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Lepyoshka | The Pretty Round Bread

As of yet, we’ve only alluded to it, but now is the time to discuss the third essential of a traditional Kyrgyz table: bread!  For all of the gluten-free eaters (by force or by choice), you’ll want to skip this one.  

Next to sugar and tea, bread will always be present in a Kyrgyz home.  If you stop by to say hello or pick something up, inevitably the bread bowl will come out and as a guest, you’re obliged to take at least a small piece to eat.  It is the give and take between host and guest, a signal that the relationship is healthy.

Lepyoshka are round and disk-shaped, fluffy on the outside, with a flat center, printed in beautiful designs that create instant table decoration.  The loaves are displayed through the markets and at “tandoors” (ovens) in fresh stacks each and every day.  The hot ovens and patterned center cause the breads to bake quickly, leaving them moist on the inside and crispy golden on the outside.

This style of bread is known to be Uzbek, though now it can be found throughout the region, albeit varying in size and design.  The name lepyoshka has more of a Soviet flavor to it, sounding very similar to the Russian term of endearment “lapushka”.   In Russian, the actual word for bread is “khleb”, while in Kyrgyz it is the more familiar “nan”.  

In Kyrgyz, lepyoshka is specifically referred to as tandoor nan, attributing the hot round ovens in which it is baked.  Another incredibly necessary word to know is “Issyk” (as in Issyk-kul), which means “hot” in Kyrgyz.   I think you can figure out the next part: Issyk + nan = issyk nan, one of the most delicious experiences that a very small amount of money can buy.  

If you are craving some savory issyk nan, the inside advice is to go early in the day, and not on a Monday.  Most tandoor operators take the day off after the crush of the weekend, and according to my extensive research, are usually sold out by 3 in the afternoon.

Besides lepyoshka, a wide variety of breads are available in Kyrgyzstan, so for the more health-conscious, have no fear, the dark breads are in abundance as well.  A taste of the hot tandoor naan is a must, but creative bakers in every bazaar are turning out amazing loaves of different grains as well.  Regardless of your taste preferences, bread-lovers will find themselves right at home in the land of lepyoshka!

Logo for Issyk Nan, the kyrgyz language podcast

Interested in hearing some Kyrgyz?  "Issyk Naan" is the first Kyrgyz-language podcast produced here in Kyrgyzstan, and quite appropriately named!  

Tandoor Naan | In the Village

These loaves have been baking, two at time in the little kitchen next to where I've been sleeping. The baker, a retired schoolteacher, spends the early hours of the morning kneading dough, forming mounds, greasing pans, and churning out these perfect circles, imprinted by hardworked fingers. The income from selling the bread is minimal, but enough to pay for medicines that she needs for her and her husband. Though not stamped with pretty designs, it is some of the best bread to be tasted in the country!

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