Azerbaijani cuisine is the cooking styles and dishes of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The cuisine is influenced by the country's diversity of agriculture, from abundant grasslands which historically allowed for a culture of pastoralism to develop, as well as to the unique geographical location of the country, which is situated on the crossroads of Europe and Asia with access to the Caspian Sea. The location has enabled the people to develop a varied diet rich in produce, milk products, and meat, including beef, mutton, fish and game. The location, which was contested by many historical kingdoms, khanates, and empires, also meant that Azerbaijani cuisine was influenced by the culinary traditions of multiple different cultures, including Turkic, Iranian, Armenian and Eastern European.

Features of Azerbaijan national cuisine

Azerbaijan's national cuisine is arguably closer to Middle Eastern cuisine due to the taste and preparation of the dishes, as well as adding a dark spice and flavor additives. Contemporary Azerbaijan cuisine retains the traditional methods of preparing dishes while incorporating modern cooking.[1]

Azerbaijani dishes have traditionally been cooked with copper utensils and cookware. Copper bowls and plates are still commonly used as serving dishes.[1]

Azerbaijani cuisine utilizes fruits and vegetables such as aubergine, tomato, sweet pepper, spinach, cabbage, onion, sorrel, beet, radish, cucumber, and green beans. Rice and products made from flour are widely used in national cuisine. Fresh herbs, including mint, coriander, dill, basil, parsley, tarragon, leek, chive, thyme, marjoram, green onion, and watercress often accompany main dishes. The majority of national dishes are made with lamb, beef and poultry meat. Dishes prepared of minced meat are also prevalent. The sea, lakes and rivers of Azerbaijan are abundant with different fish species, particularly the white sturgeon. Sturgeons are widely used in preparation of national dishes. Particularly, the Caspian Sea is home to many edible species of fish, including the sturgeon, Caspian salmon, kutum, sardines, grey mullet, and others. Black caviar from the Caspian Sea is one of Azerbaijan's best-known luxury foods.[1][2]

The typical Azerbaijani meal involves three courses. One of the basic dishes of Azerbaijani cuisine is plov prepared with saffron-covered rice, served with various herbs and greens, a combination distinct from those found in Uzbek plovs. Other second courses include a variety of kebabs and shashlik, including lamb, beef, chicken, duck and fish (baliq) kebabs. Sturgeon, a common fish, is normally skewered and grilled as a shashlik, served with a tart pomegranate sauce called narsharab. Dried fruits and walnuts are used in many dishes. The traditional condiments are salt, black pepper, sumac, and especially saffron, which is grown on the Absheron Peninsula domestically. The third courses include soups, of which there are more than 30 types. These include kufta bozbash, piti prepared of meat and dovga, ovdukh, dogramach, bolva prepared of greens and yoghurt.[3][4]

Black tea is the national beverage, and is drunk after food is eaten. It is also offered to guests as a gesture of welcome, often accompanied by fruit preserves.[4]

Breakfast

The Azerbaijani breakfast is heavy in dairy products such as butter, various types of white cheese, and cream, as well as honey, tandoori bread and eggs, traditionally prepared into kuku, but alternatively, also scrambled.[5] Eastern European breakfast traditions which were adopted under the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union are also occasionally seen in Azerbaijan households, with foods such as kasha, porridge, quark and crepes included on the breakfast table.

Light snacks

Azerbaijani light snacks

Azerbaijani cuisine has a number of light snacks and side dishes to open or accompany the main meals: a plate of green leaves called goy, pieces of bread, choban (a tomato and cucumber salad), white cheese or qatiq and pickles.[6] This culinary tradition is similar to Turkish meze. The richer main courses such as soups, meats and plov are served afterwards.[6]

Dishes

Dolma
Badımcan dolması
Dushbara
Dovga
Gürzə

Meat

Azerbaijani cuisine included large amounts of beef and game. Consumption of camel meat was also widespread, although it has become increasingly rare in modern times. In order to preserve meat, it was historically jerked, or alternatively, roasted and stuffed into jars or animal stomachs. Apart from the cuts of meat, Azerbaijani cuisine features the use of head, legs, tails and intestines of animals in numerous dishes.[7]

Azerbaijani cuisine features a variety of meat dishes such as bozbash (parchabozbash, kuftebozbash, qovurmabozbash), piti (sheki piti), and kebabs. A variety of lamb dishes are also commonly eaten, traditionally during celebrations such as Nowruz. Meatball dishes and forms of dolma are regularly eaten as well. On particularly special occasions, local goose, turkey, duck, quail and pheasant meats are also cooked and consumed.

