Xinjiang Food: NAN BREAD

A five minute walk from our apartment will bring you to this tiny hole-in-the-wall Uyghur Bread Stand. It’s almost impossible to walk a city block without spotting a Bread Stand…or smelling its lovely aroma! The bread sold here is called “Nan” or “Nang” depending on who you talk to. Nan is a leavened, oven-baked flatbread. You can find all types of Nan bread across Central Asia – baked differently according to local recipes. The Uyghur people have various types of Nan – but most are similar to a medium sized pizza crust, topped with sesame seeds or onions. They are crisp & toasted on the outside, and soft on the inside. The flat ones are perfect for homemade pizza! We have also found harder bagel-sized breads, or small buns filled with mutton & onions. I have heard there are over 50 kinds of Nan!

Our local Bread Stand consists of a small, dark room with a large wooden counter and a stone/clay oven. One guy prepares the dough, while another bakes the flatbread in the Tandoor. A Tandoor is a large stomach-shaped clay oven, with a small mouth opening at the top, heated below by coal. The men place the Nan into the small opening and slap them against the side of the clay oven to bake in the heat. Nan is best when served fresh from the oven, basted with chopped onions or sesame seeds. Each piece of bread only costs 1-2 kuai (14-28 cents), and they travel well. We pack them for picnics outside the city, make PBJ with them, pizza crusts, or dip them in soups or curry: the possibilities are endless.

Operating a Bread Stand is a family affair. Often each stand is run by many different family members with special recipes known only to them. For many – this is their livelihood, a skill that is passed on to each generation. The family that runs our local stand has three generations that we know of helping to sell their delicious breads! This family is so precious. The father’s eyes are so kind and he always tells me what time to come for fresh bread. His 2 sons work long hours over the hot oven – but always smile when we come. Their two younger granddaughters always play close by, and love to greet our girls as we visit. We are huge fans of them as well.

Nan Bread Etiquette: Bread = Life. It is bad etiquette to eat Nan bread while walking along the road. You never want to waste it or drop crumbs along the street. When serving Nan in your home, you must first break/tear it in half to share. You always break off smaller pieces from the larger whole.

Enjoy these pictures of this beautiful family and their yummy bread-stand!