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July/August 2015


them before they hit the floor. “Please,

do not do that. Bread is sacred,” he

reminded me.

That afternoon, I fell into conversa-

tion with Amir, the hotel receptionist.

He told me a story about bread and

Bukhara weddings: Uzbek weddings

are often huge, and the average meal

requires 300 to 400 loaves of non.

Following the wedding reception, the

oldest and wisest woman, the one with

the longest marriage and the most life experiences, holds two

rounds of non on the head of the bride. She walks her around

the reception room while the bride says goodbye to her old life

with her family. All the women and her parents kiss her and

say goodbye. The old woman holds the bread, reads to her

from the Qur’an, talks to her, wipes away her tears, reassures

her that everything will be all right, and then she leads her to

the room where her husband is waiting for their first night.

he following day, I drove northwest across the

Kyzylkum Desert, arriving in Urgench, the capital

of Khorezm Province. The non of Khorezm is flat-

ter, more cracker-like in texture, with

chekich stamp marks covering most

of the non, leaving a thin edge like

pizza dough. Here, names from Uzbek

folklore and literature are common-

ly used for decoration and to identify

the different bakers. At the stall run by

Salomat, a smiling, effusive woman of

middle age, she explained the meaning

of the names Tahir and Zuhra on her

bread. They are, she said, a kind of

Uzbek Romeo and Juliet, protagonists of an epic tale of star-

crossed lovers, well known to the everyday bread buyers of

Urgench. It is about fate, destiny, hope, sacred love, tragedy

and God’s will. Not, I thought, the sort of life lessons or liter-

ary reference that might ever be found on the plastic packag-

ing of pre-sliced Western breads.

Back in Tashkent at the end of my journey, I was sipping

green tea at a café when I noticed a car moving slowly down

the street. A small child was standing up on a rear seat hold-

ing a small crust of non. The window was partially open,

and as the car passed, the child accidently dropped the crust

onto the road. From a nearby group of women, one imme-

diately walked over, picked up the non,

blew on it, kissed it lightly, uttered

some words and placed the non on a

tree branch, for the birds.

Related articles at

Bukhara tilework S/O 09

Tashkent J/F 08

Flatbread S/O 95

Samarkand J/A 84

Random House author and photo-


Eric Hansen

([email protected] is a frequent contributor



. He lives in

California’s Central Valley.


Tashkent-style non dough is

stamped with chekich and bosma patterns,

and it is ready for the oven.


A delivery

boy sets off in Samarkand using a bicycle

fitted with a customized rack and bags.

Throughout Uzbekistan, non is never cut with

a knife: It is torn by hand, lending a special

meaning to the ancient tradition of “breaking

bread” with family, neighbors or strangers.