The chekich, a stamp found in markets throughout Uzbekistan, is not used to send mail or mark passports. It’s used on bread. When bakers press a chekich’s needle-like points into Uzbekistani non, the tiny perforations imprint a beautiful design that changes the bread’s shape and texture.
Like other leavened breads in Central and South Asia, non is cooked in a tandyr, or tandoor oven. Bread bakers (nonvoys, as they are known) stamp each non before slapping it on the oven’s clay walls. The dough rises in the heat, except the center of the bread, which remains flat as steam escapes through the many holes created by the chekich. Each chekich features a unique and dazzling array of geometric and floral patterns, which adds individuality to a nonvoy’s bread, especially as early-morning vendors lay it atop carts.
To say that years of tradition precede these practices is an understatement: The Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the earliest surviving works of literature, references Uzbekistani-style non. Today, Uzbeks’ affinity for bread borders on worship. They buy pink and yellow non for engagements. (The bride and groom take bites from two pieces of non on their wedding day, then finish the non during their first breakfast together.) They keep unfinished non until family members return from trips. They serve non alongside green or black tea to guests. If they drop non on the ground, they’re supposed to pick it up and, after placing it on a ledge or tree branch for birds, say “aysh Allah” or “God’s bread.”
Uzbekistani non varies by style and region, and the practice of stamping this kind of bread extends beyond Uzbekistan to its neighbors. Some variations come topped with sesame seeds or crushed garlic, while others are thicker and more bagel-like. Yet all of them share two qualities: They bear stamps from a chekich, and are treated with care. Fittingly, a common Uzbekistani proverb translates to “respect for non is respect for country.”
Where to Try It
Tandoori Food & Bakery99-04 63rd Rd, Queens, New York, 11374, United States
A small spot in Forest Hills serving up Uzbek fare.