Monday, June 7, 2010

The Legend of Lepeshka


I causally slow my stride and wait for Zahril’s head to rise from his dome-shaped oven which seems to be loosely fashioned after the Pantheon. These memorable seconds of my 30 minute walk to work are spent trading the “thumbs up” with this cheerful outdoor baker. Morning’s first light illuminates our brief exchange of sign language, creating a soft glow against his smiling collection of bright gold teeth.

When I pass he is often consumed in the routine of making Lepeshka. Lepeshka is a type of bread found throughout central Asia. Having spent a month in Bishkek, I have learned these plain wheels of white bread are consumed during any meal in astonishing quantities. Fresh from the oven the bread has a tasty, chewy texture. However, day-old Lepeshka could easily be used for discus practice.
Shortly after dawn Zahril’s son starts sliding circles of raw dough out a small square opening from the kitchen to the industrialized patio. The legend of Lepeshka then straps on his baker’s do-rag and sets to work. After a playful toss of the dough, he ducks into the holed inferno of hot coals, squashing the moist wads of flour against the curved walls like suction cups.

Having momentarily defied gravity the bread, now golden brown, is removed using a bowl-on-a-stick tool. It is then set on the side table, lathered twice over with a buttery paintbrush and ready to be sold for 8 som, or 10 cents.
Although we do not share a common language we managed to communicate with smiling nods and short fits of laughter during the spontaneous photo shoot. The camera inadvertently created a small scene, but the unexpected publicity appeared to go over well with Zahril. After a firm handshake goodbye he bagged a piping hot Lepeshka and refused payment. He was content trading 8 som for our customary thumbs up.

Not a bad way to start the work day.

1 comment:

Cheryl said...

I believe you have captured the essence of baking and sharing bread -- the universal language of service, hospitality, and as some would believe, redemption.

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