Celebrating 40 years of food and tradition, the bakery forms an integral part of UAE’s thriving culinary culture.
You know that elusive little eatery boasting big flavours that locals will always ask you to check out when you visit a place? Al-Mukhtar Bakery, nestled in a tiny corner in the heart of Sharjah, UAE is exactly that.
From the moment you set foot in the flagship store, all of your senses kick into high gear in an attempt to take the place in. For a relatively tiny space, there’s a lot going on in terms of shelves upon shelves of sweet and savoury goodies, not to mention an assaulting myriad of aromas.
The menu comprises all the staples of Levantine cuisine, from fatayers to manakish, and a wide gamut of Arabic sweets neatly laid out in a glass case just waiting to tempt you.
Since its inception in 1981, the bakery has been known and loved for its freshly baked food and generous quantities that don’t threaten to break the bank. So much so, that some of the patrons have passed down the legacy of the place for generations.
Boasting a significant population of migrant workforce from places like Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey and more, Al Mukhtar provides a nostalgic factor for some and a gateway to explore for others.
The speciality of the place lies in its ability to have curated a delicious little menu, and deliver it successfully. Bestsellers include the meat and cheese manakish, while the kunafeh and qatayef take the cake on the sweet end of things.
For the uninitiated, manakish is essentially an Arabic version of a pizza, consisting of a dough topped with meat, cheese, za’atar or a combination of that and much more. An uncontested favourite flavour of mine is the Sojok, which consists of minced meat, garlic and spices as the toppings. Such is the boldness of flavours that it easily carries through its container as well as the bag it comes in.
While you wait around for your baked orders, the place teases you with a delightful assortment of bread, snacks, fresh juices, cheese, and so much more. Topping the impossible to resist list is a shelf of mini pastries, that include fatayers (meat or spinach and cheese stuffed pies), kibbehs (bulghur wheat, meat, and spice toasted balls), meat and spinach rakiks, and more. Complementing the savouries available are an array of refreshing drinks, ranging from creamy milkshakes to seasonal fresh juices.
The serve-yourself policy ensures a smoother running of the place given the limited space and staff – and helps you avoid judgement as you shamelessly load up your plate to satiate your drooling taste buds.
What’s a bakery without the perfect selection of indulgent treats? The sweets exist to satisfy everyone from the ultimate sugar cravers to those a little less inclined. Kunafah (or Knafeh), a traditional Middle Eastern dessert is made with shredded filo pastry soaked in a sugar-based syrup, and typically layered with cheese or nuts depending on your preference. Other popular desserts include the Ma’moul and Umm Ali, the former a biscuit of sorts stuffed with dates and the latter a puff pastry soaked in milk and dry fruits. And if it’s an Arabic bakery, you know there’s not just going to be baklava, but several varieties of it to boot for you to sample and savour.
While the flagship remains an iconic spot, the success of their food has led to expansion across two stores in Sharjah, and one in Ajman. The newer stores house clearly demarcated sections for sweets and savouries, and have a far more elaborate bread section as well. The recent locations also have dining spaces both indoors and outside, admittedly a seating choice made more by the weather than you.
In recent years, the bakery has introduced a modernized section of pizzas and desserts to cater to the millennial demographic. The cheesecakes, biscoff pastries and fruit tarts are definite nods to Westernized food, so as to avoid alienating tourists and new customers.
However, one could argue that it needn’t do so, as the charm of the bakery lies in its ability to keep traditional food relevant across decades – simply by being delicious.