'Love nang' a souvenir of affection from heart of Xinjiang
Moments after boarding my plane in Urumqi bound for Beijing, I was still clutching to my chest a rather unusual package, wondering if it would even fit in the overhead compartment.
It was circular and flat, wider than the car tires on your average sedan, and more than 2 kilograms in weight－too heavy for the plastic bags around it, leaving one set of handles in tatters. Through the layers of plastic bags and the pink brocade covering, I could feel how a few small pieces had already broken off inside. This led me to grip it even tighter, worried it might not survive under the weight of someone's carry-on suitcase.
After all, this was not your typical souvenir, but rather－as my colleagues had dubbed it－a stack of "love nang".
When I first learned I would travel to Xinjiang for work, my thoughts turned to the region's signature flatbread－nang－which had captivated me at first bite, with its crispy, perforated crust and soft, buttery flavor. But my husband, Jun, is even more of a fan than I am. So naturally, when the conversation turned to what I might buy for him in Xinjiang, his eyes sparkled at the suggestion of bringing back some authentic nang.
We had both assumed it wouldn't involve much hassle－perhaps a visit to a neighborhood bakery near my hotel in Urumqi the night before my flight back to Beijing. But that plan went up in the smoke of a tandoor oven serving up nang in an artist village in Aksu prefecture.
The aromatic smell of nang drew my entire travel group to the scene, where the bakers were using a long, metal hook to pull hot, golden rounds out of the oven and toss them in a tantalizing pile that would dispel any thoughts of low-carb diets. Pieces of freshly baked nang were passed among us and the taste elevated me to a new kind of bread nirvana.
Amid my gluten high, I remarked how much Jun would adore the bread, and added it was a shame I couldn't buy it, with several days of travel still ahead. But a colleague insisted that Urumqi's nang would ultimately disappoint me, and that, thanks to the baking process, the bread in this village would keep well for many days.
Before I knew it, I had bought two pieces of regular nang made in the tandoor oven, as well as a local specialty nang baked in a pit of hot ashes. The latter turned out to weigh more than expected, causing the entire stack of bread to rip the plastic bags almost immediately and leading the bakers to throw in a pink brocade to hold it.
As I wrapped my arms around the unwieldy package, only then did it occur to me that perhaps it was an ill-advised decision, one which might leave me with a pile of nang "crumble" in Beijing.
My colleagues, however, were amazed at the gesture－that I was willing to lug this special and substantial nang－the size of a wheel－across thousands of kilometers, just to fulfill a promise to my husband.
In the end, I managed to schlep the nang nearly intact to Beijing, where Jun gasped in astonishment at its size and heft the moment I unloaded the bread into his arms.
Ah, the things we do for love.
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