Uzbek Non: Central Asia’s fabled flatbread
No series on flatbreads can end without mention of the Non, or ‘nanh’, as the locals will pronounce. Locals meaning people of Uzbekistan. Indeed, flatbreads are part of daily diet all over central, west and south Asia. They come in hundreds of varieties. However, rarely is bread so intricately woven into the living culture of any community as that of the Uzbeks. Unlike western breads, and like almost all flatbreads, barring a few varieties, Uzbek Non-s are also always round in shape, but they come in numerous designs.
Uzbek Non in bread bazaars
Indeed, there is an instrument, which comes in myriad designs, to stamp the breads before baking. It is called ‘chekich. Bread bazaars are common in Uzbekistan, and Tashkent’s Chorsu Bazaar, for example, is a delight to visit. Hundreds of vendors with thousands of golden breads, emanating a deep sweet and sharp smell, is as intoxicating to the eyes as they are to the nostrils. While some of them are small enough to fit a standard-size quarter dish, many come in huge sizes often larger than a bus tyre!
Uzbek Non in family dinner
A single bread is kept in the middle of the table, around which sits the whole family sharing it. And if you have the fortune to be invited to such a dinner it is entirely possible that you will be served with cutleries, but never, never use your knife to cut a piece of bread. It is considered not only bad manners, but more importantly harbinger of bad luck to cut an Uzbek Non with a knife. Use your fingers to tear our portions as many times as you want.
Superstitions around Uzbek Nons
And there’s more. Also take care to make sure that crumbs don’t fall on the ground. In a true traditional Uzbek home, any piece of bread falling on the ground has to be respectfully picked up and kept at a place where birds may feed on it. Utter Aysh Alla, God’s Bread, and remember it’s not for you to waste. Nons are considered such respectfully in Uzbekistan that a Non is put underneath the head of a new born, with a belief that it would ensure the child has enough to eat as long as she/he lives. Similarly, Nons are put between legs of toddlers with a belief that it would make it learn walking fast, and keep its legs steady all through the life.
Recipe for you to try
Generally these breads baked en mass in Uzbekistan by bakers called ‘Nonvoy’. Nonvoys use large tandoor ovens for baking. However, should be a genuine bread lover you may try your hand at home with a common electric oven. Here’s a modern simple recipe:
All-purpose flour: 4 Cups
Whole wheat flour: 1 Cup
Fast-action yeast: 2 Tsp
Salt: ¾ Tsp
Caster Sugar: ½ Tsp
Milk: ½ Cup
White oil: ½ Cup
Sesame seeds: handful
First, dissolve the yeast in the water. Add the salt and sugar to the two varieties of flours mixed together. Use the yeast-dissolved water to make a soft dough. It should be kneaded until quite sticky. Set aside for at least two hours, or until the dough becomes double. Make four balls out of the dough and roll them into four round breads. Press the centre of each round bread lightly. Let the rolled breads rest on a bed of dry flour for half an hour, covered with a wet cloth.
Preheat oven at 450 degrees. Put the breads on a cookie sheet, and just before putting into the over use the chekich to make patterns at the centre, or you may use a fork to do the same. Quickly brush each bread with oil first and then milk, sprinkle some sesame seeds and press very lightly to make them stick. Bake until golden and soft.
(Written by Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra)