April 11, 2012

Soup to Nuts: Middle Eastern fare is heaven scent in Portland

The intoxicating aromas of baking fill the small Forest Avenue kitchen of Audai Naser, who is cultivating a loyal and growing following for his Middle Eastern breads and sweets.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Audai Naser shapes flatbread dough before placing it into the circular tandoor oven to his right.

Photos by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Tandoor owner Audai Naser tosses a hot flatbread from the oven on to a table to cool.

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845-R Forest Ave., Portland. 871-0655

Talal Karam, a veterinarian technician and massage therapist who moved to Maine not long ago from Indiana, was recently in Tandoor after having met Naser just a couple of days earlier. Karam, originally from Syria, said when he eats Naser's food, "I feel like I am in Damascus or something like that."

Karam acted as translator on a recent Wednesday afternoon as Naser spoke of his background and explained his plans for the future.

Naser started baking bread in Iraq in 1983, but fled that country during the Gulf War. He lived in Syria for three years, which is where he learned to make just about everything else.

In 2008, Naser moved to the United States. His first stop was Atlanta, but he found it too violent there, and within three months had moved to Portland, which he had heard about from a few friends who had lived here.

Naser and his family (he and his wife have seven children) started Tandoor at the Portland Public Market in 2009, with the help of Coastal Enterprises Inc. After six months, in late 2009, he moved into the small building on Forest Avenue.

Now he's hoping to expand his business by attracting more retail customers and adding new items such as stuffed breads containing cheese, meat or spinach to his menu. He's ordered a large red, white and blue sign for Forest Avenue advertising "shawarma, falafel, Iraqi kabob, handcrafted Iraqi bread and Arabic pastries" so people can more easily find him.

Naser's got the help of friends and folks like Mary Grant, the former owner of Simply Scandinavian Foods, who has been assisting him in various ways as he negotiates the local business community.

Grant says Naser is a generous man who tries to pay forward the help he has been given. She said he aids newcomers to the city by letting them work some hours at the bakery. He also gives them food for their families to tide them over until they can find a job and get settled.

The baker's day begins at 5 a.m., and with the exception of an occasional sleep break, he is there until the place closes at 9 p.m. Bread baking goes until about 10 a.m.

One reason for the long hours is that Naser wants his customers to see first hand the passion and commitment he has for food. He likes the fact that people can watch him bake the bread and make their food when they come in to order something. They can see and smell how fresh his ingredients are before they ever put anything in their mouths.

"I am putting all my heart into what I'm doing," he said. "I like to show it as well."


Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: mgoad@pressherald.com

Twitter: MeredithGoad


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Additional Photos

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Among the products he prepares are, front, traditional favorites like falafel, left, baklava and bourma, and flatbreads such as tenur, pita and samoom.


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