For years I have walked by countless Uyghur bread stands in Xinjiang, bought the Uyghur flatbread, and continued on my merry way. I’ve always been a bit curious about how to make Uyghur bread but never had the time to really watch the process.
All of that changed this week when a friend invited me to spend the afternoon with him making Uyghur bread in his little bakery in Turpan. I was more than happy to learn.
Now before you get too excited, I must warn you that he didn’t share with me his exact Uyghur bread recipe (it’s a family secret) so this isn’t a true “how to” explanation. I apologize if you feel misled.
Still, I think you’ll enjoy this behind-the-scenes look at how Uyghur bread is made. It’s simple but if you’ve eaten Uyghur bread you know that it’s certainly special.
Uyghur Bread-Making Behind-the-Scenes
A gentle warning: don’t watch this “How to make Uyghur bread” video while hungry. :)
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Looks delicious, doesn’t it? Trust me when I say that Uyghur bread is best when eaten right out of the oven.
The Life of a Uyghur Bread Maker
The truth is that there are numerous kinds of Uyghur bread – flatbread with onion, flatbread with sesame, a bagel-like bread, plain disc-like bread, etc. Every bread maker has his own recipe and process, which is why some people will line up for a long time to purchase the bread from a popular stall.
Today, we’re talking about my friend’s well-known sesame flatbread.
The life of a Uyghur bread maker starts at 3:30am local time (5:30am Beijing time – learn more about Xinjiang time) when they start their morning run of bread. This is the hardest part of the day, which usually lasts for a little over 6 hours, ending at 10am local time.
If the bread lasts throughout the day, they’re done. If there’s need for more bread, however, they’ll begin again at 5pm local time for a smaller afternoon batch.
These Uyghur men work hard and I can tell you from hanging around for an hour that it’s not comfortable standing next to a hot oven in the heat of a Turpan summer!
The Process of Making Uyghur Bread
The process of making Uyghur bread is really quite simple – obviously not much different than making any other kind of bread. It can be broken out into 5 different parts:
- Mixing & Kneading the Dough: As with any recipe, you start with raw ingredients. In this case, the ingredients usually include a mixture of flour, water, salt, oil and even sugar.
- Rolling out the Dough: After the dough sets for a little while, one of the Uyghur men begins to roll out the dough, creating what looks like a pizza crust. One of the big differences is that he takes a special tool with pointed ends to “stamp” a pattern in the dough. Not only is this decorative, it helps the bread to cook through well.
- Seasoning the Dough: At this point the dough is usually passed through a window to the bread maker outside who then dips it into whatever seasoning they choose – in this case the sesame.
- Cooking the Bread: Almost all Uyghur bread is cooking in what is known as a “tannur”. This is an oven common all over Central Asia that is used to cook everything from bread to an entire lamb. The bread is placed on the side walls of the tannur where it sticks while cooking.
That’s it! The outside bread maker uses a special padded tool to put the bread in the oven and then two long irons to take it out.
Conclusion: Tasting the Uyghur Culture
One taste of Uyghur bread and you’ll understand why so many people love it. It’s an integral part of the Uyghur culture here in Xinjiang and almost always part of big meals or celebrations.
When you’re in Xinjiang, take a moment to sit and watch a Uyghur bread maker at work. Take in the sweet aroma and eat the fresh bread.
It’s a fun cultural experience you won’t soon forget.
You can learn even more about Uyghur culture and where to travel around Xinjiang, you can find loads of valuable information in the FarWestChina Xinjiang travel guide.
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