The Jew And The Carrot

Dr. Laffa Brings Iraqi Bread to Toronto

By Renee Ghert-Zand

  • Print
  • Share Share
Renee Ghert-Zand

Septuagenarian Fuad Haba was a long way from his birthplace of Iraq and his family’s famous bakery on Agrippas Street in Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market as he made laffa bread in a taboon oven in suburban Toronto. But neither he nor the customers at the new Dr. Laffa restaurant, where the retiree is hard at work, seemed to be deterred by the freezing weather on a recent wintery night.

Fuad was in Toronto helping his son Sasi and Sasi’s business partner Yoram Gabay with their new venture, which brings the tastes, smells and atmosphere of the shuk to an unsuspecting location tucked inside a business park northwest of the city’s main Jewish neighborhoods along the Bathurst Street corridor. The kosher restaurant offers all the typical Israeli (meat) comfort foods, but it is the delicious, fresh laffa — a full foot in diameter — that is its biggest draw.

Sasi, 43, and Yoram, 42, both wearers of large, white-crocheted yarmulkes, opened the current incarnation of Dr. Laffa, with its faux-Jerusalem stone décor and young ex-pat Israeli waiters, three months ago. They had outgrown a nearby location where they had set up a few tables and chairs inside Yoram’s commercial pita bakery (where Gabay had invited Haba to set up his taboon in 2009). The partners, originally intent only on baking pita and laffa, ended up expanding the menu because of customer demand.

“Fuad was visiting from Israel and helping Sasi with the laffa baking,” Yoram recalled in a conversation with The Jew and the Carrot at the restaurant. “Sasi would make himself and his father sabich [a laffa sandwich filled with egg, eggplant and potato] for lunch, and when bakery patrons saw it, they asked for one.” Now, there are long lines of lunch and dinner customers ordering huge sandwiches and generous plates of the partners’ delicious hummus, shawarma, falafel, shakshouka, and Iraqi kubbe, Moroccan fish, baklava and more. Their various salads (including grilled cauliflower, smoked eggplant, fennel and carrot, tabouleh and other varieties) are also excellent — very fresh, sugar-free, not too salty and flavored with spices they import directly from Machane Yehuda.

The specially built taboon is the heart of the operation. Constructed by hand out of bricks, concrete and a metal drum, it is powered by gas, like the one that Fuad baked with in Jerusalem (the original taboons in Iraq were fired with wood). The baker flattens the dough ball over a handmade pillow and inserts it into the oven, sticking it to the inside wall of the drum (around 12 laffas can be baked at a time). Only a few minutes pass before the dough is ready to emerge from the taboon as a large, thin, round laffa — slightly brown and crispy on the outside and airy and chewy on the inside.

Sasi told The Jew and the Carrot that before he came to Canada to start baking laffa, he had a large package of flour sent to him in Israel. He had the flour analyzed by a lab, which found it to be “the best in the world.” He experimented and figured out just the right proportions of flour, salt, yeast and water to use to recreate “the real thing,” as he put it. Fuad, who in his 60-year career only used white flour to bake laffa, is still getting used to the fact that Sasi and Yoram have decided to go with a part white flour, part whole wheat mixture. “People here are health conscious and were asking for whole wheat,” Sasi explained.

“We always order extra laffas to go,” Dr. Laffa patron Ruthe Swern told The Jew and the Carrot. She drives a considerable distance to Dr. Laffa from her downtown home about once a month. “This has been my first experience with laffa. The size is impressive; I don’t believe that I’ve ever seen such a large flatbread before,” she said. “We love to eat it as a snack by itself. It also seems to stay fresh for a few days or until my crew devours it,” she added.

Swern, however, lamented the fact that in the old location, “they used to have an assortment of laffas, but now they just offer one kind.” Indeed, there used to be different varieties like sesame and poppy, but Yoram and Sasi have decided to bake only plain laffa now. “We are baking hundreds of laffas a day and we are swamped with customers — there’s no time to make different kinds at this point,” Sasi said happily.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Toronto, Taboon, Laffa, Fuad Haba, Dr. Laffa

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels.
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.