Nang, the bread that comes in wheel-sized loaves
Its color is golden yellow; its shape flat; its taste crispy. And there’s even a museum for it.
It’s nang, the staple wheat bread of the Uyghur autonomous region.
Yiminjan Memet in Kuqa county, south of the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, used a long hook to take a nang from a handmade clay pit to cool it.
What he baked wasn’t an ordinary nang. His nang has one distinguishing characteristic: it’s big. At about 50 centimeters (19.68 inches) in diameter, it is more than twice the size of a normal nang
Kuqa, which means crossroads in Uygur language, was known as Qiuci, an important kingdom on the ancient Silk Road. That history has given Kuqa many things, including its tradition of baking big nang.
Some say making the biggest nang is a way to show how powerful the Qiuci kingdom was.
Businessmen traveling on camels stop at Kuqa and replenish their food supply before resuming their trips. Nang is especially popular because it can be kept for a long time, according to displays in Kuqa’s nang museum.
“Nang in Kuqa becomes bigger than anywhere else in Xinjiang because the next city the businessman’s camel caravan could reach after leaving Kuqa on the ancient Silk Road is relatively far away, so they have to pack more food. Nang as big as wheels was invented to accommodate such needs and has lasted until now,” Yiminjan said.
Yiminjan, 50, learned the history of nang and how to make it from his grandfather, also a nang baker.
Like his grandfather, he uses apricot tree branches as firewood to bake the nang to give it a special apricot flavor. He also mixes milk, eggs, onions, carrots and sesame seeds in the dough to make the nang nutritious and more delicious.
Yiminjan said he could sell 2,000 and 3,000 big nangs a day, but what concerns him now is the local ban on cutting apricot trees to protect the environment
“I don’t want to switch the nang pit to using natural gas as the government has promoted. The nang won’t taste the same. I really want to keep the tradition as it was passed on to me,” he said.
Besides baking nangs, Uygurs also will build a nang pit to roast whole animals — such as a lamb or camel — instead of cutting them into pieces. Xinjiang people often say if they were given a nang pit as big as the Earth, they could roast the whole planet easily.
A camel weighing 400 kg (882 pounds) was roasted in Bachu county in southern Xinjiang’s Kashgar prefecture in October.
A vender at Erdaoqiao, Urumqi puts freshly baked small oil nangs on display to attract customers.
Boiled sheep’s hoof is also a popular Uygur cuisine.