New Guinness World Record
Ask any Middle Eastern foodie and you will hear that Lebanese cuisine has unparalleled prestige.
In an interview with the website Bookslut, Claudia Roden, the queen of Mid-East cookbooks and the author, among many others, of Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon , said “I think it’s were mezze was born. Lebanon was the capital of the food of the Arab world. Even if you go to Saudi Arabia, at the hotel it’s Lebanese food.”
Take that, Saudi Arabia.
And take this too: as of November 22, Lebanese Independence Day, Lebanon unseated Saudi Arabia as the title-holder of the Guinness World Record for the longest pastry made on earth.
The victorious bread is a 105 foot long manoucheh, the crisp, light and fulfilling za’atar-topped focaccia that anchors the traditional Lebanese breakfast.
This particular manoucheh was the brainchild of Mr Fouad Bakkar, a 46-year-old biology teacher at the AMJAD school, a top-notch K-through-12 institution located a few miles from downtown Beirut.
Mr. Bakkar, a robust optimist, was feeling a bit downcast about Lebanon’s delicate predicament in the roiling Middle East, and tried to come up with a project that would lift spirits and remind the world of Lebanon’s importance.
“I felt that my country is isolated, it came to my mind that although we are small on the map we can do big things,” he said, in a conversation with The Media Line. “Our principal is highly appreciative of initiatives, so I thought of doing something for Independence Day to say we truly exist on this map and November 22 is not just a normal day!”
Most people told him he was crazy but Fouad Bakkar is the sort of man who indulgently smiles and says “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
He set to work.
The school’s courtyard was turned over to a dedicated oven of his own design that contained 2645 lbs of iron, 590 feet of gas pipes, 32 burners, required 16 gas canisters and took 12 days to build. He dragooned a Beirut contractor called Abbas Mezawi, who fell for the idea and took charge of the project “so that no one would be harmed.”
Bakkar is a compelling man: he managed to persuade 108 teachers and administrators and about 40 AMJAD students, not to mention 30 chefs from Beirut’s aptly named elite caterer, Socrate, to pitch in.
“They told me that ‘you are truly a mad person,’” Bakkar recalls, laughing, but the principal, Walid Zoubian “told me go and have some fun with kids.”
Lebanon is a global powerhouse when it comes to gastronomic world records.
In 2009, the Lebanese non-profit Almidan won a world record for the biggest kibbeh in creation, frying up a meat-filled dumpling that clocked in at a hefty 514 lbs.
In 2010, Chef Ramzi Choueiri and the students of Al-Kafaat University produced the world’s largest serving of hummus: 23,042 lbs, 12 oz, and they were followed three months later by the Municipality of Kab Elias, that chopped and mixed the world’s largest Fattoush salad, weighing 9,772 lbs.
Not to be outdone, in 2011 three Lebanese teams collaborated to make the world’s biggest sandwich, a construction of chicken breasts, lettuce, tomato, pickles, mayonnaise, red vinegar, salt, mustard, white pepper, lemon juice, kammoun spices and coriander that measured 2,411 ft 5 in, was 5 inches wide and weighed 1272 lbs.
The AMJAD school’s manoucheh was not all for show. Parents crowded around to take pictures and grab a bite, as did deputy principal Nidal Maatouk, who assured The Medial Line “Of course I ate it, and it was delicious!”
“What I wanted to say,” Bakkar says, “is that this country deserves to live in a better way. This country deserves more that to be dealt with by outside policy-makers with no knowledge, who underestimate our potential and consider us complimentary to others.”
Bakkar declined to speak directly of regional politics, but his small nation of under 6 million people, squeezed between a collapsing Syria and the Mediterranean Sea, has been flooded by over 1 million refugees from the civil war next door.
Two weeks ago, Beirut was hit by a double suicide bombing that left 44 dead.
As a matter fact, the security situation surrounding Lebanon was considered so perilous that Samer Khalouf, the Guinness adjudicator assigned to oversee the competition, was forced to cancel his appearance.
“We in this country have a great culture and we deserve to live in this world,” Bakkar says.
The Guinness World Record, he adds, “for me means that we truly exist.”
As for the Saudis, Bakkar had this to say: “We are not at all rivals! We didn’t plan at all to break a record held by Saudi Arabia. They are more than our friends! We just wanted to set a new record.”
Bakkar has a talent for a neat turn of phrase. “When dreams have no limits, and work becomes a passion, enthusiasm, creativity and commitment are the seeds that will ever germinate into excellence,” he states carefully.
Manoucheh (recipe by hommoswtabbouli )
For the dough:
2 1/2 cups of flour
1 cup of warm water
1 small pack of yeast
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Mix the dough, cover and let it rise then roll.
For the Zaatar spread:
– Some fine chopped onions (optional)
– Some Zaatar Mix (this mix can be found in Middle eastern stores or in healthy food stores, it’s the one with sesame and sumac and spices)
– Olive oil
In a small bowl, add the onions, Zaatar Mix and drizzle olive oil and mix until you get a medium-thick paste, you don’t wanna add too much olive oil but enough to spread the mixture on the dough without lumps.