Local Name: “nang” or “nan”
Chinese Name: 馕 (náng)
Alternate Names: Uyghur bread, flat bread
Description: A local bread made in various forms.
Every once in a while there rises from within an ethnic group a particular cultural characteristic that tends to represent the group as a whole. Interestingly it has a tendency to be food: burgers in America; pasta in Italy; rice in China. For the Uyghurs, a small ethnic group situated in this large province of China, it’s their bread.
The Uyghur Bread Stand
It’s pretty much impossible to walk a city block anywhere in Xinjiang without running into a Uyghur bread stand. The stands selling this bread, also referred to as “nan” or “nang“, are more common to this part of China than Starbucks is in America (but thankfully they’re much cheaper!). The stand itself is pretty simple. It usually consists of a small room to mix the dough next to a large stove, called the “tonnir“, right outside to bake the bread. This stove, a big stomach shape with a small mouth is usually made of sun-dried earth bricks and heated by either coal or wood.
For nearly twelve hours a day this stand is occupied by two or more Uyghur men – one to make the dough, one to cook the bread and sometimes another to sell or deliver it. For many this is their livelihood, a skill passed down from generation to generation and taught as a specialized trade. There’s no formal school in which to train and no recipe books exist (that I know of) so if you’re looking to make your own Uyghur-style bread your best bet is to apprentice yourself to one of these men. Good luck.
Whenever I pass one of these stands I can’t help but be taken in by the intoxicating smell of fresh bread and during the bitter cold of the winter I am drawn to the heat generated by the stove. In fact, this may be one of the strongest memories that I will carry with me whenever I decide to finally leave Xinjiang.
I have been told that there are over 50 different kinds of Uyghur bread. I didn’t believe this number until I noticed that I rarely see the same kind of bread at two different stands. Here’s a small list of just a few that I have seen so far:
- Flat Bread – usually round in shape
- Flaky Bread
- Small Baguette Bread
- Sourdough Bread
- Bagel Breads
On top of that, each stand has its own assortment of “goodies” that they may mix or cover the bread including onions, sesame seeds, hot spices, and meat. It really is amazing to see the creativity that is put into some of these family recipes.
Don’t Miss Out
Visiting Xinjiang without eating Uyghur bread is pretty much a sin. It’s dirt cheap as long as you’re not buying it at the airport or a tourist trap. Just remember that if you’re paying anything over 2 yuan for a single piece you’re getting ripped a good one. Also it’s a good idea to get it while it’s hot, as I personally enjoy my bread soft instead of crunchy. Whether you eat it with kebabs, dip it in the DaPanJi sauce, or just eat it by itself, don’t miss out on this Xinjiang-Uyghur specialty.
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