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A staff member mans the oven at a bakery for Samoon bread in Al Rashid street, in Iraq's capital Baghdad. Image Credit: AFP

BAGHDAD: It is ubiquitous in Iraq - a diamond-shaped bread known as “samoon” which provides an inexpensive companion to almost any meal served up on tables across the country.

Abu Sajjad, a bakery owner in central Baghdad, said he takes a fresh batch out of the oven every 45 seconds.

The small, crunchy loaves can accompany dishes from meat to rice, and can be found on tables in even the most far-flung villages.

Some Iraqis like to eat them on the go after cracking them open and adding fillings like falafel and vegetables.

Image Credit: AFP

Part of their popularity lies in their simplicity - and affordability.

“I sell eight pieces of samoon for 1,000 dinars ($0.70),” said 43-year-old Abu Sajjad, who has owned the bakery since 2005.

His son Sajjad, who is in his twenties, mixes flour, yeast and water, and sometimes a pinch of salt, then lets a machine knead the dough for 10 minutes.

After letting it rest, he shapes lumps of dough into diamond-shaped loaves that leave his brick oven with a crunchy crust on the outside and steaming hot on the inside.

The bakery sells 10,000 samoon pieces “on a normal day”, while on Fridays, the Islamic day of rest, “we can go up to 12,000”, Sajjad, the son, said.

Image Credit: AFP

Their busy shop sits on Baghdad’s Al Rashid Street among dilapidated 19th century houses, while a host of restaurants make up their main customers.

Recent commodity price hikes have seen the cost of flour imported from Turkey increase.

But Abu Sajjad said he had “lowered the weight of each samoon from 120 to 100 grammes” instead of raising prices.

According to author Nawal Nasrallah, the name samoon came from a Turkish term whose roots derive from the Greek word for bread.

While noting possible earlier versions of the loaves, she said “it seems that the diamond shape was developed by the early 20th century Iraqi bakers”, writing in her cookbook and history of Iraqi cuisine, “Delights from the Garden of Eden”.

With lunchtime fast approaching, Karim, a regular customer at the bakery, was among those stocking up.

“We Iraqis love samoon. We were born with it, we are used to it - and we like it hot,” the 41-year-old said while biting into a freshly baked loaf.