EVERETT — The oven was hot and the end of Ramadan neared as Amer Ali baked some of the 8,000 Iraqi samoons Alida’s Bakery would sell this past weekend.
That’s about 20% more bread than the Kurdish bakery usually dishes out.
“One more day!” Marwan Adham said as he separated and organized the flatbreads for packaging. Wafts of sweet, yeasty, golden bread permeated the air Saturday afternoon — about seven hours until the bakers would eat and drink again.
The crew at this Everett bakery had been fasting for nearly 30 days while ramping up production during Ramadan.
For the past month, the crew at Alida’s ate in the pre-dawn hours, then headed to work at 5 a.m. They prepped countless doughs, baked breads and sweets like pistachio baklava and klecha, a swirly dated-filled pastry. They bagged and sold them without a bite or sip throughout the day.
“It’s really hard, but it’s nice to know that everyone here is fasting as well,” Ali said, eyeing the doughy samoon disks as they puffed up and browned in the 500-degree oven before exhaling into their diamond shape. “We all relate to each other.”
If you go to Alida’s (which you should), the samoon and pita breads will likely still be warm, begging to be ripped up and scooped into hummus, or stuffed with shawarma.
The life cycle of bread is a short and nourishing one at Alida’s, as it should be. Ali pulled a batch of samoon out to cool, then loaded the oven up with more. A few feet away, owner Nech Zebari helped head baker Sam Hamber hoist a 100-pound dough ball onto a steel table to be cut, portioned, weighed, shaped and sent back to Ali. On the other side of the oven, a line of hungry patrons — some fasting — waited.
Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, and it is practiced every day during Ramadan. Sunday marks the last day of the holy month before 1.8-plus billion Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr Sunday evening into Monday, ending the month-long fast.
“Because of how hungry you are, it’s hard to have bad food,” Zebari said. “The one meal you have, it’s gonna be good.”
That sometimes includes McDonald’s. Mostly it involves sweet and chewy dates, one of Zebari’s favorite ways to break the fast. He also loves Kurdish kubba, an egg-shaped sticky rice ball stuffed with chicken, onions and spices that is fried until golden brown.
“That’s something you always make when you invite guests over,” Zebari said. “Anytime we invite people to our house, especially those who are not Kurdish, that’s the first thing they fall in love with.”
There are two types of people during Ramadan, he joked: The ones who make the food, and the ones who don’t, i.e., the people you can’t get to do anything.
“And then you have kids who run around everywhere, and they don’t fast so they’re high energy,” Zebari said.
He simultaneously eyes the sweets and the clock, willing the last five minutes to go by. There is usually someone in the room who suggests waiting a few more minutes, “just to make sure.” But once one person starts eating, everyone else joins in. Domino effect.
“It’s mostly quiet eating, like they’re working on a project, just very into what they’re doing,” he said with a laugh.
Ramadan in the United States is a much different experience for Zebari, whose family came to Washington as Kurdish refugees when he was just five.
“Not many people (in the United States) understand what goes on during Ramadan,” Zebari said. “They usually think it’s just eating, and when we tell them we also can’t drink, they think it’s crazy.”
Zebari tries to bring the local Muslim community a sense of comfort and nostalgia during Ramadan: Alida’s gives free treat bags to kids who come in, and the fresh-baked breads and familiar shape of the samoon remind many of Zebari’s customers of home.
“Ever since I was a kid, I never had the (U.S.) schools acknowledge Ramadan,” he said. “They still don’t acknowledge it, which is kind of a bummer.”
He said he wished that his kids’ schools would make it a point to say, “Oh, it’s Ramadan. We respect your decision to miss school.”
But usually, he pulls his kids out for the day to celebrate Eid. They’ll go to the mosque in the morning for one prayer. The rest of the day is heavily focused on the kids: Buying gifts, spending time with family — and Chuck E. Cheese, of course.
“In the Middle East, we usually go to amusement parks, but we don’t really have that here,” Zebari said. “So we always end up at Chuck E. Cheese.”
That, or a trampoline park.