Naan Controversial: Food For Thought

Bread is one of man's oldest sustenance.

Throughout history, mostly every country, nearly every culture, has its own portion of bread.

Whether it is the Iranian Persian lavashs, tabuns, sangaks, Mexican tortilla, Scottish oatcake, North American jonnycake, Middle Eastern pita, and Ethiopian injera, nearly every culture has had its bread served with many a dish.

In the subcontinent, bread is a vital part of nearly all the three meals of the day. Whether it is the paratha, chapatti, roti or naan, we love our bread in all its forms.

In all of these, perhaps it is the naan bread that has gained the most fame through its time. Not just being served in abundance in the subcontinent, but also in tables, restaurants, and homes around the world.

It is a staple accompaniment to hot meals in Central and South Asia, including Afghanistan, Iran, northern India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and the surrounding region.

The first mention of the naan can be traced to the notes of an Indian musician, scholar and a poet. That man was Amir Khusrau and it was within his notes that we discovered the culinary habits of the Mughals; the naan was accompanied by either a portion of qeema or kebab, particularly as breakfast.

Though the Mughals relished the naan, they weren't the ones who had made it. Culinary historians point towards the Persian speaking Central Asian nations – particularly the regions around Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Iran and Tajikistan. Through conquests and trade, the recipe of the naan found its way scattered across the subcontinent.

Naan is usually leavened with yeast; unleavened dough (similar to that used for roti) is also used. It is cooked in a tandoor giving tandoori cooking its name. Which is what makes roti different from naan, the former is cooked on a flat or curved pan or tava.

A typical naan recipe involves mixing white flour with salt, a yeast culture, and enough yogurt to make a smooth, elastic dough. The dough is kneaded for a few minutes, then set aside to rise for a few hours. Once risen, the dough is divided into balls (about 100 grams or 3½ oz each), which are flattened and cooked. In Indian cuisine, naans are typically graced with fragrant essences, such as rose, khus (vetiver), and kevra (a pine essence native to Southern India), with butter or ghee melted on them.

The most common of derivatives of naan are the Peshawari naan and Kashmiri naan. These are filled with a mixture of nuts and raisins and are much broader and thicker than normal naans. Possible seasonings on the naan include cumin and nigella seeds. Besides toppings, naans also come with stuffings. The most common is the aloo, potato, naan. Though served mainly in the Punjab region, it makes for a complete meal unto itself.

Sometimes, people get their naans brushed with ghee or even butter. Some even sprinkle a dash of glaric over the naan to give it an added taste.

The role of a naan in a meal is quite similar to that of a chapatti, it replaces the fork and knife and accompanies parts of the food, sometimes curry, sometimes meat.

In Myanmaar it is referred to as Naan bya and is a popular breakfast choice served usually with tea or coffee. It is round, soft, and blistered, often buttered, or with boiled peas on top, or dipped in mutton soup.

In Turkic languages (such as Uzbek and Uyghur), the bread is known as nan. In Tajik it is called non. Besbarmak is the most popular Kazakh dish. It consists of mutton meat with small pieces of pastry boiled in broth and sprinkled with parsley and coriander. The naan is a vital part of this traditional dish.

The next time you venture out towards your dinner or lunch, here's some food for thought: the naan has been served to kings and queens, and continues to conquer many appetites around the world.

It joins the proud family of few universal cuisines that have brought together some memorable times and good food.

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