United Kingdom

The Simplicity of Naan

June 6, 2020

“It’s burning.”

With no trace of urgency riddling her voice, I spot my mother through the slight opening of the creamy wooden door of our box-sized home,the same cookie cutter shape as every other Londoner’s house. 

She remains seated on our stiff leather sofa, oak eyes laser focused on the TV while she yells joking criticisms at my father, as if she possesses a sixth sense when it comes to cooking, as if she can simply detect that my father’s attempt at cooking naan is going terribly south.

“Go grab a plate! Quickly now!” 

I can feel the radiating heat of the oven bouncing off the plastered kitchen walls, rushing right into my cheeks, converting the beigeness of my skin into what now bears resemblance to a slightly unripe strawberry field. 

Rushing to grab the blank piece of ceramic from the above cabinet, I watch my father hop around on the balls of his feet, alternating between them as if he were a flailing ballerina and our miniscule kitchen was his stage. 

His back hunches ever so slightly as he chucks the naan from the thin piece of gingham cloth clasped in between his large fingers to the plate I just managed to place on our gritty stone counter.

“Well…” he trails off, hands resting over his pale cotton shirt and on his hips, the both of us peering over at the charcoal tinted, shriveled thing that lies before us.
A puzzled frown is slapped across our faces.

He clears his throat, glancing sideways in embarrassment. 

To tell the truth, I couldn’t blame him.
 Making naan in a compact little home that was tucked away in the crevices of Greater London failed to provide the correct equipment and ingredients for authentic naan making.


I know it may be nothing grand or worthy, not a stand alone dish or something that would make your tastebuds swirl in excitement at the fusion of flavours dancing on your tongue.

None of that.

But this is simply because naan is not meant to be so.

The naan that I remember from numerous trips to the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan was meant to be simple. 

As soon as the first sign of daybreak emerges and the quails start to chirp as the dust of a country still somehow standing despite half a century of suffering starts to roll in, is when it all begins.

Hundreds upon hundreds of small tandooris begin to open shop on the barren streets, enjoying the few minutes of emptiness before a swarm of crowds filled with men,women dressed in their head scarfs and children arrive.Before the comforting ruckus of music, chatter in farsi and salesman pushing carts whilst yelling prices like an automated answer machine begins. 

Before the street food owners, dried and fresh fruit stalls open or the small shop owners who are trapped all day in the unforgiving heat, bargaining and negotiating juice boxes and artificially coloured cheese puffs that turn your lips bright orange pull their blinds up.

It was then my grandfather would send the house maid to run along and bring the bag of fresh naan for the day. 

She would stand in line,watching the men pound and flip the dough into a circle, pressing it slightly before stamping holes onto its surface to allow the dough to cook evenly and rise. 

Lastly, sesame seeds would be sprinkled in the middle and off it went, sent into the gaping blazing mouth of the tandoor.

My father always described how his mother used to make her own naan for them using the tandoor they had in their home. 

No one cooks like this anymore according to him, it's difficult to stand the heat he says.

And rightly so, the tandoori owners' faces are burnt red and brown due to the pulsating warmth of the fire that they practically stick their arms and heads into.

The housemaid would always bring me sikhs of lamb kebab too, juicily grilled directly on charcoal with a selection of spices to drown the brown meat in. 

My favourite spice always remains ghora, made of dried sumac berries. A sensationally sour flavour that makes your face curl as soon as it dusts your tongue, tickling every inch of its surface area, but for some reason you always find yourself enjoying its strange taste.  

This was all elaborately done in my grandfather’s plan to fatten me up over the summer because I was ‘too skinny’. 

Naan is the one food present at every meal, on every table whether you be the poorest of the poor, or one the Afghans living as lavish of a lifestyle possible in a country built on rubble. 

Naan complements every dish in such a way that it wouldn’t be possible to enjoy Afghan cuisine without it. 

It’s golden-brown outside is piping hot, soft and pillowy. 
The smell of fresh bread so infused within the doughy air pockets that every bite is as rich and savoury as the last.

Naan is used as an alternative to a spoon in dishes such as bonjon, bomya and lubya.
 A painting of popping reds and greens encapsulated in a mine of gold. 

Naan is used as a supplement in shorwa, mantu, oshak and palaw to ensure you’ll be left full .

The supple scent of naan will hold your hand and divert you to a feeling of nostalgia you never knew you were capable of emoting. 

A memory now unlocked that has never existed beforehand, although you swear that you’ve lived through it a billion times by now.

This is what naan means.

My father sighs, chuckling to himself before he looks at me.

“I guess I can’t recreate that good old naan taste huh?....” 

I give a sympathetic nod before he looks at me once more.

“We’ll just have to wait for our next visit to Afghanistan to have it again.”

However this time we both stay silent, for we know that Afghanistan has plunged even worse into violence, with all the shootings, bombings and innoccents being burned alive by others, we don’t know if we’ll ever be able to visit again, for no one cares about our forgotten country.

Nonetheless, I refuse to let us be forgotten. 

Even if my contribution is as simple as naan is, I hope that in the end this land that is living in the silence of a continuous war will become as loved and essential as naan.

For we don't bring spice, sweetness or salt, but warmth.

A warmth filled with comfort, like that of fresh naan.
  1. Tandoori - Where naan is sold fresh from a tandoor
  2. Farsi - The language spoken in Afghanistan
  3. Tandoor - A heated chamber made of clay where bread is cooked
  4. Sikh - Skewer
  5. Bonjon - A dish made with Aubergines
  6. Bomya - A dish made with Okra
  7. Lubya - A dish made with red kidney beans
  8. Shorwa - Soup
  9. Mantu - Meat dumplings
  10. Oshak - Leek dumplings
  11. Palaw - Afghan rice


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