Concern and passion, the two ingredients mixed, and the little bake shop with some unique snacks was born in Old Rajinder Nagar, Delhi, India. A candid chat with founder Ved Pohoja reveals the story of the two ingredients.

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Words & photographs: Ambica Gulati

What has been the concept behind ‘naanbhai’?” I confidently asked the 62-year-old man sitting in front of me. “Naanbai,” Ved Pohoja softly corrected me. “It is actually a word, a community in Pakistan, look it up.” Slightly at unease with my wrong pronunciation, I carried on with a straight face. Until, I found time to find ‘naanbai’.

For most of us, it is a strange word, but for a generation which carries the traces of pre-Partition India, it is a common enough word. It means baker in Urdu. Till a long time, people in the northern part of the country knew both Urdu and Hindi. Not us though!

The origin of the word naanbai is Persian, coming from the word nanya. The community is believed to have evolved from cooks at the courts of the Muslim rulers in India. It was strong in India’s most populated state—Uttar Pradesh, but many left the country during Partition and settled in Karachi, Pakistan. However, one does find some of them in parts of Lucknow, Faizabad, Barabanki, Kanpur, Aligarh and Moradabad still. There are some in old Delhi too. “But even your neighbourhood baker is a ‘naanbai’, for in smaller towns people still get their breads, biscuits baked from the local baker. They give their ingredients and ask him to make the way they like it,” smiles the man behind the concept.

That clear, it then became easy to decipher ‘naanbai’. The word is self explanatory for someone familiar with Indian cuisine—nan is a typical Indian bread, fermented loaf, eaten with vegetables, meats and curries. But in this shop, the fermented loaf has a new form, in fact many new forms. There are ‘garaiya’, ‘kuppi’, ‘bhusri’, ‘bumm’ and the traditional parathas. As I said, those familiar with Indian cuisine would recognise the terms, but then not many would not also.

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