Last year, we visited a Portuguese restaurant at the back of a tennis court in Marrickville. For this week's Local Knowledge, we jumped a few suburbs further west to a much-loved bakery, with only two things on the counter. Belmore Lebanese Bakery (BLB) serves Lebanese flat breads topped with za’atar, cheese or minced lamb, and fatayar, doughy Lebanese empanadas stuffed with spinach and onion or cheese. These and coffee, which are the same things you’ll find in a bakery in Lebanon, are what patrons come here for. “We are very traditional in what we do,” says Eddie Zanbaka, BLB’s baker and owner.
The proof is in his clientele. While we tear into a pizza-like lamb flat bread and a labne and tomato-stuffed za’atar roll, a elderly couple walks in. Zanbaka embraces them and says they’ve been regulars since the beginning. They smile, chat, order a flat bread and leave. This happens over and over again. Unlike many of Sydney’s old-school bakers, Zanbaka didn’t inherit the trade from his family. He came from IT. “It was just an investment in the beginning. I was just going to buy it and get someone else to run it, and then I thought, maybe I’ll come in and work,” Zanbaka says.
That was in 1987; Zanbaka was baking pita breads and stocking them in supermarkets, a skill he learnt from reading a Ph.D. on flat breads from the Bread Research Institute. “It was too labour intensive and when you work for Woolworths you work 365 days a year, they don't understand holidays.” After producing pita breads for 13 years, Zanbaka decided to change. He shut the business, got rid of the machines and went to Lebanon to look for someone to teach him how to make flat breads. He found Michael Fahel, a man whose entire life was dedicated to it. “He left school as soon as he learnt to write his name, he’s illiterate. He can only write his name and basic numbers. His life is spent working with bread,” Zanbaka says. “Everyone said this guy is the best. So I approached him and said, ‘Why you don’t come to Australia?’”
Zanbaka and Fahel worked together for three years. Now Zanbaka makes everything by hand, every day. He kneads, rests and folds the dough, mixes his own za’atar, prepares the spiced-lamb mince and attends the flame of BLB’s massive central oven. It’s incredible that, after becoming so intimate with every part of the process, Zanbaka still hungers for the very thing he makes. “In the morning, as soon as we start cooking, the aroma fills the place up. Can you smell it? You ‘gotta be hungry,” he says. “It keeps hitting you and by 9am, you're so hungry you can't last any longer.” He smiles prophetically and asks his assistant, a friend of more than 40 years, to make him a za’atar roll.
Belmore Lebanese Bakery
339 Burwood Road, Belmore
(02) 9759 2490
Mon to Sat 6.30am–4pm
Local Knowledge is a weekly Broadsheet series shining a light on the unassuming, authentic Sydney restaurants that are worthy of appreciation beyond the neighbourhoods they serve. See the rest of the series here.