The Perfect Naan
Think about your favorite food. What is it? Don’t say it out loud, dummy! I merely want you to really imagine everything you love about this particular food. To what lengths would you go to find the perfect version of said food? Would you drive across town and fight an animal for it? Would you get on a tiny bus that would take you across the state? Would you rent a balloon and go around the world? Well, my (good) friend Judas Almador and I found a lady who traveled the world and what she found was the greatest naan in existence. While I have only dabbled in the naan, Judas is a naan aficionado. Sometimes he knows things about naan that give me the creeps. But that’s another story.
If you are somehow not in the know, naan is a flatbread that is popular throughout Asia. There are many different ways to make it and prepare it, but this particular lady happened to stumble upon the best.
Her name is Nana. Nana has run Nana’s Food Truck for nearly three decades. Her specialty? Naan. Nana’s Naan has become a well-kept secret to the people of Sacramento. It is widely regarded as the best naan in the continental United States…so we wanted to simply know…what is her secret?
This was tricky to find out, as Nana will not tell anyone. In our initial talks with Nana (who, as luck would have it, had that nickname before she specialized in cooking naan) she was evasive, even rude. She wakes up before dawn every day to make her special blend, and only she and Patrick, her stinky grandson, know the secret. Patrick is the one who actually goes out with the truck and sells Nana’s Naan. He is a friendly guy — known just as much for his infectious smile as he is the naan itself.
“I couldn’t do this without Patrick.” Nana told us, before she became once again rude and perhaps even a little racist, “I am 83 years old. I cannot spend all day in that truck anymore. Patrick will let my passion continue long after I am gone.”
She kindly asked us to leave when we asked her to elaborate, so we decided to go to the next best source — Patrick.
For nearly two months, Judas and I went to Nana’s Naan every weekday; sometimes multiple times. We grew quite close with Patrick, perhaps too close. One night, after a hard day of work, we asked Patrick if he would like to grab a beer with us at a place that serves beer. Let me tell you right off the bat, we had no ill-intentions when asking this, but by the end of the night, we would have the story.
After a few beers, Patrick got to talking about his grandmother’s business, and how she started it while she was a lawyer in her fifties. She always a loved cooking, but didn’t have the nerve to start her own place. Remember, this was the mid-80s. Food trucks were not the money-makers they are now. This was real risk. Nana had dabbled in all sorts of cooking from all over the world, and with some extra money she won in a large settlement, she ended her practice and began to travel the world, alone (her husband had died some 15 years earlier in an accident that sucked but should not be considered tragic).
Eventually, she found herself in Nagano, Japan of all places. She had heard of this monastery where the nuns sold this special flour made from hay. She decided to check these nuns out and see if they were different than the nuns she was used to. She spent months with these nuns observing them make flour with their small dry hands. It turns out that these nuns picked some of this special hay, which they grew themselves, and chewed it. Once it was the right consistency, they spat it into buckets and made it into the flour. They then took that flour and made this delicious naan out of it.
“It sounds disgusting,” Patrick told us, “But that is the way it works.”
After months of observing, Nana asked if these nuns would be willing to ship this flour to America, so she could share it with her people, the Americans. They agreed, and Nana’s Naan was born. Every month they would ship her as much of this naan hay as she wanted.
“It’s something about the chewing,” Patrick said to himself, “it really makes that flour special.”
Judas decided to try this on his own. He bought some hay from a nearby farmer and chewed it. I was appalled, so I just observed. He spent weeks chewing hay and spitting it into buckets.
Finally, one night, Judas invited me over. The flour was ready. He made his first batch of naan.
When I took my first bite, I was shocked. It tasted awful. It tasted like chewing tobacco and sunflower seeds. I vomited. Judas was devastated. He thought that he had found the perfect method to this naan, but failed, miserably.
We went and saw Patrick the next day and asked him about it.
Judas asked why it would not work. He explained that he tried doing everything which Patrick told him, but it turned out terrible. He then asked if Patrick would maybe chew the hay, thinking that maybe he would get it right.
“Maybe, did you get the hay from Nagano?”
Judas shook his head and Patrick immediately knew what the issue was.
“Will this hay not work or not?” Judas demanded of Patrick.
“Nah, Nana’s Nagano nuns gnaw no non-naan hay, Jude.”