Where does Windsor's most popular pita come from?
Jonathan Pinto tracks down the source of the pita used by the majority of local Middle-Eastern restaurants
If Windsor City Council were to declare an official city bread, pita would most certainly be a top contender. It's everywhere. But where does it come from?
For local restaurants, the overwhelming majority we contacted named one bakery in particular.
The bakery goes by a couple of names. The sign outside the Wyandotte Street building says "New Yasmeen Bakery." Inside and in the phone book, however, they call themselves "Shorouk Bakery."
When asked why the bakery is considered the best, one restaurant owner stated that the pita produced by this bakery simply doesn't fall apart.
Manager Imad Bazzi says the bakery is owned by the Siblini family. They own three bakeries: the one here in Windsor, one in Ottawa, and one in Dearborn, Michigan.
Here's where it gets interesting: the Windsor bakery doesn't produce pita at all. It all comes from its sister bakery in Dearborn.
According to Bazzi, at least 16,000 pieces of pita cross the border from Dearborn every day, just for use in Windsor. About 3,000 go to restaurants, and the rest is sold at local grocery stores and through the bakery itself. They come in a number of different sizes and varieties.
This doesn't mean that the Shorouk Bakery in Windsor doesn't produce anything itself. While the Dearborn and Ottawa bakeries are dedicated to pita production, the Windsor operation is in charge of making and shipping a number of different pastries, such as baklava and date cookies.
The most intriguing product they produce, however, is called "markouk." They've been making it since the bakery opened around 18 years ago.
Markouk is a traditional Lebanese flatbread. About the size of an extra-large pizza, it's super flat — much thinner than a tortilla or a crêpe. Markouk is much more labour intensive to make than pita. At maximum capacity, the Windsor bakery can make only 3,500 pieces in a day.
Production is fascinating to watch. After the wheat dough is mixed and cut into pieces, it is mechanically stretched to about 20 centimetres, and then stretched by hand to about 60 centimetres across. The dough is then placed on a hot metal dome with a burner underneath — kind of like a griddle — and cooks in about 20 seconds. After a cooling period, the markouk is then folded into rectangles and sold in bags of five.
The bread is shipped fresh across the United States and Canada. Like many breads, it freezes well, so the stores in cities that are especially far away place a large order of markouk and freeze it.
Bazzi says that markouk doesn't have a specialized purpose — it's a very versatile bread. You can use it for a sandwich. You could top it and bake it again in the oven. You can rip it into pieces and dip it.
According to Bazzi, some restaurants in Lebanon and Dearborn use markouk instead of pita for sandwiches. They serve it cut up, like a pinwheel sandwich. In Windsor, however, markouk is overwhelmingly purchased for home, due to fact that it is more expensive than pita and is prone to tearing.
Looking for fresh pita or markouk?
The Shorouk Bakery is located at 1448 Wyandotte St E. — between Gladstone and Moy. Look for the sign that says "New Yasmeen Bakery."
They're open every day at 7 a.m.