Cary News

Baghdad Bakery offers a taste of the Middle East in Cary

A baker sprinkles sesame seeds on samoon at the Baghdad Bakery in Cary on Thursday, April 3, 2014.
A baker sprinkles sesame seeds on samoon at the Baghdad Bakery in Cary on Thursday, April 3, 2014.

The only thing left to inspect was the bread.

Sue Al-Atar acquired every permit she needed to open the Baghdad Bakery on Thursday. But the real test came as the first batch of samoon was pulled from the brick oven.

Samoon is a diamond-shaped loaf that, if done right, has a smooth but crispy shell that covers a warm, fluffy inside.

To bake it correctly, according to Al-Atar, certain specifications must be met.

There can only be four ingredients: flour, yeast, water and salt. It must be baked in a stone or brick oven. And it helps if the baker is Iraqi.

Al-Atar’s brother is in charge of the baking. He ran his own restaurant in Basra in southern Iraq before moving to America, she said.

“It smells and tastes like it does in Baghdad,” Al-Atar said, holding the bread close to her nose.

Al-Atar, 65, was born in Iraq’s capital and came to North Carolina in 1978. She says the Baghdad Bakery is the first Iraqi bakery in the state.

“I wanted to provide a truly Iraqi environment for the refugees in the Triangle,” she said.

Approximately 1,894 Iraqi refugees have moved to North Carolina since 2000, and 808 of those have settled in the Triangle, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Al-Atar said the bakery carries products Iraqis should recognize, such as vinegar made from Iraqi dates, Iraqi steak sauces and dry goods like mint and dill weed.

Photos of Baghdad sit on a shelf behind Al-Atar’s other brother, who runs the register.

Al-Atar hopes the bakery’s location in the 700 block of East Chatham Street is easy to find. It’s nestled in Chatham Square among grocers, clothiers and other restaurants targeted to Asian, Middle Eastern and Hispanic cultures.

It’s also a short drive from the mosque Al-Atar attends off of Western Boulevard.

But customers don’t have to be from Iraq or the Middle East to enjoy the Baghdad Bakery.

Matt Pease, 32, of Cary was one of Al-Atar’s first customers.

“I take any chance I get to support local (business owners) and try new ethnic food,” Pease said.

He asked Al-Atar how he should eat the bread as her brother used a plank to pull warm loaves from the oven.

“You can eat it with just a little butter,” she told Pease. “You can cut them in half easily and use them for a sandwich ... or you can dip them in sauces.”

Pease said he had some butter, tomatoes and goat cheese that the samoon would go well with. He bought a bag of five samoons for $2 – and half of a loaf was gone before he left the store.

“Oh yeah,” he said, taking a bite. “Real good.”