Bread is one of the truly universal foods, made in almost as many varieties as there are countries where it's eaten.
In the past few weeks, I've searched for authentic breads of the world in local supermarkets, specialty stores, and restaurants. I've found fresh and frozen; varieties that must be ordered and others that are stocked daily. There were yeast breads, flat breads, and frozen Asian buns.
At The Andersons' Uncommon Market, I bought freshly baked Italian ciabatta with a golden crusty exterior and a dense chewy interior; Italian focaccia shaped into a large, flat round that is brushed or drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt; both large and small slender loaves of French bread that is steamed and baked for a European crust, and a German bread called siebenfelder made with whole grains, rye flakes, oats, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds.
In search of Greek breads or freshly made pita, I called Petros Foods at 5086 Douglas Rd., where I learned that an Old World bread is delivered on Saturdays. Made by Orlando Baking Co. in Cleveland, the Old World Round is a two pound hearth-baked bread that is low-fat, cholestrol-free, and sugar-free. It freezes well.
I get countless calls from people in search of a local Jewish delicatessen (there is none, I am told), Jewish breads, and products. But I did find two Jewish breads: Jewish rye and challah. Zingerman's Jewish Rye is shipped from the well-known Ann Arbor Bakehouse to The Andersons stores, Churchill's Supermarket, and Walt Churchill's Market.
In search of the traditional Jewish yeast bread called challah, I found a loaf tucked away in the freezer of Market Meats and Erie Street Deli at the Erie Street Marlet. Challah is served on the Jewish Sabbath, holidays, and other ceremonial occasions. It is light and has an airy texture. It can be formed into many shapes but braided challah is the classic form.
The loaf I bought was perfectly braided in a rectangular form. It comes from Superior Bakery in Windsor, Ont. (Many of the breads come from Cantoro market in Detroit, which also bakes authentic Italian breads.)
Last summer I was introduced to the lovely breads of India during the Festival of India 2005, thanks to the Tandoor Cuisine of India restaurant at 2247 South Reynolds Rd. The restaurant made roti, a flat, bread-like pita that is baked in a clay oven. On a daily basis, the Tandoor's menu has 10 fresh Indian breads including naan, roti, paratha, and the fried whole-wheat puffy bread called poori.
I bought frozen Indian breads at the Deepam deli and market at 7406 West Central Ave., in Sylvania. Owner Rae Chillapalli pointed out the roghani naan, an East Indian white-flour flat bread that is lightly leavened by a natural yeast starter. It is traditionally baked in a tandoor oven, just as the Tandoor restaurant does.
I bought the roti and later learned it was an unleavened griddle-baked bread from India usually made with whole-wheat flour, which is finished over an open flame for 10 to 15 seconds. This causes it to steam and puff up like a balloon.
Chapati is an unleavened pancake-like bread from India; it's rolled into rounds and baked on the griddle. Pieces of chapati are torn off and used as a scoop for many East Indian dishes.
Then I wound my way up to Tiger Bakery on Central Avenue, expecting to find homemade pita bread. Several years ago, Tiger Bakery quit making pita bread, according to the clerk, and it now buys pita from Canada. It's the same brand sold in Kroger at 4533 Monroe St.
My bread odyssey would not be complete without tortillas. There are a number of fresh-tortilla makers in Toledo. Tortillas are said to be Mexico's everyday bread. The unleavened tortilla is round and flat, made with corn flour or wheat flour, but always baked on a griddle.
I've bought Asian buns, both plain, spiral-designed taro mantou and filled Asian buns - all frozen. Some varieties are sold in stores such as the Asian Grocery at 1801 McCord Rd. and the Monat Market at 320 North Huron St.
Most difficult to find locally are African and Caribbean breads.
Tee Oriental at 1101 McCord Rd. seems to have a weekly supply of hard dough Jamaican bread.
Chef Pacha at Marsyl's restaurant at 2633 Bancroft St. serves the Jamaican hard-dough bread that he said was hand-rolled with split peas and served with curry. There is also a roti or West Indian flat bread eaten with curry. Dexter Bailey at the Jamaican Cricket Club at 1830 West Bancroft St., told me about the Caribbean bread called bammy bread made from cassava (from yuca), which he sells from time to time.
Nigerian born Moni Fatinikun, owner of the Monat Market, has a customer who wants the bread nicknamed African bread, which is a yeast bread. "Every tribe has their bread," she says. Her source is as far away as Philadelphia. She stocks frozen Asian buns.
In your travels, whether you are in another country or somewhere in the Toledo area, check out the authentic breads of the world. You'll never go hungry.
Contact Kathie Smith at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6155.