Pitta bread has long been a defining feature of kebabs in Britain. Unlike other European countries where kebabs are more commonly eaten in wraps, pitta is the flatbread of choice for most kebab-hungry Brits. The love affair between the British kebab and pitta first started in the early 1970s, and the pair has been inseparable ever since! The kebab first started to boom in Britain in the 1990s and nowadays almost every single British town has at least one kebab vendor, takeaway or restaurant in some shape or form. From big city high streets to sleepy seaside towns, there are no an estimated 17,000 kebab shops all over the UK and most if not all of them serve their dishes with pitta bread. Wherever kebabs have gone in Britain, pitta has been a part of that journey too!
How Pitta became part of the British Kebab Industry?
Early founders of the British Kebab Industry say that one particular baker played a huge role in paving the way for the dream team partnership that is the kebab in pitta. In Britain the concept of serving meat inside pitta originated with the Armenian entrepreneur and pitta pioneer Sarkis Eghoyan who developed his own flatbread recipe based on traditional Middle Eastern and Mediterranean methods. Other Greek Cypriot-origin producers are known to have played a role in promoting pitta in the UK too.While kebabs were traditionally enjoyed with rice, salad and bread on the side, many kebab businesses started to serve their kebab dishes such as doner inside small pitta loaves after buying Eghoyan’s products. It was pitta that played an important role in transforming kebabs in Britain from packaged takeaways and sit-down meals into the dish that busy consumers now devour while on the go. In the 1990s, when kebab businesses were starting to mushroom up and down the country, pitta bread was almost always identified with— and more importantly eaten with — the iconic doner kebab. Though many pitta producers and distributors were originally Greek Cypriot, the flatbread does not originate in Cyprus. Pitta has been a traditional staple of the Middle East for as long as anyone can remember. The bread is baked round with a pocket in the middle for fillings and must be prepared using ovens at intensely high temperatures of at least 700°F (roughly 370° C). A pitta loaf ’s pocket is made by steam which puffs the dough up as the bread bakes. The bread becomes flat again as it cools but leaves a pocket in the middle – ready to be filled with kebab meat and salad!
The pockets in pitta bread loaves make them perfect for sandwiches, snacks, and other types of food that you eat with your hands. Pitta is especially popular with Middle Eastern dishes such as shawarma and falafel.
Though originally from the Middle East as mentioned above, pitta bread is known in the UK by a Greek name. The word pitta comes from the Greek word for “flat” or “solid”. Greek pitta bread however is usually made thicker, without a pocket, and is instead wrapped around fillings as a single-layer rather than stuffed with them. Greek-style pitta is also used for scooping up sauces and dips such as hummus or tzatziki. In changing the way in which they baked the flatbread to leave that iconic pocketed finish, British pitta producers set themselves apart from this style.
The Michael’s Pitta Group, Britain’s Leading Pitta Producer
The pitta bread sector, which started with Sarkis Eghoyan in the 1970s, is now led by another dynamic entrepreneur named Andrew Charalambous. The young executive actually represents the second generation of a bread-making family. His father, Andrew Charalambous Senior, made and sold pita bread with his uncle more than 50 years ago.
Andrew Junior has successfully expanded the business and taken over from his father, who is still keenly interested in his son’s work. In 2007, they bought Eghoyan’s Pitta Bakery and started selling the bread to wholesalers, as well as to supermarket chains. The young and successful businessman now distributes pitta to a variety of outlets across Britain, from the national chain Marks and Spencer to the renowned London cash & carry Holland Bazaar. His company, known as The Michael’s Pitta Group has become the largest pitta producer in the country. The group which includes Eghoyan’s original bakery has further expanded its operations with brands such as Hollyland and Arnaouti.
His firm has since branched out from pitta and now bakes a wider variety of flatbreads such as tortillas and chapatis as well. In 2014, the group expanded its manufacturing capacity by opening new factories in Hertfordshire and the Netherlands. The company now exports to international clients in Europe and Australia in addition to catering to its traditional customer base up and down the UK. “British people have loved kebabs with pitta bread since the early days” says Andrew. He is proud of his work as a British leading pitta producer and looks forward to continuing to supply this iconic flatbread to the Kebab Industry for years to come.