Fatayer = Pies

Hand pies, to be more specific. Triangular hand pies to be still more specific. Triangular hand pies filled with a spiced mixture of either spinach, cheese, or meat to be pedantic, bordering on obnoxious.

Fatayer, in the States, are most commonly found in Lebanese bakeries. On first seeing fatayer, most people confuse them with Greek spanakopita, and not without reason. Like spanakopita, fatayers are often filled with a mixture of spinach and onion, however the wrapping is different. Instead of filo, fatayer are made with an oil-enriched bread dough, not unlike a pizza dough, which makes them more like Italian calzones than Greek spinach pies, though the eating experience is distinct from either.

Take a bite and there’s no mistaking that fatayer are a Levantine delicacy. That’s mostly due to the fillings, which are usually spiced with an aromatic like cinnamon or sumac. Recipes vary, as fatayer are made and enjoyed over a wide area, from southern Turkey eastward to parts of Iraq and Kuwait, south through modern-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, and across the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt.

If it seems hard to believe that one kind of pie could be considered indigenous to all those places, one must consider that most of those nations haven’t been distinct nations for terribly long, only since the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, which happened right after World War I (though of course Egypt is quite old, and Israel wasn’t created until after World War II). Prior to about 100 years ago, all that real estate was considered a unified region known as “Ottoman Syria” which dates back some 400 years. For roughly 300 years before that, it was part of what many historians call the Mamluk Sultanate, which occupied, in addition, vast tracts on either side of the Red Sea further south (parts of what we now know as Egypt and Saudi Arabia).

All of which is to say that the peoples of the Middle East have had a long time to share food traditions with one another. Just how long pie making has been going on in the Levant is another subject, something we will explore as the week progresses.

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