AskDefine | Define pita

Dictionary Definition

pita n : usually small round bread that can open into a pocket for filling [syn: pocket bread]

User Contributed Dictionary

see PITA

English

Pronunciation

  • /pɪtə/ /pIt@/

Alternative spellings

Noun

  1. A flat bread pouch used for making sandwiches such as gyros or falafels.

Translations

bread pouch used for making sandwiches

Verb

pita

Indonesian

Noun

pita

Slovene

Noun

  1. pie (type of pastry)

Swahili

Verb

pita
  1. to pass

Extensive Definition

Pita (also called and more commonly known as pitta or pita bread and pronounced "pitta" in Greek) is an often round, brown, wheat flatbread made with yeast.
Similar to other double-layered flat or pocket breads, pita is traditional in many Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. It is prevalent from North Africa through the Levant and the Arabian Peninsula to India and Afghanistan, coinciding with the spread of the Hellenistic world.
In Greek cuisine, pita may refer to thicker breads made with yeast, for example souvlaki pita. It may also refer to foods using many layers of dough of thickness less than 1mm, usually with many different ingredients in between, forming savoury pies such as tyropita and spanakopita or sweet pies such as baclava.
The Indian flatbread form of roti is sometimes referred to as "Indian pita".

Etymology

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first mention of the word in English was in 1951, with references to Balkan, Greek, and especially Arab cuisine in the next three decades. The American Heritage Dictionary traces the word's origin to modern Greek for "pie," "cake," or "bread"; Webster's Unabridged Dictionary attributes it to the Hebrew פת (pat), for "loaf" or "morsel". The word pita (as פיתא) exists in the Aramaic of the Babylonian Talmud, referring to bread in general. In Serbian it means pie in general. Another possible etymology is from a Romanian archaic word for bread, pită. An alternative etymology traces the word to a cognate for pine pitch, which forms flat layers that may resemble pita bread, which in turn may share an etymological origin with pizza (Italian for "pie"). The word spread to Southern Italy as the name of a thin bread. In Northern Italian dialects pita became pizza, now known primarily as the bearer of savoury toppings but essentially still a flat bread. Indeed in some parts of southern Italy, there are pastries called Pita, which are filled with spicy fruit and nuts. Thus confirming the view that the word Pizza and Pita would have been interchangeable had it not been for the ultimate success of the neapolitan pizza in claiming the word.

Origin

Pita is now the western name for the Saudi Arabian bread called khubz (ordinary bread), other breads of Arab, Egyptian, or Syrian origin, or kumaj (a Turkish loanword properly meaning a bread cooked in ashes), all baked in a brick oven. It is slightly leavened wheat bread, flat, either round or oval, and variable in size. Early Arab cookery texts do not refer to khubz, since it was bought from specialists, not made in the home. However, it is safe to assume that its history extends far into antiquity, since flatbreads in general, whether leavened or not, are among the most ancient breads, needing no oven or even utensil for their baking. However the first signs of flat breads occur in and around Amorite Damascus. In the early centuries of our era, the traditional Greek word for a thin flat bread or cake, plakous, had become the name of a thicker cake.

Preparation

For the Greek souvlaki pita: Using wheat flour, water, some yeast and a tint of salt one prepares the dough. After some time, so that the yeast acts, the dough rises. Then this is shaped in a thin layer, in the dimensions and thickness required. This thin dough is then cooked in a stone floor oven, for the traditional Greek recipe, or over a thin, preferably convex, metal sheet over a fire, for the traditional Arab recipe.
For the layered pita: as above, without the usage of yeast, making a very thin layer of dough.
A good tip when heating a pita bread is to sprinkle water on either side. This stops the bread splitting

Eating habits

Pita is used to scoop sauces or dips such as hummus and to wrap kebabs, gyros or falafel in the manner of sandwiches. Most pita breads are baked at high temperatures (700°F or 370°C), causing the flattened rounds of dough to puff up dramatically. When removed from the oven the layers of baked dough remain separated inside the deflated pita, which allows the bread to be opened into pockets, creating a space for use in various dishes.
In modern history (in the 1970s) much of pita's popularity in the Western world is due to this pocket. Instead of using pita to scoop foods, the pocket is filled with various ingredients to form a sandwich. These are sometimes called "pita pockets" or "pocket pitas". Certain manufacturers have taken steps in packaging to clarify the difference between pita (which has no pocket, and historically meant "flat") and pita pockets (which have pockets).
In Turkey, pita (called pide) typically has a soft, chewy texture and is pocketless. The pizza-like food called lahmacun is made with oval-shaped pieces of pide dough that are topped with finely chopped meat and herbs before baking.
In Greece, pita is eaten with dips such as tzatziki. Moreover it is part of the quintessential Greek fast food pita-souvlaki and pita-gyros. These types of sandwiches involve the wrapping of souvlaki or gyros with tzatziki, tomatoes, french fries, and condiments into a pita bread.
In the Balkans pita most often refers to a thin filo layered dish often containing cottage cheese, meat or spinach. Throughout much of Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Macadeonia, and Croatia pita is a street food that is also referred to as burek. Stuffed pita is part of national cuisine of Bosnia and Herzegovina but it is popular in other parts of ex-Yugoslavia.
In Bulgarian cuisine, pita is served on special occasions. Its preparation and consumption have ritual meaning. For example, on the night before Christmas Eve, (Bulgarian: Бъдни вечер - badni vecher) each housewife prepares a pita and decorates it with symbols to bring fertility to the cattle and a rich harvest from the fields, as well as prosperity to each member of the household. She hides a nickel in it, and it is believed that whoever finds it in their piece will be the healthiest and the wealthiest of the family. Prior to marriage, a bride's future mother-in-law prepares a pita for the newlyweds and sifts the flour seven times, so that the pita will be soft as their future life together. Pita is also prepared when dear guests are expected. A traditional welcome in Bulgaria includes pita and salt or honey. The meaning of this ritual can be found in the expression "to welcome someone with bread and salt" (since bread is an important part of Bulgarian cuisine - and as a Bulgarian proverb says, "no one is bigger than bread", and the salt is the basic ingredient that gives flavour to every meal). This is how the hosts show that the guests are desired and that they wish to share their meal with them.
In Israeli and Palestinian cuisine, it is the custom to eat almost everything in a Pita. Falafel, lamb or chicken shwarma and Kabab, omelets such as shakshouka (eggs and tomatoes) and hummus and other salads in a pita. This pita, however, is slightly thicker and smaller than the Lebanese version, and tends to be a mixture of whole and white wheats. This is not to be mistaken for Khubiz Saj, used to make the famous Palestinian dish Musakhan (and also often used in making shwarma).

Variations

The Lebanese pita, or Kmaj, is similar to the Cyprus pita except that the Lebanese pita is 2" longer in elongation. Agio Basilo pita ('Saint Basil bread', or Vasilopita) is like a cake or tart, with a single layer of sponge cake or bread that is typically circular and flat. While Vasilopita is a Byzantine Christian tradition, similar breads are cooked for winter festivals by other cultures in the region.

References

pita in Czech: Pita
pita in Danish: Pita
pita in German: Pita
pita in Spanish: Pan plano
pita in French: Pain pita
pita in Italian: Pita
pita in Hebrew: פיתה
pita in Dutch: Pitabroodje
pita in Japanese: ピタ
pita in Norwegian: Pita
pita in Norwegian Nynorsk: Pita
pita in Polish: Pita
pita in Portuguese: Pita (pão)
pita in Russian: Пита
pita in Swedish: Pitabröd
pita in Turkish: Pita
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