Sitoo - Nostalgia - Main

fatayasSitoo means grandmother in Arabic, a deeply respectful title.

There was a small Syrian market and bakery called Sitoo George’s in the next town from where I grew up that sold the ‘necessary’ ingredients to recreate the taste of Syria for the immigrants that migrated to America. Two brothers and their wives ran it, naming it Sitoo, an homage to their grandmother who taught them to bake before the left their homeland. With the skills and her recipes they immigrated and opened a small store.

When they first opened the wives would bake spinach and meat pies called fataya and the brothers would make pita bread in a small home oven. When the word spread, they couldn’t bake fast enough. Construction started and a bakery was born. As time passed and demand increased they slowly became automated.

The new kitchen had large windows for customers to watch the process. A slot in the wall was made to accommodate a heavy canvas covered conveyer belt to transport the pies to their wives as they came out of second hand pizza oven. The two sisters-in-laws at the check out either bagged them or plucked them off the belt to sell to waiting customers.


barrelofaoliveIt was an ‘old country’ store selling olives in 50 pound wooden barrels, fresh produce in season and all the pantry ingredients necessary to give comfort to this immigrant-rich small town. They baked all day, everyday - except Sundays. That day was reserved for church and family.

Eating a hot fataya was the only way for me. If the fatayas were hot they packed them into a cardboard box, if cooled they packed them proudly into a plastic bag with all their names on the front with a picture of the store in the center. I never liked them in a plastic bag, it changed the texture of the dough and I knew the difference.

My sister and I would perch our little bodies - each on our own 100 pound cloth bags of flour right beside the conveyor belt - and eat slowly, savoring each bite of the first pie, smiling at each other. We kept eating until we were full, seeing who could eat the most.

My sister preferred the meat filled ones and I loved the spinach ones with the delicate flavor of lemon juice. We would call out to each other when the belt started turning out our choices.

It was like an ‘I Love Lucy’ moment watching Lucy eating all those chocolate covered cherries, eating more quickly as the belt speed increased. That is just what the two of us looked like sitting on the bags of flour except we had to keep count of how many we ate. Those were the rules.

tabouliOur parents would visit with the owners - my father inside the bakery drinking thick, sweetened coffee and my mother out with the woman. Our mother or the ladies could interrupt our eating escapade and hand us each a bag of olives - Alfonsos for me and Kalamatas for my sister and once in a while a bowl of tabouli to share as the sleepy cats watched, snuggled on their own flour bags. Those were the days!

As our visit came to an end we blurted out exactly how many pies we each had eaten, followed by our list of what we wanted to take home. It was always the same - a BIG container of tabouli, 2 dozen pies - 12 spinach, 12 meat - a big hunk of Greek feta from the large wooden barrel, a pound of luscious Polish boiled ham, a few alfonso olives, a big bag of kalamatas, a dozen large pita breads, a 5 lb. bag of Turkish pistachios and a box of phyllo dough.

It was always the same on our monthly visits including the ride home. My sister and I sat in the back seat each with our boxes of warm fatayas on our lap, eating olives until we fell contently asleep.

Brenda Athanus runs a small gourmet food shop in Belgrade Lakes, Maine with her sister Tanya called the Green Spot.

The Green Spot
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