Critics don’t spend enough time writing paeans to bread. A carefully curated bread basket can make a meal at the kind of place where they match your napkin to your clothing. But at the spots where you wait in line to grab a sandwich? There, bread can be the centerpiece. And so it is at Arif Mandi, the prepared food counter inside Herndon’s Madina Market.
Madina Market has been one of my favorite stops in NoVA since I moved here last May. It’s where I pick up staples including pomegranate molasses (the base for my favorite salad dressing), Indian Dabur meswak toothpaste and Armenian string cheese. Yes, I think those are staples. But that should give you an idea of the international scope of the market’s offerings. The focus is on the Middle East, but its tendrils reach much further around the globe. All that, and it has a whole-animal halal butcher shop and a bread bakery in the back.
The flatbread that’s produced in the bakery is called taftoon, an ultra-thin, lavash-like specimen with which I first became familiar through Persian cuisine. People wait in line while gentlemen visible behind the counter prepare bags of the bread to-order. I can’t resist a bag myself, but it’s best savored as part of a shawarma wrap.
Despite the fact that it is mere feet away from a butcher shop, the marinated beef or chicken, is in fact, something of an afterthought. This is a sandwich that exists for the bread, flavored with fresh veggies (the cucumber is especially crisp and juicy), a spicy sauce and tahini. But the taftoon is the thing. The texture of velveteen, it stretches between the teeth before it tears. It is elastic, but never unpleasantly chewy.
The people waiting with me pick up Indian stews, Yemeni rice dishes and even pizza. But not a single one leaves without a bag of bread.// 376 Elden St., Herndon
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