First of all, I would like to dedicate this blog post for my dear Sister whom I lost recently, suddenly and unexpectedly…She was next to me when I was taking pictures, videos and just watching the bread making process for this blog. We were just passing by this small breadmaking place with her and she knew I wanted to watch and learn about this process, she went in and spoke to the people who work their, negotiated and encouraged me and them to do it! If not for her support and encouragement this blog post would not happen.
Tajik bread – known as ‘Non’.
Like in any country Tajiks have their own special bread which they love and cherish. Types, forms and shapes of bread differ slightly in various regions of Tajikistan but I will be telling you about the bread from the North of Tajikistan, in Khujand. I know you may think that I am biased, but believe me, it is the most delicious bread in the whole of Tajikistan ;)
Bread is sacred for Tajiks. When Tajiks (at least the Northern Tajiks) see the bread on the ground, or bread suddenly falls on the ground we pick it up and kiss it three times. When my husband who is not Tajik saw me doing it he was quite shocked by my actions :) Travelling around the world and now living in the UK especially in the beginning when I would see the bread on the ground and people walking on it or just ignoring it- I just couldn’t believe it. I used to pick it up and put it aside (without kissing it so people don’t think I am crazy). When I was asking around why we were taught as kids to respect bread so much, I didn’t get a definite answer but I think one of the good reasons is that during various wars and after obviously there was hunger and lack of food and I think that might be one of the reasons…
Tajiks make bread in special handmade ovens made of clay…. I have seen different variations of it in Turkey, India, Cyprus etc. Traditionally each tajik house has to have one of this handmade ovens called ‘tanur’. Mind you, you can make both bread and sambusas (variation of samosas) in these ovens which taste completely different to ones you cook in a normal oven.
You need to put some coal and light it up inside the tanur. This bakery, called in Tajik ‘nonvoyhona’ (the house of bread) is located in one of the oldest parts of my town and in a narrow passageway.
This is the passageway called 'tang kucha' (literally very narrow street/path). I used to go through these passageways all the time during my childhood :)
You can pass far away from nonvoyhona and yet you can smell the inviting aroma of bread. I love to buy hot just baked bread and put some butter on it and eat it for lunch or as a snack. Only 3 people work there and they produce thousands of pieces of bread a day. One young man puts the bread into the tanur and takes it out, two women - one who makes the dough and one who shapes the bread. It is so fascinating to see the level of professionalism and coordination between the team.
A woman who is shaping the bread and putting special decorations on top with some sesame seeds.
Young man sprinkled some water on back of the bread and put inside the hottest oven.
They start work very early at 5 a.m. Oh yes, they have a helper woman who comes and takes hot bread to the biggest vegetable, fruit and food market in the city called Panjshanbe which is located quite close to the nonvoyhona. She puts the bread into the wheelbarrow and transports it to the market where they have a person who buys their bread from them to sell. Interestingly, I always thought for some reason that the people who sell the bread in the market are those who make it, but now I understand that they wouldn’t have time and energy both to make bread and sell :)
This is the finished product - absolutely gorgeous non or bread.
This is the lady who takes the bread to the nearest market. She is very sweet asked me if I could take photo of her :)
Another tradition or ritual we have with our non/bread is that when a young man is going to serve in the army (which is 2 years) he takes one bite of the bread and then prayers are said and blessings from his parents so that he returns safely to his home and to this bread. So the family keep the bread and when he comes back he needs to eat it. I saw my cousins, who returned from the army, put the hard bread in a ball of water so the bread tastes really nice, or you can cut them in small pieces and put in your favourite soup and it is delicious. The legend or myth is that bread helps the soldier return safely to his home :) I saw it many times when I was growing up, not sure if in modern days they do it ;)
Another interesting tradition is when you have small children you put a small piece of this bread which is believed to protect you when you sleep from nighmares etc. Even when I was a grown woman my Mum used to ask me to put a piece of bread under my pillow. Tell you what, when I did put bread under my pillow I did sleep peacefully and nicely. So, believe it or not…I think it is a nice tradition.
When I was taking photos of the bread so close to the oven, I was so scared to burn myself... It is so hot.
If you are ever in Tajikistan - please do try our Non and once you tried it, trust me you will fall in love with it forever!