Travel

Dive into the Symbolic, Intricate World of Uzbek Bread

These loaves are more than just nourishment—they're inseparable from daily life
Photos: Todd Coleman
Uzbek Bread Types

The breads of Uzbekistan should be considered the eighth wonder of the world. Decorated like tapestries that reflect the lives of the people who make and consume them and often mimicking colorful, intricate caftans and the ornate Islamic geometric patterns that decorate homes and places of worship, these breads are inseparable from daily life—imbued with meaning way beyond physical nourishment.

My friend (and bread guide), Oleg Zolotikh, a native of the country, claims—rightfully—that there might be more than 1,000 different designs and types. And once you venture through this visual tour, you’ll understand exactly why he would say that.

Todd Coleman is the creative director and editor-at-large for Tasting Table. Follow him on Instagram at @toddwcoleman.

 

  • In a thrifty move, this bread seller in the city of Samarkand uses an ancient baby pram to transport and merchandise her edible wares. According to Zolotikh, the breads balanced on the ends are called "Samarkand patir—they’re incredibly dense and can be kept, unlike most bread, for a very long time."

  • Bread in Uzbekistan isn't quickly picked out and purchased—it's intensively inspected for color, weight and imperfections, a process that can take what seems like f-o-r-e-v-e-r. The day's bread is often the most considered—if not the most important—purchase of the day.

  • These bagel-like mini breads—seen here being sold as garlands in a market in Tashkent—are boiled before being baked. Called sushki, they are most likely an import from Russia and, here, often eaten with tea.

  • In this vast oven—one of many versions of the tandir (aka tandoor)—Tashkent non are slapped on the walls to bake, leaving one side crisp, the other golden and fluffy.

  • One of the few times a bread can visually overpower a leopard print, this intricate non has been pressed down in the middle (for faster cooking) and stamped with a wire-and-wood design tool called a chekich.

  • At a bakery (hidden in what looks like a regular old home) in Vobkent, a town outside of Bukhara, a baker waits for his yeasted dough to rise early in the morning—while watching TV.

  • The workers at Nonvoyxona, a bakery in Bukhara, painstakingly decorate each bread with circular indents before being baked. The result? A thinner and crispier bread than seen elsewhere in Uzbekistan.

  • Three different breads are being proffered by this vendor in the magical city of Bukhara: top: Kokand patir from the city of the same name in the east; middle: a typical non; right: Katlama patir layered with onions.

  • A worker at the main market in Samarkand replenishes his hungry spirit with torn hunks of bread at a chaikhana, or tea house. His chugirma hat is covered with plastic to repel the rain.

  • A symbolic spread of nuts, bread and dried fruit is laid out a funeral in Samarkand, where the friends and family of the deceased sit and talk for three days.

  • At the enormous Siab Bazaar in Samarkand, a merchant dusts off his patir while looking around for buyers. Here, an entire pavillon is given over to just bread—reflecting its importance to the country. Patir, which is intended to last a long time, is also part of a long-standing tradition. "When young man goes to military service for one year, he bites off piece of patir," Zolotikh tells me. "After coming back, he eats it with soup—all the time he's away, the patir hangs on the wall at his home—waiting for him."

  • This nonvoy (bread baker) in Vobkent proudly displays one of the many hundreds of non he makes every day as, incredibly enough, a side job.

  • At a teeming weekend market in Parkent, Uzbekistan, a vendor stacks her patir chamomile, so named because its design resembles that of a flower.

  • At at lodge way up in the mountains of Sukok, a rustic crispy non (imprinted all over with the baker's thumb to prevent it from rising) is served with tea and pears.

  • Each nonvoy has a bread design unique to it. This yeasty, soft non is lying on a bright, eye-catching cloth, like a pearl on a pillow, in a common retail method meant to highlight craftsmanship over abundance. (Underneath the cloth are stacks and stacks of bread.)

  • These colored breads are for celebrations, mostly engagements and weddings. And these days—tourists.

  • Half bread, half pastry, these meat-filled Uzbek-y "Hot Pockets" called somsa, are an essential staple of Uzbek cuisine. Not pictured: 15 people eagerly waiting for them to be ready.

  • In Uzbekistan, bread is never ever cut—only torn by hand. Pro tip: It's also considered disrespectful to place the bread on the table upside down.

  • My host in Sukok, a lost-in-time village in the mountains outside of the capital of Tashkent, tears bread for me in a traditional welcoming act of hospitality.

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