11th December 2018
Bread in its many forms is a staple food for cultures across the world, it provides a cheap and filling food source but its importance in some cultures goes far beyond simple nutrition.
This year I have been fortunate enough to visit the Central Asian countries of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan with Wild Frontiers. Despite their geographical proximity these two relatively new nations are quite different, Uzbekistan is famed for its textiles, natural resources and of course the ancient Silk Road cities of Samarkand and Bukhara. While Kyrgyzstan is still relatively underdeveloped with its nomadic past still proving a strong influence on its national conscience.
However, one thing they do have in common is the importance of bread. It is served at every meal, usually still warm from the oven, and is a delicious accompaniment to the soups, stews and salads of the steppe.
Both Uzbek and Kyrgyz people are incredibly hospitable, and I lost count of the number of times I was offered tea, vodka and even dinner invitations! Sitting down and eating with local families with the ubiquitous bread alongside is quite the experience, and not easily forgotten.
In Uzbekistan we were given the opportunity to help with the final stages of bread making at a local homestay. Thankfully, most of the hard work was already done for us and we just had the task of shaping the loaves into the iconic wheel shape, with a deep depression in the centre. Once our teachers were satisfied with our handiwork, we stamped the centre of the loaf with the iconic central Asian bread stamp. All that was left was a quick brush of egg wash and a sprinkle of sesame and onion seeds. The bread is then scooped up by hand and stuck to the wall of a searing hot oven (or tandoor), where it turns a deep golden colour in only a few minutes.
It wasn’t long before we were all enjoying freshly baked bread straight out of the oven.
Traditionally the centre of each loaf is stamped with a design whose markings correspond to the baker. It was a way for bakers to autograph their goods, as a hallmark of quality and consistency. The stamps themselves are an excellent souvenir to bring back for yourself as a reminder of your trip across the steppe. Or equally it makes a nice gift for any keen bakers!