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Jan 1, 2010 05:38 PM

Berkeley: My first meal of the new year / decade - kabob at Middle East Market

Middle East Market is baking bread every day now and has added a small restaurant area near the kitchen at the back of the store. There are three tables.

Currently they only have kabobs - chicken, ground beef/lamb and vegetable. $4

The kabob, grilled tomato, 1/4 fresh red onion, fresh basil leaves and fresh cilantro are placed on a large thin piece of lavash and covered with another sheet of lavash. There are shakers of sumac. A large silver urn of complementary tea is available.

The three ladies at the large six seat table were tearing off pieces of lavosh to pick up pieces of kebob, veggies and herbs.

I got the ground beef/lamb kebob to go. They even have special cookie sheet aluminum take-out containers the size of the flat lavash.

I decided to cut the kebab in half and make two large wraps stuffed with savory meat, onion, juicy charred tomatoes and fresh herbs. Delicious

While I was in the market, they were in the process of mixing up the meat for the kabobs.

This is a really nice, neat market. They had Persion ice cream from Aram bakery in San Jose in the freezer case.

The reason I stopped was to buy some bread after reading this report

fresh baked Irani flat bread on San Pablo AVe

Unfortunately they didn't bake bread today because of the holiday.They had some day-old bread which looked very nice but I'm holding out for fresh baked bread.

I decided to walk around the market to see what they had. That's when I saw the ladies tucking into those tasty-looking kabobs.

It was a promising start food-wise for the new year.

Middle East Market
2054 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702

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  1. I went back today to get some bread. I was misinformed yesterday about the bread schedule. It is every other day.

    I also wanted to try the chicken kabob in-house and soak up some of the vibe of the place. The chicken was even better than the beef/lamb ... nicely charred yet not dry. Love those fat juicy charred tomatoes as well.

    I had some tea today. The teapot on top has concentrated tea, so the proceedure is to pour some tea from the top kettle and then use the hot water spigot at the bottom to make it the strength you would like.

    The owner's wife and the bread baker, Jeanette, showed this because initially I just put the glass under the spigot and was a bit surprised to just see plain water. It is a lovely tea and I added a sugar cube because Jeanette mentioned it.

    It was fun watching people wander to the back of the shop, feel the bags to see if the bread was warm enough, some waiting till the next batch was ready.

    The back tables are nothing special, but it is an inviting area. Jeanette said she wanted a little eating area like she imagined it would look in Iran. It is nice with decorative touches, some words to think about on a blackboard and lots of books and magazines to read.

    Jeanette is the force behind all of this, talking her husband who runs the register into the bakery and kebabs. She is Latino and he is Persian. She seems fluent in all three languages, chatting in Spanish to her Latino helper, speaking to the Irianian customers in thier language and me in English.

    When I asked if they were planing more additions, she said no. She wanted to do a few things and do them well.

    She lovingly and proudly patted some bags of bread she had just made.

    The large, long flat sheets and the rounds are the same bread. She said she just liked the smaller shape. Adding cardamom to the bread was her idea. She wasn't having success talking some of the traditionalist customers into the cardamom. Their loss. It is lovely.

    As mentioned in the other post. This bread toast beautifully with a crispy crust outside and a soft center, the flavor and scent of the cardamom intesified. I think I like it toasted even better than hot from the oven.

    A brief microwaving brings the back to it's hot-from-the-oven taste, but the toasting is so much better. I also got a small round of sesame which I devoured on the way home.

    This time I noticed a few other nice touches ... they have some excellent Middle Eastern cookbooks. There was a Lebanese book, Greek, Persian and another called "Persia to Napa" which from the cover seems to be about the role of wine in Persian cooking ... and smoething to do with Napa.

    2 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      Thanks for the update. I was there last week getting my day-old whole wheat bread
      -- 99 cents for a 2-footer (great re-heated) and I noticed they were selling kabobs but I didn't have time to try it out.

      1. re: escargot3

        That was a fabulous tip, escargot3. Thanks again for reporting on the bread here. Quite the find.

        I think if you cut up the bread into small squares and let it dry, it would make great crackers. I was going to do that but my husband scarfed the bread down before I could try or dry it.

        This market is a class act.

    2. This is a great little place. The lamb kabob was as described, nicely spiced and presented, and the charred tomatoes went well. I made the same mistake with the tea urn.

      The store seems tidier than I remember it--are these new owners?

      The only problem was that the fellow in the back went straight from forming raw lamb kabobs with his hands to assembling my finished plate, without washing his hands. I didn't mention anything, but I might drop them a note.

