Everything You've Ever Wanted to know about Azeri Cuisine
Davachi Travel Blog› entry 22 of 26 › view all entries
One of the teachers I work with told me once that her brother had moved to India for a while to work. According to him, she says, in India all of the people throw their trash on the ground and the food is bad. I couldn’t help but laugh a little bit, as she was describing Azerbaijan exactly.
The food here in Azerbaijan is not for someone with American taste buds, but it is interesting (perhaps not as interesting as watching the geese fight the dogs for rights over the trash pile though). In general, it seems to be a mix of Turkish food, some foods from the Islamic countries around it and some ethnic recipes thrown in. Most everything is either swimming in or covered with either butter or vegetable oil and meats are fatty. Also, everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) is considered a national dish here, even if it originated somewhere else.
Of course, being an Islamic country, not many people eat pork. When I asked for permission to use the kitchen to cook some bacon for a party, the host mother let off a string of swearing to Allah so long I still haven’t heard the end of it. I have yet to be let back into the kitchen, probably for fear of infecting everything with my enjoyment of that dirty, dirty meat.
Meat here is cut fatty. I know, I know, fat is flavorful, but I’ve never much liked the texture. Most chunks of beef will be cut with at least half an inch of the fat still attached to it. The chicken here is even worse, with almost nothing cut from it. That would all be acceptable except that my family rarely serves meat outside of butter soup. Most days I eat butter and oil soup with fatty beef or chicken on the bone and almost whole potatoes swimming in there.
Vegetables are cheap and plentiful in the summer months, but the price skyrockets in the winter. Instead of fresh vegetables during that time, everything imaginable is pickled and kept for that time. It isn’t uncommon for me to eat a couple pickled garlic cloves at night during dinner.
The cheese here is good, strong and salty, just like I like it. Both goat and cow cheese are popular here. In Ceyranbatan I had some cheese that knocked my socks off and I have yet to encounter this same kind up here in Davachi. The common, cheap cheese is actually quite tasty, but I generally don’t buy it. The practice in the bazaar is for cheese customers to stick their fingers in the cheese to ‘try before you buy,’ generally resulting in me not wanting to eat the cheese.
Tea is common when guests visit, during the day whenever, but especially an hour or so after dinner. I usually am served ‘Earl Grey’ tea (as it says on the box), though I swear it isn’t Earl Grey at all. Unfortunately, I don’t know my teas well enough to tell what it is. On my first day with my Ceyranbatan host family, I probably drank 15 cups of steaming hot tea, resulting in my having to pee twice in the evening, three times that night and twice again in the morning. They should be a surgeon general’s warning on the box “Caution, this tea may result in exploding bladders.
The host family in Ceyranbatan generally cooked much better food than what I get here in Davachi, but since I don’t get much food from the family here in Davachi it kind of evens out. Instead, I buy my own food. Lavash is a cheap, tortilla like staple that goes well with vegetables inside of it and melted cheese (that I melt over my makeshift stove on the gas heater upstairs). I can get a decently size bag of not too sweet cookies for a manat. Sausage and some fruits (particularly mandarins) are cheap too. Generally this is what I eat/snack on when I don’t get butter soup from the family.
I’m not sure if there are any set recipes for the food here, but I’ll describe in general detail some of the most common foods in this country.
Of course, it is imperative that we start with dolma. In America, we think of dolma as Greek food, but here in Azerbaijan, it is a national dish. I’m not sure who came up with the idea, but they do dolma here quite a bit differently than the Greeks. Cabbage dolma is the most common I have seen so far, though my host family has it swimming in way too much butter for my liking. It is, simply, ground meat with rice and sometimes onions ground into it covered by cabbage. There is your traditional grape leaf dolma (just like in American Greek restaurants), tomato dolma, onion dolma, pepper dolma (almost like some chille rellenos I ate in Mexico, just not as spicy and without the awesome egg stuff they put on the outside), eggplants and my personal favorite, apple dolma.
Edt: Tofig, an Azerbaijani, added that Dolma is originally Turkish, not Greek. The name "dolma means 'filled' which came from originally authentic Turkish "doldurmag" which means to fill, so any food which is filled with something except stuffed turkey etc.. is called
dolma, it could be apple, or potatoes, and also eggplant, all of it is dolma."
This makes a lot of sense, especially if you consider historically the amount of Turkish emmigration and cultural exchange that happened all over Europe.
Ash and Plov:
Plov is buttery rice. In fact, a friend texted me today saying that plov was nothing special, just being oily rice and all.
Ground beef and onions mixed, sometimes breaded and fried. It is simple, tasty and usually served with fried potatoes.
My first Azeri teacher for some reason didn’t believe that my Ceyranbatan host family served me heart. Her reaction was weird because it is quite common, even here in Davachi for me to eat liver, heart and chicken gizzard (at least I thought that is what it was).
Yes, there is an awesome version of spaghetti here. Ground beef cooked with onions, peppers and carrots over tube pasta (here called Turkish pasta).
This drink is most definitely an acquired taste. Souring cream filled with dill. Fortunately my family here in Davachi puts a bunch of flour or something in it so that it isn’t so sour for me. I think that is what they do, I have yet to figure this drink out. It is a national dish though.
At first, Dushpara seems like meat ravioli swimming in butter soup. That’s the texture of it at least, but the ‘ravioli’ is more bread •like than pasta. This dish is cooked for people who are sick (and the one time I ate it, I had a nasty cold).
Meatballs (onions and rice included in the grinding process) swimming in butter soup with chick peas and potatoes. Very popular dish that I still eat about 2 times a week.
Same as kifta except with meat chunks instead of meatballs inside of the soup. I also eat this about 2 times a week. I’m so sick of bozbash…
Obviously their version of salad and is actually quite good. I’ve only seen it much in the summer, mostly because fresh vegetables are expensive in the winter. The different types of salat differ depending on who cooks it. Sometimes there is nut salad, sometimes beet salad. Many times potatoes are mashed, mixed with something like mayonnaise and used sort of as a paste that holds the rest of the vegetables together. Sometimes peas, thinly sliced carrots and other vegetables are mixed together with mayonnaise. Generally very tasty.
Sadly there isn’t a very large street food culture in this country. Most cities will have a Turkish donar place, most schools sell piroshkies in the cafeteria and the bigger cities will sell qutab and lamachun.
- Donar is served in either bread or lavash and has meat, vegetables and mayonnaise inside. Generally quite tasty and cheap.
- Piroshkies are cheap and during the school week become my staple morning time diet. They are friend bread filled with mashed potatoes. They cost 10 qepik for 1 and I usually buy 5 so that they’ll last me till lunch. In Baku there is a bakery that sells meat, cabbage and bean piroshkies too.
- Qutab is very tasty. They are cooked, sometimes fried, lavash filled with herbs or meat. I prefer the herb variety myself. A neighbor came by and made qutab for me and the family one day, and here they usually eat it with lots of butter and cream.
- Lamachun is a large, thin flatbread covered with cheese, meat and the optional herbs and lemon. This is by far my favorite street meal.