Lucy and I have been on a hunt for these meat pies (aka sfiha) and zaatar pies since elementary school. I've briefly written about our memories of the pizza days at Bayshore Public School here. Special days like pizza days or milk days were awesome, but it was also exciting when we had our regular snack and lunch breaks. We learned about different cultures through our friends' snacks and lunches. I remember that everyone was always envious of what other food people brought from home. I mean, Lucy and I brought stuff like lasagna and Chinese food (fried rice) in thermoses for lunch, but we also took sandwiches as well. While JL and I would bring toasted seaweed snacks, some friends (who were Lebanese) brought flatbreads topped with spices. Being introduced to other cuisines by friends was such an intriguing experience. Back then, I likened the flatbread to the taste of pizza.
Since then, I remember trying a bite of somebody's meat pie from a now-closed shawarma place near my high school. The flavours were familiar. I couldn't put my finger on it. I also found a place near Chinatown that sold zaatar, but they weren't the same. Something was off. I think I have photos of it somewhere. Anyway, I did some research on the internet and found read about the Aladdin Bakery. I made a mental note of it.
Fast forward to earlier last month; I was waiting at a bus stop on Carling Avenue and, unsurprisingly, the 85 Bayshore bus didn't show up on time. I checked for the next bus. A number of other people and myself, had to wait for another 10 minutes until the next bus came. That gave me plenty of time to check out the Aladdin Bakery and Convenience store, which was a few meters away. Local Tourist Ottawa wrote about the store two years ago. Read about their experience here.
There were plenty of pies behind the counter top. People in front of me ordered some pies, waited for the young gentleman to pop them into the oven to warm up, take them out and wrap the pies for them. Then the customers went to pay for the goods at the cash, where an older gentleman with flour still on his hands, arms, and apron, helped them out before going back to the kitchen to make more pies.
I ordered a spicy meat pie and a zaatar pie, then stood back and waited. The guy behind me ordered a spicy cheese pie and a spicy meat and cheese pie. Meat and cheese, you say? I thought to myself. "Actually, can I also get a spicy meat and cheese pie as well? Thanks!" I asked the young gentlemen. He grabbed a meat and cheese pie, shook some red spice blend inside the folded pie and then popped it into the oven. By that time, my other two pies were finished warming up. He wrapped them up and then took out the spicy meat and cheese pie, wrapped it, and then placed all three pies into a paper bag. I paid for the pies (about $2 each) and headed back outside to wait for the bus.
The smells coming off of the warm paper bag was intoxicating. I couldn't resist taking a look inside. The fluffy zaatar pie was screaming for attention. I tore a piece off and as I savoured the bite, memories of Bayshore Public came flooding back. I quickly texted Lucy and tried to convey my excitement in a couple of texts. One of them read something like this: "Just bought a bunch of pies from Aladdin Bakery on Carling. I love unexpected food adventures!"
Once the bus came, I found a seat beside an older lady. She commented how the small paper bag was so fragrant. I think I tightened my grip on the paper bag a bit. I smiled and told her that I got the pies from Aladdin Bakery, and that based on my tiny bite of the zaatar pie and the perfume from the store and the bag, the pies were delicious. She said she had tried it a couple of years ago and had been meaning to return for a visit. After a brief conversation, the friendly lady got off at Carlingwood Mall.
When I got home, I warmed each of the pies in the toaster oven and shared them with the family. My parents liked the meat pie more than the others. I enjoyed them all. The crispy thin base of the wonderfully spiced meat was remarkable! The zaatar pie had a thicker and fluffy base. It was equally remarkable. It was ten times better than the stuff I've tried over the years. Unfortunately, Lucy missed out and didn't get any. I guess I'll just have to go bring some back soon.
Aladdin Bakery and Convenience
1801 Carling Ave.