Ode to paun

acción de hombre,
milagro repetido,
voluntad de la vida”
Oda al pan, Pablo Neruda

For whatever reason, perhaps the alignment of the planets, the neighborhood I am staying in has been really calm. The pronounced caterwall-ceasefire has continued. Last night, a Friday night, was dead quiet. I was able to sleep until past 7am for the first time in weeks (but was abruptly forced out of bed by a neighbor leaving his diesel engine running with the exhaust pipe pointed at my window).

I took advantage of the fact that I not truly slept in to go and buy some paun.

I have praised this Portuguese-inherited love of bread in Timor before. Timorese people are huge bread enthusiasts. It can become a measure of isolation from markets, like “oh, that poor town/village does not even have bread!” I remember last time I stayed in Baucau, most days, in the old city, bread in the market was sold out by 7am.

In Dili, many neighborhoods have little bread businesses tucked away in normal-seeming houses. About 100m up the road is one such place. I walked up the road slowly behind three young boys headed to school in pea green uniforms, their hair still wet from their morning shower.

From the road you would never know there is a lovely round, open-topped palm-frond basket containing loads of bread through that large open window. The only clue would be, sometimes early there is a line of people waiting, many clutching a 25c coin, or a 50c coin. Twenty cents gets you a row of five pieces of bread, baked together. You break them off a bit like pieces of chocolate off of a candy bar.

Timorese bread is not very salty, but not entirely salt-less. This kind of bread, let’s call it “bar bread” is mostly crust, and is excellent warm with almost any filling. It is ideal for sharing.

Paun is one of those things, that no matter how simple or common it may seem, all can recognize as a comfort that makes life better. Kind of like the neighbors who are out sweeping and cleaning every morning with the stick brushes, or the relative quiet of a Saturday morning.


One thought on “Ode to paun

  1. Nice post!

    I never knew bread is a big deal in Timor, or in former Portuguese colonies for that matter.

    I also love bread, and have been eating lots of Mozambican bread every day!

    Thanks for sharing!

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