Portraits of Syria: The Bakers

The Baker: Flat slabs of dough is slapped to the inside wall of these kilns to become flat breads (Damascus).

The Baker: Flat slabs of dough is slapped to the inside wall of these kilns to become flat breads (Damascus).

Few small businesses in the Middle East are more ubiquitous than bakeries, working from many hours before dawn to late in the evenings producing their fragrant flat breads, pita, manakish, baklava ..... This is also true everywhere throughout Syria. This is the third (and final) series on life in Syria and was shot during a number of visits to Syria from 2008 to 2010. Though I still have many more images from other craftsman and working people, this final set strives to honor the bakers and their trade.

It is always easy finding a bakery in Syria. Apart from being plentiful and mostly located in well exposed locations, one just need to follow the great aroma of freshly backed bread to the open shopfront window swiftly serving fresh, hot, steaming flat breads to customers queuing in the street outside. Inside is a hive of activity. Some will be kneading and prepare the dough, others will be shaping and rolling these into whatever form the breads need to be in, more will be packing the finished breads onto trays for outside deliveries.

The Boss preparing the dough before it ends up in the kiln (Damascus).

The Boss preparing the dough before it ends up in the kiln (Damascus).

Hot and steamy fresh flat breads ready to be sold from the table (Damascus).

Hot and steamy fresh flat breads ready to be sold from the table (Damascus).

Then there are the men who actually do the baking. The ovens (or rather kilns) used for traditional flat breads are circular masonry constructions of some sort with a narrower round opening at the top. The bakers skillfully, and with lightning speed, "slap" the flatbread shaped dough disks to stick to the inside wall of the kiln. Once ready, he would quickly take it out with his bare hands, tossing it onto a table at the open selling hatch for customers to buy as hot and fresh as it can be. 

An old industrialized bakery has conveyor belts crisscrossing a rather large space, before dumping the breads onto the floor for sorting and packing by hand (Aleppo).  

An old industrialized bakery has conveyor belts crisscrossing a rather large space, before dumping the breads onto the floor for sorting and packing by hand (Aleppo).  

Apart from these smaller operators, there are also larger, more industrialized bakeries. The ancient machinery can be equally fascinating to watch, with conveyor belts transporting dough slabs through the space, passing through the burners before dropping the final product onto the floor. The breads are then collected, packed into bags or trays before being distributed throughout the city to any of the many restaurants, cafes and other traditional eateries. 

There is a high probability that many of these bakeries are still functional, despite the devastating war. People need to eat, and these bakeries are always there to deliver, no matter what the circumstances are. I also suspect that, even if these bakers have fled their country, they will still be baking their bread elsewhere in the world.

Ever wondered how the stringy bits in baklava is made? A runny dough is pored into the triangular container, which has a series of small holes at the bottom. The dough drops onto a rotating, hot steel plate. Once finished, the baker gathers the baked strings to place onto trays where the rest of the various ingredients are layered (Aleppo).

Ever wondered how the stringy bits in baklava is made? A runny dough is pored into the triangular container, which has a series of small holes at the bottom. The dough drops onto a rotating, hot steel plate. Once finished, the baker gathers the baked strings to place onto trays where the rest of the various ingredients are layered (Aleppo).

Stringy, sweat baklava in the making (Aleppo)

Stringy, sweat baklava in the making (Aleppo)

Please make sure to also read the first and second parts of this series. I sincerely hope that Syria will open up again one day to invite visitors to experience the unique lifestyles of people forced by circumstance to maintain their traditional way of life with little interference from the modern, globalized world. Whether positive or negative, there are not many such unique gems left in the world.