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AZERBAIJAN: Discover a land of flavour!

A taste of modern heritage

Sitting at the confluence of cultures on the historic Silk Road, Azerbaijan’s cuisine is informed by its fascinating past. Add to that a bountiful natural larder nurtured by nine climate zones and you’ve got something really special. Distinct regional food traditions are highly prized and shared with visitors, inspiring an enchanting, flavour-filled journey through a diverse land.

Within the world of Azerbaijani cuisine, plov and dolma are classics, showcasing the country’s culinary richness and the artistry of its people. Let’s start with dolma, a dish traditionally made from grape leaves stuffed with various fillings of meat and rice, enriched with herbs or nuts – the ingredients vary from region to region and roll with the flavours of the season. Then there’s the iconic plov, a fragrant masterpiece crafted from a delightful blend of rice, herbs, meat or fish, and often complemented by dried fruits and golden-hued saffron. Each variation of plov carries a distinct regional identity, with ingredients and preparations that vary significantly across the country. Take fisinjan, featuring ground meat and a pomegranate and nut sauce, or shirin plov, heavy on the dried fruit. Then there’s shah plov, which sees the rice encased in buttery lavash bread. In Lankaran, you’ll find it enriched with lentil and pumpkin, while in Karabakh, dill is the lead herb. Different cooking techniques and rices (sadri and akule are typical) yield different nuances throughout, offering a world of flavour to discover.

Azerbaijanis have long mastered the art of the barbecue, matching taste and texture expertly and allowing each dish to tell the story of the rich cultural heritage of the region. Skilful cooking techniques bring everyday dishes to life – once sampled, you’ll never forget the tenderness of kebabs such as lamb tike, or lula, made with ground meat or chicken, grilled mangal-style for extra succulence. Another favourite, qutabs, are flatbreads stuffed with meats, cheeses, herbs or greens and cooked on a saj (iron disc), sometimes rolled up and eaten by hand and always bursting with flavour. In the Absheron region they like to drizzle their qutabs with melted butter and serve them with pomegranate and yoghurt, or sometimes sumac for the ultimate savoury hit.

There’s a bone fide litany of flavour at every juncture, from piti (Sheki’s signature lamb stew with chickpeas, dried cherries and saffron) and dushbara soup with little meatballs served with a vinegar and garlic sauce, to the Caucasus’ tskan meat pies and Gusar’s shakuka (a flavoursome bread-oven flatbread). Nakhchivan favours tender lamb-based qovurma shorbasi – with the qovurma preserved underground in earthenware pots in the time-honoured way – and sweet almond-rich badambura (a flaky pastry with redolent cardamom).

Whatever you’re looking for, stalls heavy with produce will ensure you find it. Nuts from the north-west region, fruits from Nakhchivan, mountain honeys, fragrant spices and herbs – cinnamon, Absheron saffron, sumac, cardamom, cloves, dill, thyme, mint, coriander – all have an essential place in the Azerbaijani kitchen. Chefs and home cooks browse for ingredients to use in much-loved pakhlava (diamond-shaped layers of dough, stuffed with nuts and coated with honey or syrup), dovga (a yoghurt-based herb soup), plov and tike kebab. Fresh vegetables and greens pile high ready to be whipped up into the likes of choban salads, while fresh seafood (including sturgeon), lamb and local cheeses are omnipresent. You’ll even find caviar, often enjoyed as a starter. Then there’s bread – a sacrosanct item on Azerbaijani tables seen in myriad forms – lavash, xengek, shirin chorek, tendir – with baking traditions as old as time. For a true sense of local culinary colour, you’ll be hard-pushed to find anywhere to top it.

You can learn more about the wonders of Azerbaijan on the Azerbaijan.travel website – it will help travelers prepare for their trip, plan interesting routes, and find a lot of useful information.

 

 

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