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What is Naan?

Diane Goettel
Updated May 16, 2024
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Naan is a flatbread that is a staple food in Southeast and Central Asia. It is especially common in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, and surrounding regions. Because it is popular in so many countries, it has a number of different spellings and pronunciations. In Turkic languages such as Uzbek and Uyghur, for example, this bread is known as nan. In Burma, the bread is called nan bya. The Burmese variation is slightly softer and resembles pita bread more than other types.

This flatbread is made of wheat flour and is almost always round. The dough is usually leavened with yeast before it is cooked. Once it has been cooked, it is typically brushed with ghee, a kind of butter, and then served hot. Some chefs add yogurt or milk to their naan dough to add softness and volume to the bread. Roti is bread similar to naan, which is unleavened and is cooked flat on a tawa, a kind of iron griddle.

Naan, like many staple foods, has a long history. The first record noting the existence of it dates back to 1300 AD. It is also known that naan was served at the imperial court in Delhi for many centuries. The bread has nearly as many different recipes and culinary uses as it has years of existence. It can, for example, be used as a side dish for stew. It can also be used as a wrapping for meats and other fillings. Alternatively, it can be used as the base of an open-faced sandwich. Common toppings for such dishes are meats, vegetables, and cheeses, Stews such as mutton stew and pea stew may be used to top naan as well.

There are also different kinds. Naan-e-tanuk is a very light version of the bread. Naan-e-tanuri is a form made in a tandoori oven. Furthermore, by kneading ingredients into the dough, naan can be made sweet, savory, or spicy. Garlic naan is especially delicious.

Indian cuisine became popular in Western culture, especially in North American and Britain, in the 1970s. As many Western restaurants offer a basket of bread or rolls at the beginning of a meal, it became popular to have a basket of hot naan at the beginning of meals in Indian restaurants. With the rising popularity of Indian cuisine in the West, this bread in all of its forms and many accompaniments quickly gained global popularity.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Diane Goettel
By Diane Goettel , Former Writer
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount Vernon, New York with her husband, Noah. They are the proud parents of a Doberman Pinscher named Spoon. Specialties: book editing, book marketing, book publishing, freelance writing, magazine publishing, magazine writing, copywriting,"

Discussion Comments

By Acracadabra — On Jun 07, 2011

When I travelled in Asia I was surprised to find people ate curry and naan bread, but no rice. I've adopted this idea and it's much lighter in calories. If I make curry at home I use whole wheat naan for added fiber.

By drtroubles — On Jun 04, 2011

Has anyone tried the naan available at the grocery store, available in the frozen food section?

I am a little wary of trying this as naan is usually amazing fresh out of the oven. I have had frozen bread before and it turned out all right, but I was just wondering if you recommend this kind of naan in a fix?

I would love to always have access to a great restaurant, but unfortunately I live pretty far from the nearest Indian place. I am hoping that the frozen food variety may be a good fix.

I have zero cooking skills, so making it myself isn’t an option.

By lonelygod — On Jun 03, 2011

I absolutely love naan. Nothing is better then having some great curry and dipping warm naan into it.

I honestly have never tried to make it myself though as I have heard it is rather difficult to get right. Also, I don't have any access to a tandoori oven, and I love the variety made in there.

There is one local Indian restaurant I frequent that prides itself on making amazing naan. I think that if you find a kind you like stick with it. I have tried it at many places but no one makes it as good as my local shop.

By MissMuffet — On Jun 03, 2011

@CaithnessCC - I love mini naan for party snacks, so here's my never failed recipe.

Mix 2.5 teaspoons of dried yeast, 2 teaspoons of sugar and just under 2 cups of warm water in a bowl. Cover and leave undisturbed for 10-15 minutes.

While you are waiting, sieve .83 llbs flour and 1 teaspoon of salt into a bowl, making a well in the center.

Put 0.13 lb melted ghee (or butter), 2 teaspoons of plain yogurt into the well and mix until it forms a dough.

Knead on a floured surface for 10-15 minutes until the dough is smooth. Then transfer it into a large, oiled bowl and cover with a damp towel. Leave it to rest in a warm place for about an hour. (It should double in size.)

Knead for one minute and then cut into 32 pieces. I roll each into a ball and press them until they are about 2.5 inch circles.

Place the circles on a lined tin and brush them with 4 tablespoons of melted ghee or butter, finishing with some minced garlic and a sprinkle of herbs and salt.

Bake in a 190°C / 375°F oven for 5-8 minutes or until golden brown.

I like to serve them warm, but they work equally well cold.

By CaithnessCC — On Jun 03, 2011

I am a complete and total naan bread addict! I first tried the plain type at an Indian restaurant, and soon after discovered there were lots of other varieties.

As I can't afford to keep eating out I'm going to try to make some at home. I would love to hear about any easy garlic naan recipes, as that is by far my favorite flavor.

Diane Goettel

Diane Goettel

Former Writer

"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount...
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