Traditional Palestinian Tabun “Oven”

The tabun is a primitive oven made of unbaked clay fashioned by Palestinian country women. It is an oven used to bake bread and cook.  The oven (tabun) itself is covered by dry manure spread all over its external surface while inside the bottom is covered with small stones called “ruddef.” On the top of the tabun is an opening that is closed by an iron lid or covered with a wooden handle that can be opened in order to place the bread dough inside. This closing cover helps to maintain the heat. Hours before the baking process, all sides of the interior should be covered with wood or dry animal manure or, in Arabic, “jift,” or with the remainders of pressed olive pits after the olive oil has been extracted. After closing the tabun, it is left for hours sitting atop the fire burning beneath it. When the manure is kindled, the “ruddef” gets very hot at which time the bread is placed inside the tabun and baked in such a way that makes it taste delicious. The tabun has been used by Palestinians for hundreds of years. Most archaeological excavations in Palestine attest to the use of tabuns both in private homes as well as public spaces in Palestinian villages.

In addition to being shared communally for baking bread and other food, the location and setting of the tabun was used and continues as a gathering place for women of the neighborhood. The aroma of freshly baked bread prepared in the tabun permeated the entire neighborhood and served to let people know that the bread was almost ready and that the oven would soon be free for someone else to use.

In some cases, when a woman had a pressing need for baking facilities, even privately owned tabuns would be shared as a form of solidarity. The famous traditional dish, mussakhan, whose origin is in Tulkarem and Jenin, has a completely different (and better!) taste and aroma when it is prepared in a tabun as compared to its being baked in a conventional or modern oven.  Mussakhan, at all-times, is a favorite among Palestinians as a succulent dish consisting of grilled chicken served on bread smothered with a mixture of onions and sumac and cooked in plenty of olive oil. It competes with manssaf and qiddreh as the representative dish of the Palestinians. The ideal bread for this dish is the local tabun bread.

Tabun (the oven) was, and remains very popular.  The tabun and its surroundings played an important role for village women who would sit by the side of the tabun (oven) telling jokes and exchanging news while their bread was baking. The tabun, as a social place for gathering, functioned for women like the guest-house (madafeh) did for men. Today, unfortunately, very few tabuns (ovens) are still in use. Below are examples of Palestinian lyrics chanted during the baking of bread and preparation of food in a tabunغني يا زهر الدحنونوارقص يا خبز الطابونطاح الشومر والزعتروودعنا سقعة كانون 
Sources Used and Consulted: 
 – The Palestinian Village Home, Suad Amiry London: British Museum Publications, Ltd., c 1989.
 – This Week in Palestine, July 2007.
 – Palestine Foundation for Culture.