Photography courtesy of Brownbook magazine and Nousha Salimi
Many travelers know what it is like to be haunted by particular dishes. There are foods that leave enduring memories when they are first tasted, and which then lead to an obsession, often frustrated, with reliving the original culinary experience. For Ziyad Hermez, who moved to the United States 12 years ago, the dish that he could never forget was manousheh. He’d been a picky eater as a child, but manousheh was the one dish he always loved.
If you aren’t familiar with manousheh—which you may know as manakish, manaeesh, or manaqish, all different spellings of the plural of manousheh—it is a Levantine flatbread brushed with za’atar (a blend of herbs and salt) and served with cheese and other toppings. When Hermez sought out the dish on his travels in the United States and Canada, he was repeatedly disappointed. “It was shocking to see that’s it’s hardly represented here at all,” Hermez says. “And when it is, they don’t get it right. The flavors aren’t correct or it’s too expensive. Manousheh is a street food—something you grab at a bakery or have after a night of drinking.”
For Hermez, the solution to the distressing shortage of good manousheh in America was to recreate the dish here himself. First, however, he needed to learn exactly how to make manousheh. His experiments at home failed miserably, but when he traveled back to Beirut his friend Barbara Massaad (who is also the author of the book Man’oushé) helped him get an internship in a bakery.
That stint not only taught Hermez the secrets of baking the flatbread that is the basis of manousheh, but also reminded him of another, less tangible part of the experience. “It’s the relationship of the baker with his customers and how he interacts with him. The bakery isn’t just another business, it’s part of the community.”
When Hermez opened Manousheh (yes, his first retail venture took its name from its specialty) on Kenmare Street in Manhattan in 2013, he was determined to bring not just the flavors but also the culture of Lebanon to the pop-up shop. “I wanted Lebanese living in America to feel at home, and Americans who have never visited Beirut to have a taste of life there. It’s about recreating an experience from Lebanon here in New York.”
After the Kenmare Street pop-up closed, Hermez continued to convert Americans to the wonders of manousheh at Smorgasburg Jr. in Brooklyn, but another permanent location—in Greenwich Village—will open soon. “I learned a lot about the restaurant industry from my first venture,” says Hermez, who is excited about the new project. He’s not ready to announce the exact address yet, but he says that all the permits are in order and he expects to be able to share more details in the upcoming weeks. Keep your eyes on Manousheh’s Facebook page for updates: facebook.com/ManoushehNYC.