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These Are a Few of My Favorite Things: The Sitti Bowl

For as long as I can remember, my parents have used what we call the “Sitti bowl” in the kitchen. It’s a 4-quart pyrex bowl, yellow on the outside, white on the inside. It looks like this:

[Thanks, Mom, for sending the photo of your Sitti bowl!]

“Sitti” means grandmother in Arabic, and we call this the Sitti bowl because my mom inherited it from my great-grandmother – my Sitti – in 1970. As the story goes, my parents moved into the house where I grew up at 532 East Mifflin Street (at the corner of E. Mifflin and Lawrence) in Orwisburg, PA. Sitti had come to my parents’ house to teach my mom how to make Syrian bread, (Y’all probably know it as pita, but in our house, it always has been and always will be “Syrian bread.”) and my mom didn’t have a bowl that was large enough to knead the dough. She gave my mom the yellow bowl, and that’s how the Sitti bowl came to be.

I don’t know how much I actually remember of my Sitti because she died when I was very little, but the photos I’ve seen of her holding me have implanted memories. She wore coiffed ’40s hair you see in vintage photos, even though it was the late ’60s/early ’70s when she posed with me. In every photo, she wore a dress and beamed at my parents and me.

[1969 – my first birthday. Mom on the left, baby me, my cousin Beth Ann, and Sitti.]

My dad has told me stories about her over and over again… of how she removed hot pies from the oven without oven mitts… of how she could be found on the back porch smoking cigars. I think her life in the old country must have been pretty tough. To me, she represents the best that we can be: a no bullshit person who wouldn’t be pushed around – who could also be very loving and nurturing at just the right moments.

[Sitti, about 1960.]

So, Sitti taught my parents how to make Lebanese food, and they taught me. And when we cooked together – stuffed grape leaves and spinach pies and Syrian bread and kibbeh – we did all the work in that yellow bowl. It’s not only the perfect size for mixing and tossing, it immediately infuses love into everything prepared in it.

At some point during our San Francisco days, Dave and I found a cousin of the Sitti bowl in a vintage store in the Mission, and it’s held a special place in my kitchen ever since. We, of course, also call it the Sitti bowl, and it’s treated with reverence: hand-washed only and preferred over the nesting glass bowls from Williams-Sonoma that seemed like a great idea but just don’t measure up.

Seriously, those bowls are very pretty and utterly useless. They bite when you try to unstack them, and even though they’re of graduated sizes, they just never seem quite right for the job. They feel fragile and dangerous, rather than the reliable workhorses I need them to be. And they have no history. They’re just BOUGHT. From a CATALOG.

Now that I spend so much time in the kitchen, the right tools have become even more important to me. I need to feel like the tools and I are working together to make Dave and I strong and fit. If you’re beginning to cook or expanding your repertoire, I encourage you to find the tools you like the best and invest in the ones that make cooking both easier and more pleasurable, ’cause the first step in eating well is cooking well.

Anyway, back to the Sitti bowl. I’m not sure what inspired it, but last week, Dave flipped the bowl over to see if markings on the bottom would tell us more about its mysterious and wonderful origins.

It’s pyrex. Naturally.

Thanks to Pyrex Love, we learned that the yellow bowl is the largest in a four-bowl set known as the “primary colors,” manufactured during the 1940s. I decided I couldn’t possibly cook dino-chow without a complete set, and last week, the box arrived.

I now have two yellow Sitti bowls – an embarrassment of riches! – and they have friends to keep them company. The insides are perfectly, snowy-white, but the colors on the outside have a few scratches and dings, just the way I like ‘em. We’ve had a fun time wondering what was cooked and eaten from them in their previous home. I’ve learned that the red one is perfect for mixing and eating olive-cucumber salad, and according to Dave, the blue one is the ideal size for tuna with homemade mayo.

I’ve kept them sitting on the kitchen island since they arrived – the bright colors make me happy, and just the sight of them from the corner of my eye makes me want to start stirring up something delicious. They’re pretty awesome.

But not quite as awesome, of course, as the original… the true, the one, the only Sitti bowl.


I’m excited to once again join the punk rock foodies on Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade.

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11 Responses to “These Are a Few of My Favorite Things: The Sitti Bowl”

  1. Anniebug, bugger or BUG. says:

    I heart Pyrex.

  2. Erin Clare says:

    I love this post… the Sitti (and her bowls) that are responsible for the action hero that is you. There's just something cozy about thought of curling up around one of those bowls.

  3. meghan says:

    I love this. Old stuff has so much more character and life/love infused than shiny new things. I've been drooling over sets of silverware in antique markets (so much cooler than a plain Target set). Sometimes I think it's a little sad that the things so obviously well loved and used by someone are abandoned to a market but…more for me!

  4. Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Anniebug -> I keep wanting to "test" the pyrex and drop one of the bowls on the tile floor — but it would make me SO sad if it broke.

    Erin -> I imagine that you and Sitti would have hit it off beautifully!

    Meghan -> Agreed! I like to buy stuff at vintage stores to preserve the cool shit from the mid-20th century when design mattered.

  5. Erica says:

    This post is awesome. Mid-century design and quality is always awesome and thrift stores are definitely the best place to score dishes!

  6. LoriD says:

    OMG! I too have a "sitti" bowl that I inherited from my grandmother. It's even yellow, practically identical to yours! I love cooking with it and also use it all the time, each time remembering all the cooking lessons my grandmother gave me using the same bowl.

  7. diana says:

    Lovely post Mel. I have two sets, one from my Grandma Opal and one from an antique store. They both originally lived in CA :), but last year the 'new' set traveled with me to TX. Kinda like a sewing machine, just couldn't do without them even in my part-time kitchen.

  8. Anonymous says:

    its good to be reminded that food can be so much more than nutrition – it is soul, love, heritage, family – and that cooking healthy stuff can be an expression of all that. great post. nice bowls.

  9. Christy says:

    Oh how I love love old dishes. Especially ones with a story!

  10. Amy says:

    My family had that set, actually they might still. We would make popcorn Friday nights and I would have the smallest bowl, my brother the next size up, and my parent’s split a Sitti bowl full. It’s also the perfect vessel for a vat of my mom’s potato salad.
    I’ve noticed they chime nicely when you stack them!

    • Mel says:

      We used ours for popcorn, too… Thursday nights! Thanks so much for sharing your story. And you’re right, they do make a nice sound!

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