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FORKLORE

Not by Bread Alone

March 26, 1997|CHARLES PERRY

Pizza is not the only flat bread with a topping, just the most elaborate. In most parts of the world, people top bread dough with nothing but a scattering of herbs, onions or spices.

The nearest thing to pizza outside Italy is the Middle Eastern product we know as lahmajoon. The name goes back to the Arabic lahm bi-'ajin, "bread with dough," and the topping is ground meat, usually with fried chopped onions. But every locality adds a flavoring.

The lahmajoon we're familiar with, flavored with tomatoes and sometimes peppers, comes from the city of Ain Tab (now known as Gaziantep, Turkey). It was brought to this country by Armenian refugees.

This isn't the only country they took it to. The Armenians first fled across the Syrian border to the city of Aleppo, where their version has just about obliterated the traditional Aleppo-style lahm bi-'ajin flavored with pomegranate syrup and served with a scoop of yogurt.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday April 2, 1997 Home Edition Food Part H Page 2 Food Desk 1 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
In last week's Forklore column, the Arabic term lahm bi-'ajin was translated as "bread and dough." The correct translation, of course, is "meat and dough." (True, lehem means bread in Hebrew, but that's no excuse.)

There are a lot of other versions. The Lebanese lahm bi-'ajin includes yogurt and toasted pine nuts in the topping. In Saudi Arabia, they use tomatoes, parsley, garlic and sour ground sumac berries. The Egyptian style is meat, raisins and tahineh. They all have thin, flexible crusts so you can roll them up for more convenient eating.

There's also a version of lahm bi-'ajin called sfiha that's only 3 or 4 inches across. There's no point rolling it up, so the dough is folded up in three or four places around the rim before baking to make a sort of hedge around the filling.

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