A Taste of Sacred Nan
Updated: Apr 1
Bread: soft, crunchy, flaky, dry, savory. Bread is perhaps the most versatile food man has ever had. We’ve been baking since at least 30,000 years ago and it is the most consumed food all over the world.
We have so many ways of making bread and have come up with so many ways to enjoy it nowhere more so than in Central Asia specifically in Uzbekistan. Bread is ubiquitous in this part of the world. Not only it is eaten on its own, but you can also have them with meals.
Non - or - Nan is a traditional Uzbek flatbread. The word is derived from a Persian word “na’an” which literally means bread. Flatbreads are common in the western, central, and southern parts of Asia. These are usually baked in a clay oven which gives it a crisp exterior, a fluffy core and a charred flavor. The Uzbek non is considered as the very best tandoor baked bread.
Like many things ingrained in their culture, Central Asians have plenty of traditions that revolve around bread. For example, bread here is never broken with knives but always by hand which gives special meaning to the phrase “breaking bread”. If an Uzbek son leaves home for school or the military, he takes a bite of non. It is then dried and hung near his family’s ceiling until he comes back.
There is even an Uzbek proverb that says “respect for non is respect for country”. When non falls to the ground, it is one’s duty to pick it up and put it on ledge or tree branch for the birds while saying “aysh Allah” meaning “God’s bread.”
To say that bread is sacred to the Uzbeks is an understatement.
Today, we are going to try and bake this traditional bread however you have to understand that there are two special tools needed in making authentic bread from Central Asia: a tandoor and a chekich. What are these and how special are they?
A tandoor is an oven used in cooking and baking. These take a cylindrical shape almost like a jug with the top being open for ventilation and access to the baking surface. These can be seen throughout the Middle East, India, Pakistan, Central Asia, and even China.
Tandoors are traditionally made of clay and mud as insulation although you can see many that use cement on the outside. To use it, a fire is built in the bottom, thus heating the body of the structure. Before use, the fire is allowed to die down to coals in order to maintain the temperature.
This has a different texture and flavor as compared to other traditional flatbreads such as the Philippine Piaya, Venezuelan Arepa, or even the Naan from India.
In order to bake non, the bread is slapped against the inside of the oven causing them to stick to it and are peeled off once the baking process is completed.
The second important tool in making non is called a chekich. This is a wooden handle with a pattern of metal spikes. A chekich is used to create a stamp or a pattern of stamps at the middle of the bread which in turn keeps it from rising and adds holes to the bread for steam to escape.
Although not exclusive to Uzbekistan, the use of a chekich and their non can be seen referenced in the Epic of Gilgamesh – an epic poem from ancient Mesopotamia that is often regarded as the earliest surviving great work of literature.
Today we'll try to have a taste of a Uzbek non or at least try to bake something as close to the original. Given that tandoors and chekichs are not something we often have access to, we'll make use of an oven and fork as stand ins for these tools.
You will need:
2 teaspoons active yeast2 cups lukewarm water1.5 teaspoons salt1 cup whole wheat flour3.5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour1 cup sesame seeds1 cup of milk
Dissolve the yeast and salt in the warm water. Give it 15 minutes to give the yeast a head start
Mix whole wheat flour into the water until smooth.
Add all-purpose flour 1 cup at a time; mix until smooth.
Keep adding the flour until you have very soft dough.
Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead it until the dough is smooth.
Place the dough in a clean bowl and allow it to rise for about 2 hours.
Dust your kneading surface with flour and break the dough into 4 - 6 equal pieces.
Form the pieces into domes, cover it with a towel or plastic so it can rise a second time.
While the loaves are resting, preheat the oven to 425°F.
Get one of the dough pieces and press your fist into the center then pierce the center with your fork in a 2-inch round pattern.
Sprinkle sesame seeds on top of the bread Brush the top of the bread with milk or oil
Bake for 15 minutes or until the crust is nicely browned. Once done, you can brush the bread with milk, oil, or lard. Enjoy!
We hope you try this recipe but of course if you want to experience the real deal, visiting Uzbekistan would be the way to go. Let CentrAsia Tours Travel Agency help you explore the wonders and tastes of Central Asia and the Silk Road.
Book with us today!