There’s no shortage of acclaimed bakeries in the Bay Area ready to deliver up baguettes or croissants to meet our carb demands. But as far as I’m concerned, there’s one bread superior to all others that can’t be found at places like Tartine and Arizmendi’s.
Sangak is one of just a few types of bread that sat in the middle of my mom’s kitchen table as my cousins and I gorged on noon-e paneer, a staple of Iranian breakfasts, with bread and cheese as the titular anchor.
Fortunately, bread keeps pretty well in the freezer and that’s the way I’m used to consuming it after my parents hand some off during a visit. But fresh-baked sangak is its truest form and the Bay Area is lucky to have immigrant enclaves sizable enough to meet demand for “specialty” (read: normal to the cultures that regularly consume them) bread.
Here’s where in the Bay Area you can find some freshly made types of bread that break from the Euro-centric mold.
Where San Francisco came up short in the hunt for fresh sangak, San Jose delivered. The whole wheat, mild sourdough bread that comes as a long rectangular or triangular sheet can be found in a couple spots.
Honey Bakery in Cambrian Park offers a bread menu in simple terms: There’s regular sangak, special sangak, double special sangak, and super special sangak. Some come simply with a sprinkling of sesame, double the amount of sesame, an herb blend with sesame, or an herb blend with double sesame. Even if you arrive long after the special sangak is taken, the regular version more than does the job and costs just $3.50.
Yeganeh Bakery & Kafe Unik also bakes sangak and serves it with sandwiches and breakfast plates in its full-service cafe. The bread is distributed to a handful of markets in the Bay Area, like Super Tehran in Concord and Cupertino Specialty Foods.
Though Berkeley’s Middle East Market doesn’t bake it themselves, they have fresh sangak shipped in every day and is reachable by BART on San Pablo Avenue.
Sangak, literally translated to “little stone,” gets its name from the way it was historically prepared: by being placed on small stones or pebbles in an open oven. But Honey Bakery owner Sam Del says that would be tough to clear with modern-day health codes so he finds other ways.
Another Iranian/Afghani favorite is barbari, a thick flatbread made with white flour. It can also be found at Yeganeh and Honey but a regular customer at the latter highly recommended Santa Clara’s Maiwand Market and San Jose’s International Bread. Its centuries-old name is far less cute than sangak’s — noon-e barbari translates to barbarian bread, named after the Afghani Hazaras who lived on the Iranian border.
This bread combines all the right things in life: carbs, butter, and sugar. Señorita bread is also known as Spanish bread and is found at Filipino family gatherings. They come in oblong rolls with a sweet butter filling and dusted off with breadcrumbs.
Starbread Bakery touts itself as the home of the original señorita bread and is a Bay Area favorite. You can snag the rolls from its locations in Vallejo, South San Francisco, Pacifica, San Pablo, Newark, and Sacramento.
The Bread Basket Bakery on Mission Street in Daly City also offers up señorita rolls. Hilda’s Mart & Bake Shop doesn’t bake the sweet bread but it would be cruel not to mention the Excelsior bakery that makes other popular Filipino goods like leche flan, maja blanca, and lumpia.
While we’re thinking about our sweet tooth, it’s time to turn to some pan dulce. San Francisco is rich in Mexican bakeries, many of which offer conchas. The soft, sweet large roll comes with markings that make it resemble a seashell, where its name comes from. It’s recognized for its classic white cookie dough topping but also comes in pink, blue, yellow, and other colors.
Sadly, La Victoria is no longer an option but 24th Street is still home to a string of panaderias. La Mejor, which offers strawberry and vanilla conchas, is less than a block east of the 24th Street BART station while La Mexicana is toward the end of the corridor off York Street. La Reyna Bakery & Coffee Shop off Folsom Street has pink, white, and chocolate sugar toppings.
Oakland is a good spot to find fresh injera. The spongy, sour flatbread is often used to eat Ethiopian dishes and renders useless any food utensils. It’s made of teff, a tiny, grain-like seed rich in nutrients and found in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
It may have bagel in its name, a hole in the middle, and often comes with sesames but this is not a bagel by any means. It’s stretched out, not boiled and fluffier than the bagels we’re accustomed to. Traditionally, it’s been carted into Jerusalem and dipped in za’atar, an irresistible Middle Eastern herb blend.
Frena Bakery and Cafe in the Richmond District makes Jerusalem bagels themselves, informed by the owner’s Iraqi-born great grandfather’s recipes brought to Israel. San Jose’s Sultan Bakery also serves the bagel, though it calls it Jerusalem bread.
Final note: San Francisco is set to get its first Arab bakery in February, once Reem Assil is done renovating the old Mission Pie space. The Bay Area’s food darling will be expanding from Reem’s, her acclaimed bakery and restaurant in Oakland.
Ida Mojadad is a reporter at SF Weekly. You can reach her at email@example.com.
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