The yemeni pastry is waiting for creative condiments

By Rebecca Firkser
Updated May 02, 2018
Credit: Photo by Rebecca Firkser

When you see malawach, you might assume it’s just another flatbread. Upon a closer look, however, you’ll notice the craggy surface of the dough is glistening with butter, and the texture looks more flaky than crumbly. Malawach, a Yemeni Jewish flatbread, is a brunch pastry that can slant savory or sweet as its piled with toppings.

Similar to North Indian paratha and Somali malawax, malawach is essentially a layered puff pastry made with flour, butter, salt, and water. The dry ingredients and water are mixed, rolled thin, and then spread with softened butter. The buttery dough is rolled up and then twisted into a circular spiral. Malawach are then rolled out flat like a pancake, but the layers created from the twisting create wafer-thin flakey layers while the pastry is fried.

Credit: Photo by Rebecca Firkser

Tomar Blechman, Chef and Owner of Miss Ada in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, features malawach on his restaurant’s brunch menu. Blechman grew up in Israel, eating malawach at restaurants with his family, and he was instantly drawn to the pastry. He explained to me that malawach was brought to Israel by Yemeni Jews, and the flabread quickly became a staple in Israeli homes of all backgrounds.

“It’s always very satisfying,” Blechman says. “Something about it makes you feel fulfilled.”

While malawach are stunning on their own, the pastry only gets more exciting with the addition of toppings. Blechman’s favorite way to eat malawach is to spread them with a raw grated tomato sauce; schug (also spelled zhug), a spicy, garlicky condiment; and a sliced hard-boiled egg. Though tahini isn’t as common a spread for malawach, Blechman puts sesame paste on the pastry as well to add depth to the dish. To turn malawach into more of meal, you can spread the pastry with other dips often found in a Mediterranean mezze, like hummus, baba ganoush, labne, and harissa.

French pastries may be common brunch fare, but a malawach shouldn’t be missed if you see it on a menu. In the same vein as ordering pancakes for the table, it’s easy to split a malawach at the table with friends. “You can eat it with your fingers and dress it however you like,” Blechman says. Of course, no one will blame you if you’d rather just eat the whole thing yourself.