zaatar-and-olive-oil, but I was approximately 35 miles of Southern California traffic away from Byblos. So I decided to do what I usually try to do, and make my own zaatar. I looked up a seemingly simple zaatar recipe, but you’ll note the asterisk next to sumac. I couldn’t find it at any of my local grocery stores, which isn’t that shocking. But that lack of sumac dashed my zaatar-making dreams.

(I really need to get in the game and find myself a Middle Eastern market… especially because I covet the pita that only seems to be available at places like Zankou and Pita Kitchen. Why is supermarket pita so inferior?!)

So I decided to turn to the internet, and ordered this highly-rated Earthway zaatar off Amazon. I crossed my fingers that it was the correct calibration of zaatar flavor that I’m used to, since it was a 3-pack… 21.6 ounces of zaatar in total. Which is… a lot of zaatar.

I ordered the zaatar on June 10th, and the estimated arrival date was June 17th. But Amazon typically exaggerates, and I figured it would ship ASAP.

But it didn’t ship ASAP. About five days in, it still hadn’t shipped. I grew concerned/anxious.

I was sitting at Pazzo Gelato, detailing my zaatar saga to my friend, Amy (sorry, Amy), when the girl at the next table cut in to inform me that THREE TYPES of zaatar were available at the Spice Station, like two stores down. (It was like that scene in Forrest Gump where he finds out that Jenny’s house is RIGHT DOWN THE STREET, why wait for the bus??) So I made a beeline for the Spice Station, thinking that I could always cancel/send back my Amazon order.

But guess what, you guys? The Spice Station was OUT OF ZAATAR! Their supplier (overseas) was taking forever to ship it, or something. So then I felt totally good about my Amazon purchase, like all the legit zaatar sources take longer than you’d hope. (I was also wondering if the Spice Station would take 2 packs of zaatar off my hands, if I didn’t like it.)

They DID have sumac, but at that point I decided to put my faith in the stuff I’d ordered.

Incidentally, you must go to the Spice Station. They have everything you can imagine in little jars. Every type of salt, sugar, tea, pepper… amazing. And it’s sort of underground-ish from the street? It’s an adventure.

On my first day of work, I got home to find the zaatar waiting for me. Amazing first-day-of-work gift. (And exactly the day they said it would arrive, so I can’t fault them.)

Hooray zaatar!

Luckily, it tastes EXACTLY like the zaatar at Byblos. So far I’ve mixed it into some too-bland hummus, sprinkled it on popcorn (awesome), eaten it with olive oil and a pack of Zankou pita (leftover from a large office order)… it’s been a wonderful investment. I’ve barely made a dent in my supply, but I guess that’s a good thing.

I didn’t take a picture, but the back and sides of the box list all the health benefits of the various ingredients in zaatar. I feel so healthy when I eat it! It’s adding years to my life. (Like most things I say, this has not been scientifically proven.)

If you follow suit on the zaatar-ordering front, be prepared for your entire cupboard to smell like zaatar. In a good way. And keep some pita around, so you can impress your friends by casually offering them some zaatar-and-olive-oil, like a very worldly host (who happens to have a crapload of zaatar in her cupboard).

By the way, I am happily accepting recipes. What else should I do with my zaatar?


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