Shabbat breads - exotic style!

A relatively “new” Shabbat bread in the States is the pull-apart challa, resembling a flower with dough “petals” that are pulled off the challa and distributed among the diners.

DABO, THE traditional Sabbath bread of Ethiopian Jewry. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
DABO, THE traditional Sabbath bread of Ethiopian Jewry.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
In the Hebrew month of Heshvan, between Sukkot and Hanukkah, there are no festival-related breads to talk about, so it is a golden opportunity to introduce you to some exotic Jewish Sabbath breads from different communities around the world.
These (and a multitude of others) form a rich mosaic of Sabbath bread traditions that the Jews developed in their 2,000-year sojourn in the Diaspora, of which some persist to this day and others are long forgotten. I am actively involved in researching these traditions and documenting them so that they will be preserved for posterity.
The first of these is Ethiopian dabo. “Dabo” means “bread” in Amharic and is the traditional Sabbath bread of Ethiopian Jewry.
Today in modern Israel, dabo is baked in a pot overnight on low heat, as is Yemenite kubaneh. Back in the home country, however, the process was a little more colorful. A hole was dug in the ground and filled with smoldering coals. The dabo dough was wrapped in fresh banana leaves and inserted into the hole above the coals and covered over to allow the bread to bake slowly overnight.
The original ingredients of Dabo were semolina flour, sourdough, salt and fenugreek seeds, which make the bread a little sweet. Today, many of the younger generation dispense with the sourdough and fenugreek and substitute regular yeast and sugar.
An integral complement to the ethnic appeal of this special bread is the ceremony in which it is eaten. Many Ethiopian communities here in Israel still gather every Shabbat morning for Bereketei (a derivation of the Hebrew word “bracha”) where a communal blessing is made on the dabo and portioned out for everyone to eat and to take home to continue their Shabbat meals.
OUR NEXT exotic bread comes from Latvia/Lithuania and is called kitke. The bread itself is not that exotic, but the name is. If you are of Latvian/Lithuanian, or more specifically Latvian/Lithuanian-South African, origin, you will be familiar with the term “kitke.” In South Africa (where most Jews are of Latvian/Lithuanian descent) the regular Shabbat bread was not called challa, but kitke. I have researched the origin of the word “kitke,” and it emanates from the Slovenian/Polish word “kitka,” referring to a braided ponytail hairstyle. Originally, kitkes in Latvia and Lithuania were the special festival breads made on Shavuot, Sukkot and Purim, but kitke ended up becoming the name for the weekly Shabbat bread. The ingredients of kitke are identical to those of challa.
If you hail from Tunisia, you will undoubtedly be familiar with bejma, a Shabbat bread made by arranging three balls of dough together, resembling a three-leaf clover. In the city of Djerba, Shabbat bread was often baked in communal ovens; to be able to differentiate each family’s bread, unique braiding techniques would be employed. This one seems to have stuck. Again, the ingredients for bejma are similar to those of regular challa.
A relatively “new” Shabbat bread in the States is the pull-apart challa, resembling a flower with dough “petals” that are pulled off the challa and distributed among the diners.
As King Solomon said in the book of Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun,” and pull-apart challa is just an American twist on an ancient Jewish Yemenite bread – kubaneh.
BACK IN Yemen, making kubaneh was a tedious, time-consuming process. First the wheat grains were soaked for six hours in water and then laid out to dry in the sun for another three hours. They were then ground and sifted into fine white flour. The dough was shaped into seven balls, six arranged in a circle and one in the center, resembling a flower. The dough was then placed in a hermetically sealed pot and left to cook overnight in its own vapor on low heat.
In the melting pot that is modern Israel, many of these ethnic traditions are slowly disappearing, as we become an increasingly homogeneous society.
On the one hand, this heralds a new era in Jewish history, perhaps the pre-messianic era, after 2,000 years of exile.
On the other hand, these myriad ancient traditions are part and parcel of our history and what makes us special. Even if we do not uphold them, there is much we can learn from them and their symbolism. They are a snapshot of the glue that bound the Jewish people together during the most arduous periods from our past.
The writer, a master baker originally from Johannesburg, lives in Karnei Shomron with his wife, Sheryl, and four children. He is CEO of the Saidel Artisan Baking Institute (, which specializes in training and education in the field of organic, healthy, artisan baking, and the inventor of Rambam Bread. He also lectures and works as a consultant in the fields of cereal chemistry, health, nutrition and authentic Jewish bread.