Historical time line of leavened bread by Indo Islamic Culture

The Persian word Naan (نان) is the term used for the flat leavened bread that is prepared in traditional tandoor. Today it forms one of the most popular thick flat bread served with South Asian foods in India, Pakistan & Bangladesh.

Stuffed Tandoori Naan from India/Pic source: Wikiimages

In present Iran, the term is generally used to mention any kind of bread. According to Merriam Webster dictionary the term Naan is defined as “a round flat leavened bread especially of the Indian subcontinent” that was first used in English language in 1828. Historically, the remnants of the tandoors/Clay oven has been found from the remains of antiquity such as Indus valley  & its contemporary civilizations in West Asia as cited by the culinary writer, Vir Sanghvi in his book “Rude Food: The Collected Food Writings of Vir Sanghvi”. In central Asian countries, the term “Tandyr Nan” is used in Kazak, & “Tandir Non” in Uzbek languages for the leaved bread. Historically, the process of leaving was first started by Egyptian bread makers somewhere around 300 BC where they used yeast for leaving of the bread. The release of CO2 by the yeast results in lighting of bread & gave a fluffy appearance.

Tandyr nan baking in Kashgar, Xinjiang province in China/Pic source: Wikiimages

The first usage of the term “Naan” in Indian culinary context appeared during the late 13th century in days of Turkish Sultans. It appeared that an average Indian household goes for the flat bread (Chapati) as it was cumbersome & expensive to manage the tandoor (oven) in household. So the Naan became synonymous with commercial outlets or with the lavish kitchens of the royals. An article by Indian express cites evolution of Naan.


However, the first recorded history of Naan found in the notes of the Indo-Persian poet Amir Kushrau, dates this unleavened bread to 1300 AD. Then Naan was cooked at the Imperial Court in Delhi as naan-e-tunuk (light bread) and naan-e-tanuri (cooked in a tandoor oven). During the Mughal era in India from around 1526, Naan accompanied by keema or kebab was a popular breakfast food of the royals.

Food Story: How Naan and Kulcha became India’s much-loved breads , Story by Madulika Dash,

With the time, the “Naan” was evolved all across south Asia & adjoining Persia with multiple variants. Taftun or Taftaan one such variant of Persian Naan is quite popular in subcontinent also, where the addition of milk, yoghurt, and eggs along with saffron & cardamom gave special softness & flavors to the leavened bread.  Now in subcontinent you can find its variants from “Afghani Naan” to the “Roghni Naan”. The post-Taliban Afghan immigrants brought the first hand flavors of “Afghani Naan” in capital city of India. The dough used by them is heavier than local bakers, & the bread is marked with the designs that were made by using wooden stamp.

Afghani Naan Pic Source: Wikiimages

Picture of Tamees prepared by Afghani chef in Saudi Arabia Source: Tawarikh Khwani

In Gulf countries, the “Naan” is quite popular among local Arabs. Its seems to be equally relish by them as it has been a staple bread for South Asian expatriates. Mostly these bakeries are run by Afghans or Pakistani Pasthuns. Though the size of the bread is larger than its South Asian congener i.e, typical tandoori Naan as here the dough size is around five hundred grams. In Indian context we can find great diversities of the local bread from” Chapati” to “Puri”, the Naan holds its significant place. From alleys of historic Shahjahanabad to the old city of Lucknow, one can find all the diverse varieties of “Naan” from breakfast to dinner.

This article has been provided by IndoIslamic Culture. A handle on Twitter & Facebook managed by a Pediatrician & history enthusiast who share syncretic beauties of South Asian History.


Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)