Ravshan and Nilufar never started their shur'va (vegetable and meat soup) without thickening it with pieces of non.
followed lagman (pasta with other vegetables and meat) or dimlala (stew). Given their restrained physique, we were surprised that the diners continued to take care of the yellow bread placed on the table.
It confused them that we were not bakers. "Sure you don't want?" We were asked through insistence. "Here, we always eat a lot non to the meal,” reiterates Nilufar. "Actually, all the time... possibly even a little too much." and laughs at the spontaneity of her prolonged adolescence.
lunch after lunch, dinner after dinner, we ended up realizing how much truth there was in those words. And that could not be otherwise.
Uzbekistan: the Granary of Central Asia
Ukraine has always had the reputation of a mega-producer of cereals, a prodigious booster of the USSR's capacity. If we take into account the sizes of territories, even if the main crop in the country is cotton, Uzbekistan has become a prolific breadbasket.
During his despotic era, the almighty President Islam Karimov congratulated the nation's farmers on the bountiful 2011 harvest that, with 7 million tons of grain, surpassed the previous one by almost 300.000.
Even so, the price of social bread – the simplest – rose 10%, 50 sums (2 cents). The population felt the new increase like a stab in the back. “It seems little…” says Farida Akhmedshina to the national press “. In reality, the increase was 100 sums. Store employees have always given us candy as small change and that's what will happen when we pay the 550 with 600 or even 1000 sums".
More than the satiety of the Uzbek people that is affected by these annual increases, it is their life, starting with social relationships.
The Social Preponderance of Uzbekistan Bread
In more traditional areas, the first thing people take to someone else's house as a gift is a non. When saying goodbye, the hosts make a point of offering a return to visitors.
In the houses who have their own ovens, the women prepare the bread that the family consumes and will offer. Beat, caress, knead the dough again until they reach the desired consistency.
Then, they sink the center and draw the decorative pattern typical of the area, the village or even the familiar one. Each region has its varieties, the obi non most common the Shirma de Samarkand and those from Bukhara, sprinkled with sesame or nigella and that they have an unmistakable aroma.
Os folding de Andijon and Qashqadaryo – prepared with cream, butter and crunchy flakes – are equally aromatic. According to tradition, they were and still are served during matchmaking meetings.
The lochira from the capital Tashkent are shaped like a plate. They are made with milk, butter and sugar. Others incorporate meat, onion, crushed nuts, tomatoes, raisins and different complements.
Each region, or village or even baker, can have its own special yeast that it preserves and protects from competition whenever it can.
Most lepyoshkas (the Russian name for bread) are finalized in tandyres, powerful ovens made of reinforced clay that guarantee the ideal cooking point for just 4 to 8 minutes.
The types don't tandyr oven of bread, rarer, were perfected by the nomadic tribes who, faced with the impossibility of transporting large ovens, baked them in kazans (cauldrons) on a milk base.
We had already covered a significant part of the country. We moved for a few days to the Fergana valley and the vicinity of Andijan.
It was in Fergana that, in the mid-2000s, a strong opposition to President Karimov was cooked up and which ended up being the scene of a brutal response to the allegedly responsible Islamic extremist movement. The resulting slaughter became known in the world as Andijan massacre.
Eight years passed. We are witnesses that all this political-military commotion did not affect the famous hospitality of the province.
Nilufar had heard us boast about the beauty of their homeland's bread over and over again. As we pass Margilan, he asks new driver Muhit Din to park on a street known for its abundance of bakeries and ovens. tandyr oven.
All of a sudden, we find ourselves on a floured journey. Young people shape and line up the dough, chatting and always keeping an eye on their aging mobile phones.
Next door, an exotic-looking duo takes on the hardest work. The oven radiates an uncontrolled sauna temperature to the outside. Ma'ruf Jon, the most experienced baker resists. Put more and more loaves inside, as if it were immune to discomfort.
His face is steamed from the heat, veins and other blood vessels dilated and bruised under thin, increasingly scarlet skin. The baker alternates with a colleague, probably an apprentice. Still, he assumes most of the sacrifice fate has imposed on them.
For reasons Uzbeks take for granted, the country's bakers are all men. Special men, with superior willpower. We feel that Ma'ruf Jon is a veteran of that craft.
At some point, he suggests that we try him out, probably to give his craft its deserved value. Nilufar translates the challenge: “Go, get the shovel! Enough of photographs. Now it's your turn.”
At first glance, the task seems simple. All we have to do is rip out two or three already-baked loaves, glued to the ceiling and walls of the pre-fired oven, and throw them into a basket. But we couldn't get close to that hell for more than a few seconds.
As a result, we rushed the operation. We leave pieces sticking to the surface of the oven and damage the precious shape of the food.
When we return the shovel to the master, we are somewhat ashamed and have no great doubts: the profession could only be performed by bodies resistant to the scourge and by unshakable spirits. We would soon discover a less dastardly side of the business.
A Great Roadside Market, All Bread
We leave Margilan on our way back to Tashkent. Even before we cross the border into Namangan province, Muhit Din has to stop at a police checkpoint. Shortly thereafter, we found a road market, with vendors organized to provide the best Fergana products to those traveling to the capital.
There, we see dozens of women in traditional costumes behind a long makeshift bench on cement blocks and crates, filled with examples of the region's bread, golden as the sun.
Suppliers and customers are stopped by the roadside. The former balance trays with more specimens. The latter travel the entire length of the stand to assess the merchandise offered.
That's when, in turn, each saleswoman tries to capture them with pleasing calls and enchanting calls in Uzbek or Russian, depending on the targets.
Customers need those breads for different occasions, more or less solemn. It is rare for them to return to the cars with empty hands.
In Uzbekistan, many families remain faithful to ancient customs. They put a loaf of bread under the newborns' heads to wish them a long and trouble-free life.
Later, when the baby takes his first steps, the bread is moved between his legs as a blessing for the rest of the way.
If the baby is a boy, years later, when it comes time for military service or if he is conscripted into a war, his mother will make him eat a piece of bread so that he can return as soon as possible.
The importance of non it reaches the highest political and diplomatic levels.
In 2011, the new country's 20 years of independence were celebrated in Tashkent's Bobur Park with a grand “Non Sayli”, a national bread festival.