      2 Replies
      1. re: ernie in berkeley

        If you see Jeanette, you might mention it to her ... or address the note to her. The kitchen is her thing here and the husband is ... taciturn The thing that struck me on my visit was her using disposable gloves when handling the food.

        If these are the same owners, then the spiffing up would be due to Jeanette. I think her husband isn't convinced the bread/kabob thing will work.

        That's nice to notify the owner. Some idiot reported Le Bedaine to the health department because they felt that croissants in baskets was unsanitary ... I mean seriously. If you are that much of a germophobe, just don't buy them. At the very least, give the business a head up that this bothers you. Don't go straight to jail .

        1. re: ernie in berkeley

          There was a fire and the place was closed for a while. It might have changed hands in the meantime.

        2. Yesterday I cleaned out the house made hummus - nicely balanced with finely chopped green olives.and parsley. It was in the case by the register at $3.59/lb. My husband and I have been scooping it up with that delicious lavash, lightly toasted. I also bought Ackawi cheese (Karoun - mild) and Abali yogurt - brands that seem to have a Middle Eastern palate in mind. Excellent selection of beans, pulses, The guys in the kitchen were making huge platters of raw kebab, apparently for catering. Looked good for another time.

          1. Whatever the bread is that's a little thicker and has big holes in it is amazing--I bought a day-old loaf this afternoon (which they said had just been baked last night) and toasted it up to have with dinner, and it was fantastic. I think I liked it even better than the regular flatbread, which is great as well. The woman who was working the register (another woman; not the owner) said she likes all their breads better toasted, even the day they're baked.

            Does anyone know if they sell all the varieties of bread fresh from the oven on the days they're baking? The one Friday I went into to buy some, the huge, flat, two-foot-long ones were the only ones coming out fresh.

            I liked the kabobs too but think they would have been better if I had them right away instead of heating them up later. The chicken was $4.99 when I bought it today ($3.99 for the beef/lamb). Since I can't resist buying their other breads, I kind of wish the kabob platters came with rice instead.

            Baklava was too sweet and greasy for my taste. She said they're homemade, but someone else makes it for them.

            Great little place. I bought some good saffron from them last week for $10.99/gram--much cheaper than Berkeley Bowl. They have a jumbo size as well, but I think the gram will last me half a year as it is. I'm curious about the many varieties of saffron ice cream they're selling.

            3 Replies
            1. re: abstractpoet

              The saffron ice cream up front is pretty common. I thin even Berkeley Bowl has it. I haven't tried the Aram bakery ice cream yet. Usually they have ice cream sandwiches so you can buy a small amount for a test run and a lower price.

              Be sure to read the ingredient lists. Some have junk in them.

              1. re: abstractpoet

                I have gotten the sweet cardamom round bread fresh. It is very fragile, handle with care. It toasts up great for days. Call and ask Jeanette baking schedule.

                1. re: abstractpoet

                  "Whatever the bread is that's a little thicker and has big holes in it is amazing..."

                  They had these just coming out fresh when I was by a bit before noon today. It's a long, skinny loaf (even longer than the 2-footers), but the bread itself is thicker as noted. Asked Jeanette about them, and she said that they're called "Barbari". Great stuff.

                  I also bought a round loaf that she's calling her "breakfast bread" for $3--it's got basil, scallions, and feta cheese mixed into the dough. Tried a slice in the store and it was fantastic--tastes a bit like a Middle Eastern twist on pesto. Excited to see how it reheats.

                2. I did some progressive eating as a thank you with a friend that started with chicken kabobs at Middle East Market.

                  They have a lovely 'menu' book on the table for their handful of dishes. It has the dish followed by a photo. I almost got the veggie wrap because it lookded so nice.

                  New on the menu was Ash Reshteh, a soup. They didn't have any today and not sure if it was a limited Persian New Year dish. They didn't have it yesterday, but I thought i'd give others a heads up

                  Tried the bread with the herbs which was quite good.

                  Also new to me was a round sweet bread near the register, which was almost like corn bread. It had a cake-like texture to it. It was still a flat bread. i liked it a lot

                  Middle East Market
                  2054 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702

                  3 Replies
                    1. re: wolfe

                      Really, limited time, wolfe... really, really limited time. The quick scan I did of that link didn't mention the new to me bread near the register. it was on a cardboard round like some bakeries put under cakes. Again, i might have missed the mention in that quick read.

                      1. re: rworange

                        Just checking. Jeanette is very proud of her breads. The last new one was a parsley, basil round with a little feta cheese. I work nearby and if she has another new one I am ready to try it. The sweet bread need to stay on the cardboard since it is very fragile. It toasts great. The PBF is hardier.