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This Hole-in-the-Wall Life

Breadth of bread: Wholesome Choice

Wholesome Choice is the most diverse supermarket in Orange County—maybe Southern California—a garden of produce delights where Armenian cherry preserves, Polish kielbasa, Middle Eastern cream cheese, organic eggs and Tapatío exist within a three-aisle radius. Its food court is a United Nations buffet of Italian, Japanese, Indian, Persian and Chinese cuisine stations. But the free Farsi-language magazines near the store's entrance don't lie: Wholesome Choice specializes in Persian produce and nowhere is this more apparent than in the bakery near the entrance.

This isn't a dessert bakery à la the rosewater-drenched sweets of Assal Pastry or any of the county's marquee Persian pastry shops but something more rustic—one of the Southland's few places that roll out fresh Persian flatbreads. And not just lavash, the half-pita, half-naan that's a staple of Iranian restaurants. There's barbari, a thick golden loaf best for breakfast, and the tangy, sesame seed-studded mashadi. The Wholesome Choice bakery also produces such standards as crispy baguettes, whole-grain loaves and the like. But the star attraction is sangak, a thin, toasted flatbread as crucial to Iranian identity as Rumi.

To see Wholesome Choice bake its sangak is truly a pleasure because you get to view our brave new Orange County. The crew is equal parts Persian and Mexican, and they communicate via the language of toil. They knead the sangak dough into shape, then slide each loaf into the giant hearthstone oven. A multicultural line waits patiently for the bread to finish—maybe five minutes.

When the sangak is ready, the customers usually stare in awe. When done, Wholesome Choice's sangak averages four feet in length—quite possibly the longest foodstuff that isn't a party submarine sandwich. It's crispy and gnarled thanks to pebbles inside the oven that lightly char the bread and leave pockmarks on it. Its wheaty, smoky, dense charm is irresistible, a great companion to whatever food you may eat. Sangak is also great as a snack when combined with various spreads—perhaps hummus or babaghanoush, or even some tabbouleh. Best is sangak smeared with the traditional Persian side of must-o-kheyar, yogurt mixed with chopped cucumber and mint, which Wholesome Choice stocks in tubs.

Each sangak baked is a moment, a time to reflect on the beauty of life, of multicultural Orange County, of food. But the Mexican and Persian bakers don't blink. They grab the sangak, cut it into big squares, then stuff the steaming slices into a bag and hand it to the waiting customer. Next.

WHOLESOME CHOICE, 18040 CULVER DR., IRVINE, (949) 551-4111; WWW.WHOLESOMECHOICE.COM.

 
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