The naanwais of Delhi

Naan afghani, naan obi, bolani, lavasa, roghani... the list is exhaustive. Wondering what they are? They’re typical Afghan breads that are available in the heart of Delhi. Thanks to a bustling Afghan community, the traditional naanwais of Afghanistan have been transported to the Capital. Naanwais, as the name indicates, are makers and sellers of naans or bread.

In a typical Afghan household, bread is a staple. But it’s rarely made at home; it is instead bought from the naanwais in the lanes. The naanwais, mostly men, knead the dough and make fresh bread through the day.

When the migration from Afghanistan to India started, many of the immigrants made Delhi their base, especially areas such as Bhogal and Lajpat Nagar. With them, they brought their culture of bread making.

The naans today are available across the city where the population has settled. So it is in Bhogal’s Kashmiri Lane, where there is a sizeable portion. Then there is Lajpat Nagar, where an entire lane is now called Afghan Street, while Malviya Nagar and Tilak Nagar also have a smattering of Afghans.

A whole new world

As I make my way into Kashmiri Lane to Afghan Bakery, I’m transported into a different world. The friendly owner, Tamim Omari, had told me over phone that bread was available throughout the day. His store is a warehouse of baked delights. There are fresh handmade biscuits made the traditional way. Made by his three brothers in another part of Delhi, the biscuits are transported here every day. Apart from that, there are mounds of baklava, jowari, namki, tauti and shrinidor. Another fascinating find was roht, a cardamom-scented bread. Omari then points me in the direction of the lane where I will find the naans.

The naanwais of Delhi

Bhogal is home to around eight bread makers. Some of the most commonly sold naans are naan afghani, naan uzbeki and plain naan. Insiders claim there were 20 odd naanwais here, but with some of the population moving abroad, their numbers have dwindled.

The naanwais start making bread by about 7.30 am every day and continue to do so till night — majorly, the rolling out is done for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s a fascinating cycle. As soon as one batch is done, the next is ready to be popped into the ovens, which are essentially large clay tandoors. All made by hand, the naans have never seen a rolling pin. One of the naanwais, Mohammad Ali, and his son, also sell khajuri. These are breads shaped like dates or khajur and look like our good old gujiyas or karanjis minus the filling.

Left to the experts

The breads are commonly priced at ₹20 each. The reason I am told, bread is not made at home, is that one needs a clay oven, a cumbersome contraption best suited at the naanwai’s.

To many, a plain naan might seem boring; but the Afghan naans are really versatile flatbreads that can be paired with just about anything. Mop up a rich lamb curry, spread some fresh butter, slather on some honey, or simply dunk it in a cup of hot tea to set the pace for that rainy day; the naans are the perfect comfort food.

The naanwais of Delhi

From being baked fresh in Bhogal to being sold off push carts in Lajpat Nagar and at small bakeries in Hauz Rani, these naans, some dotted with nigella, poppy or sesame, have now become a part of Delhi’s culinary landscape.

Know your naan
  • Paraki, Lavasa: These are simple, flat roti-like naans that are rectangular and commonly used as wraps. They are also the base for the famous Afghani burgers — spread some boiled eggs, chicken and french fries and you are good to go.
  • Naan Uzbeki: Made of maida, these round naans have designs stamped on them. The naan obi is similar to naan uzbeki.
  • Naan Afghani: These are made using whole wheat and are usually oblong and commonly available. Another variant is the sadha or plain. There is also a tandoor version.
  • Roghani Naan: This naan is extremely soft and light. Not too commonly found, the roghani naan is made using a generous dollop of oil and ghee.
  • Bolani: This is one interesting naan. Made with maida, it is usually stuffed with potatoes and is rather soft and delicious.
  • Roht: This is a round sweet naan, but not overpoweringly so. Made with eggs, maida, oil, milk, curd and sugar, it is usually topped with khus seeds before being baked.

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 9:35:20 AM |

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