A wonderful find on the streets of old Tashkent
There’s nothing better than fresh bread, but when you get something like this—it’s better than better.
Poor John was talking about a small loaf of bread given to us by a woman who was baking hundreds of loaves every hour in a small bakery on the back streets of Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan.
We’ve had lots of fabulous bread as we’ve travelled through Central Asia, but this loaf was somehow more fabulous than all the others.
It was pure luck that we found it. We were walking along the streets of old Tashkent behind the Friday mosque—the area isn’t really that old because much of the city was flatten in an earthquake in 1966.
As we passed a boy selling bread, I said, that bread smells incredible. But we walked on. Cripes, we’d finished breakfast only an hour earlier.
Then Poor John spied the doorway of what he thought was a small restaurant. Oops, still too early for more food. But as we passed by the window of the ‘restaurant’, I caught a glimpse of the bread oven and a whiff of the baking bread.
Time to double-back. I ventured into the ‘restaurant’. Hello, I said. A plump woman kneading bread flashed a broad smile and replied good-bye in English, and then caught herself. No, no, I mean hello. Come in. Please come in.
This was bread heaven—four 50-kilo bags of flour, scores of dough balls already waiting to be oiled, kneaded and punched into loaves AND that bread oven! It was about the size of a largish walk-in closet and powered by gas, and the woman’s assistant was loading it with up to 100 loaves of bread at a time.
We watched a demonstration of the whole process and I even got to punch a couple of loaves with the nail-studded tool used to imprint the middle of each loaf. Psst! I bought a couple of those tools in Khiva and can’t wait to try them out at home.
We stood, watched and listened for probably 15 minutes—seeing dough slapped against the oven wall and then, later, being lifted off and stacked on a wooden tray for the young boy (remember the one I saw earlier) to collect loaves for his next sales expedition.
As we said our thank yous and good-byes, the woman slapped her forehead with the heel of her hand and slipped into Russian or Uzbek. I can’t confirm what she said, but it must have been along the lines of—Good grief! Where are my manners? After all this, you must have a loaf to eat. Here, take this one. And she popped it into a small plastic bag and thanked US profusely for OUR visit.
We, in turn, thanked her profusely for such an amazing experience.
Poor John and I continued on our walk and took about 10 minutes to polish off the entire loaf. I will remember the taste forever, and will try to duplicate at home. Just in case, I bought a book of Uzbek cuisine with a large collection of bread recipes. If I crack a good recipe, I’ll share it here.
And if you love bread, please try out my page-32 recipe for Middle Eastern bread. It’s darn good, but nowhere near as good as the bread we ate today.