The Humble Yet Exotic Naan

The Humble Yet Exotic Naan

Naan bread is a staple diet in Central and South Asia, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Iran, and India. The word “naan” traces its etymology to an old Persian word, “nagna,” which means naked or bare, perhaps referring to the style of baking it uncovered. Today the word simply means bread in its land of origin, though in South Asia it has come to mean a specific kind of leavened bread.

According to one hypothesis, both tandoori roti and naan came into existence in Indian cuisine after Hindu refugees from Afghanistan migrated to India during in the early 1300s. They brought with them a kind of clay oven called the tandoor, which eventually became popular throughout India. Amir Khusrau, a noted poet of the times, describes Naan-e-tanuk (light bread), and Naan-e-tanduri (cooked in a tandoor) in his work. The Mughal emperor Jahangir is credited with making the tandoor portable.

However, a variety of naan may have been baked as early as the Harappan period. Excavations at Kalibangan, (Rajasthan, India) show evidences of mud-plastered small clay ovens in primitive kitchens which resemble the tandoor very closely.

Naan is typically leavened with yeast, though it was also left to ferment naturally in the past. Cooks also add milk or yoghurt to the dough to make it soft and fluffy.

Over time, variations have sprung up all over the subcontinent. We have regional specialties like Afghanistan naan, seasoned with cumin or caraway seeds; Pakistani naan is made aromatic with rose petals, saffron, or khus (vetiver); Myanmar naan bya is served during breakfast along with tea or coffee, often accompanied with boiled peas and soup; Indian naan is usually glazed with ghee and flavored with garlic and the Peshawar and Kashmir variations are enriched with dry fruits and nuts.

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© 2010 Malar Gandhi,  All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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