Postcard from... Beirut


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The Independent Online

While Europe is engulfed by its horse-meat scandal, Lebanon is battling its own food crisis: wood shavings in its beloved zaatar manakeesh.

Cooked on a dome-shaped hot plate, doughy manakeesh are a breakfast staple for Beirutis but are devoured at any time of the day. Popular toppings for the pizza-like snack are cheese, minced lamb or a thyme-based spice mix known as zaatar.

But in an attempt to maximise profits, bakeries are reportedly buying bastardised zaatar mix, which adds stale bread, food dyes and even wood shavings to the traditional zesty blend of thyme, sesame and sumac.

While genuine zaatar sells for around $20 (£13) a kilo, its cut-price imitations can go for just $2. “Fraud has even reached this cherished meal,” read an article in the English-language Daily Star. Despite being considered the culinary capital of the Middle East, Lebanon has yet to pass food safety laws proposed more than a decade ago.

According to the newspaper, one baker said that batches of zaatar from one supplier were priced according to the “percentage of wood shavings” they contained. Lebanese manakeesh lovers have taken to the social networks to express their distress. “Is nothing sacred!” wrote one Twitter user.