Two very different takes on Lebanese flatbread, both within a couple blocks of each other on Davie St. Let’s do this!
Manoush’eh Authentic Lebanese
Manoush’eh opened in November 2017 specializing in Lebanese pies called manousheh.
This is the same space that was the Vietnamese-styled BaoQi Eateri, which was already a small space but they’ve added a brick oven and a counter, making it even smaller. There’s only three small tables inside but this kind of food can be easily taken to go.
The classic manousheh is with za’atar, which I probably should’ve ordered as a baseline, but…
…my favourite (and hard to find) Middle Eastern flatbread is lahm be ajeen (Turkish version of which is known as “lamajun” with several different spellings).
Also a nutella version, in addition to a cheese one, a falafel-inspired one, and many others which you can read about on their menu online.
Manoush’eh uses the same kind of oven that Anatolia’s Gate in Burnaby does.
Lahm Be Ajeen ($7.99), a thin crust meat pie with organic spiced ground beef with diced tomatoes and onions, served with lemon.
This is similar to lamajun/lahmajoun/lahmacun/Turkish pizza/etc. The owner told me that this is the authentic Lebanese way to eating it — with lemon and NO salad, neither wrapped inside nor eaten on the side (which is the way I’m used to eating it from places like Lamajoun or Anatolia’s Gate). In fact, Numero Uno Pizza just a block away serves this Turkish version:
However, I’ve been there twice and each time they’ve been sold out of the lamajun.
For comparison, this is what the lamajun looks like at Anatolia’s Gate.
The meat spread on the Anatolia’s Gate version (above) is darker and more flavourful than Manoush’eh’s version (below).
I also feel that Manoush’eh’s version is underbaked, pale and not quite as crisp and caramelized as Anatolia’s Gate. The meat spread is bland and underseasoned — not even the lemon could save it. Anatolia’s Gate still does my favourite lamajun in the city after all these years.
I do like the bench they’ve set up beside the front windows though. I’d come back to try the za’atar one but I’d give the Lahm Be Ajeen a pass.
Saj&Co — The Kitchen of Neo-Nostalgia
However, the flatbread here is quite different from what Jamjar does (or used to do — more on that below).
Having dined in once, I’d say the food/menu/vibe is equal parts soulful and principled.
The saj oven in action.
There’s meat options…
…as well as vegetarian…
…and vegan. Full menu available online.
I think the El Zaatar one would be a nice introduction to this place. It’s also the smallest and cheapest option, considering I just ate at Manoush’eh just before this.
El Zaatar ($7.50) with zaatar (thyme, sumac, sesame seeds, olive oil), cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, and mint leaves.
The whole wheat saj bread is stiff, dry and crunchy.
It felt very healthy eating it, but a touch dry and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’ve had this texture before… I finally remembered that the crunchy dry thick saj bread reminds me of English Ryvita crispbread:
I’m not a fan of this kind of thick, dry, crunchy texture, so I wasn’t exactly thrilled by the El Zaatar. But I could picture a lot of health-conscious people loving it. Your mileage may vary.
For comparison’s sake, here’s the saj bread that Jamjar on Commercial Drive used to do. (Disappointingly, they now simply reheat premade pita bread on their saj oven.)
Taste and texture is similar to a flour tortilla.
It’s hard to draw any firm conclusions about either place, having only ordered one thing from each. But eating at new places is always a risk. I think I might like something with labneh in it at Saj&Co, but I’m not sure if I can get over the taste/texture of their saj bread. I might try Manoush’eh’s zaatar bread if I’m in the area…