People in Kyrgyzstan enjoy their daily bread with a reverence that is now absent in many other places.
Not only is this traditional staple still a core feature of the Kyrgyz diet, it's also a central facet of their culture.
Bread is broken at practically every meal and it's always offered to guests even if they are just popping in for a minute. In fact, this basic comestible is held in such high esteem that it's a very serious social faux pas to be seen wasting it or throwing it out unnecessarily.
Given their love of bread, it's not surprising that the Kyrgyz have come up with lots of interesting variations on the theme, ranging from borsok -- bite-sized, golden nuggets of deep-fried dough that are eaten on every special occasion -- to kattama --a flaky fried pastry that is famous for its buttery taste
But pride of place belongs to the tandyr nan -- a decorative disk-shaped flatbread adorned with simple patterns. It's baked in a traditional tandoor, a clay oven that has been used in this part of the world ever since it was brought here from Persia many centuries ago.
Popularly known as lepyoshka or tokach this moist fluffy bread with a crispy crust is standard fare in every household. Often taken with tea, it is usually eaten with a variety of condiments, including various jams and compotes, kaymak (a kind of clotted cream), and butter.
Considering its pivotal place in Kyrgyz society, local bakeries that make lepyoshka have been part of the local way of life for generations.
Traditionally, lepyoshka bakeries in Kyrgyzstan were a family business passed from father to son. But such is the insatiable appetite for this traditional flatbread that hundreds of new establishments have been opening up in the Kyrgyz capital in recent years to cater for demand.
Esenbek Nabiev, who returned home to Kyrgyzstan after several years working as a migrant in Russia, has found employment at this Bishkek bakery.
Every day, Nabiev and three other bakers work through the night to make some 2,000 of these loaves, which are fresh and ready to eat each morning.
The working day begins at 2 a.m. and some 150 kilos of high-quality wheat flour is delivered to the bakery around this time.
Work begins straight away as the bakers sift the flour to make the dough.
Many varieties of this bread are made, but the basic mixture consists of flour, sugar, butter, salt, and yeast.
Once the dough has been properly kneaded, it's divided up into regular loaf-sized portions.
Then, each piece of bread is shaped until it is round with a flattened center.
The loaves are then decorated with patterns using a traditional stamping tool (name?) dipped in oily water.
The molded dough is subsequently glazed with a mixture of egg yolk and milk to ensure the finished bread has a nice shiny crust.
All this time, the bakery's two tandyr ovens, which are used to cook the bread, are heated with a wood fire.
The bread will be baked using the heat of the oven walls. After being fired up for a few hours, water is usually splashed on the inner sides of tandyr, and its rate of evaporation is used to check that the temperature is just right for making the perfect nan.
The tandyr is a localized version of the tandoor, a cylindrical wood-fired oven that has been in use for some 5,000 years.
It's an ingenious convection-cooking device whose greatest advantage is that, once it's clay walls have been heated up properly, they remain consistently hot for hours, making it ideal for cookery in parts of the world where fuel is often scarce.
Traditional Kyrgyz tandyr ovens are molded from moistened clay strengthened with strands of sheep wool. They are usually shaped by hand and then left to dry in the sun until they are ready for use. A typical tandyr can be expected to last for as long as 20 years.
Each loaf in the bakery where Nabiev works is allowed time to rise a little before being transferred to the tandyr oven.
The finished dough is kept in a room right next to the oven and the loaves are passed through a hatch to ensure that it stays as warm as possible without spoiling its special shape and fluffy consistency.
Once the dough is deemed to be ready, the sticky loaves are placed on the sides of the tandyr. The charcoal aroma of the smoldering wood gives the bread its unique smoky flavor.
Besides its decorative effect, the flattened center of the loaves also helps ensure that the bread is baked very quickly, and each batch only takes about 6-9 minutes to make.
After being scooped out, they are left to cool for a while before being ready for market.
There are at least 20 common variations of this tandyr nan in Kyrgyzstan, each one a little different, which ensures that this ubiquitous staple always offers plenty of variety for even the most discerning taste buds.
Nabiev's bakery makes four standard versions, including plain lepyoshka, extr-buttery tandyr nan, and flatbread flavored with onions
The bakery opens for business at 7 a.m. and it's usually done for the day by noon.
Although business is brisk, the bakery also makes enough bread to supply many street vendors, whose stalls are a common sight on practically every street in the Kyrgyz capital.