Great Finds at Brickell's Oriental Bakery & Grocery, but Don't Tell Them You're With New Times

The wafting smell of shawarma and freshly baked pita bread greets customers as they mosey into Oriental Bakery and Grocery.

It's one of just a handful of Middle Eastern specialty markets in Greater Miami.

In fact, it was the first of its kind in South Florida, having opened 41 years ago.

It's a family-run business ran by Palestinian owner Okashah Monem and his son, Rafat. But while customers milled through the aisles attempting to choose from the abundance of products, hot foods, and baked goods, Rafat kept his eye closely on us. Two forms of identification later, we managed to leave with a handful of iPhone photos, a tin of Turkish apple tea mix and the notion that we probably won't be welcome there again.

We later came to find out that Rafat didn't believe we were just looking for a story for our alt-weekly's food blog. And unfortunately, we'll never know who he thought we were. Definitely not from "the others" looking to steal ideas and concepts for other Middle Eastern markets around town, that's for sure.

Despite our bizarre encounters with the staff, those customers who walked in simply looking to buy goods were greeted warmly and with familiarity. Mostly everyone greeted Okash and Rafat by first name, and all in all, their experiences seemed quite pleasant.

We found a few items in the store that jumped out at us as great finds. One might be able to find similar, Americanized products but we found comfort in knowing that this market's goods are directly imported from Greece, Syria, and Turkey.

The cheese shelf at Oriental Bakery is a good. Actually, it's great. Among them you'll find Bulgarian kashkaval, Syrian cheese, and feta cheeses imported from France, Greece and Bulgaria. Prices for these depend on poundage.

Masticha preserve ($5.99) is a Greek product made from tree resin. The only place it comes from is the island of Chios and it's typically used for its gum properties, but can also be used in pastries, cakes, and to sweeten liquors and spirits.

If you've ever made homemade hummus, you know that you need Tahini ($5.99) to add a little tang. The lemon juice, olive oil and warm pita bread are just an added bonus. Tahini is a paste made from ground sesame seeds. When it's not being used for hummus, it goes well to compliment Baba Ganoush and salads.

While there are a few varieties of couscous (Moroccan, Israeli, and Lebanese), their use is all the same: A replacement for rice, pasta, or potatoes. This particular variety ($7.99) takes a little more time to cook than the 5-minute kind found on Publix shelves. It's heartier and more filling. The next time you're making a salad, jazz it up with a few spoonfuls of couscous and crushed pistachios or almonds. You'll like it, promise.

Follow Alex on Twitter @ARodWrites.

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