Azerbaijani cuisine also features a variety of seafood, especially fish which is obtained from the Caspian Sea as well as the Kura and Aras rivers. Fish is prepared in a variety of ways: stuffed, chopped, dried, grilled, fried, boiled, cooked in the oven, cooked on skewers, cooked in tandoors, cooked into plovs, and in other ways depending on the occasion and personal preferences.[7]

Name Description
Balıq Fish, usually sturgeon, normally skewered and grilled as a kebab, is served with a tart sour-plum sauce.
Dolma The traditional recipe calls for minced lamb or beef mixed with rice and flavoured with mint, fennel, and cinnamon, and wrapped in vine leaves (yarpaq dolması) or cabbage leaves (kələm dolması). There are also sour sweet cabbage dolma (turş şirin kələm dolması) and eggplant dolma (qarabadımcan dolması).
Badımcan Dolması Tomato, sweet pepper, and aubergine stuffed with minced lamb or beef mixed with chickpeas.
Dushbara Small dumplings stuffed with minced lamb and herbs, served in broth.
Lavangi stuffed chicken or fish with onions, walnuts, raisins, albukhara, and alcha seasoning. A specialty of the Talysh region in southern Azerbaijan, but very difficult to find common in restaurants.
Lula kebab A mixture of mutton, herbs, and spices squeezed around a skewer and barbecued, often served with lavash (thin sheets of unleavened bread).
Qutab A sort of pancake turnover stuffed with minced lamb, cheese, or spinach.
Qovurma Pieces of mutton or lamb on the bone (blade chops) stewed with onions, tomatoes, and saffron.[8] There is also sabzi qovurma, a lamb stew with herbs.
Sogan dolmasi The term dolma covers a variety of stuffed vegetable dishes, widespread in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Onion dolma are a tasty winter alternative to stuffed aubergines, tomatoes, and peppers.[9]

Soups

Soups in Azerbaijan tend to have a thicker consistency and a larger ratio of dry ingredients to broth.[7] A common feature of numerous Azerbaijani soups is that the soup serves the role of both the first and second courses[7] – the soup is served in a large portion and the broth is drunk first as a starter, and then the dry ingredients of the soup such as the potatoes, meat, chickpeas and large vegetable chunks are consumed as a second course together with bread.

Another characteristic featured in several Azerbaijani soups is the use of finely cut mutton tails which are added soups. Tomato paste and tomato puree are rarely used in Azerbaijani soups and instead are substituted with fresh local tomatoes during the summer.[7] During winter, local tomatoes are not widely available and so frequently substituted with dried cherries. Spices such as saffron and turmeric powder are also traditionally used in Azerbaijani soups.

Name Description
Piti The national soup of Azerbaijan made from pieces of mutton on the bone, cooked with vegetables in a broth; prepared and served in individual crocks.
Dovga A yogurt-based soup with sorrel, spinach, rice, dried peas, and small meatballs made from ground mutton; served hot or cold depending on the season.[10]
Ovdukh A cold soup based on a matsoni–water mixture poured over sliced cucumbers, chopped boiled meat, quarters of hard-boiled egg, and greens (dill, coriander, basil, tarragon, and sometimes mint).[11]
Dogramach Same as ovdukh, but without the meat.[11]

Types of plov

Azerbaijani pilaf. Left: gara (lamb, halved apricots, plums, apricot seeds). Right: rice (partially colored with turmeric).
Shah pilaf[12]

Plov is one of the most widespread dishes in Azerbaijan. They are usually prepared with vegetables, meats and spices. In Azerbaijani tradition, it is customary that the household prepares a plov for guests visiting the house.[13] They are typically served in a large metal or porcelain bowl covered with a lid to keep it warm. The type of rice used to make the plov varies from one recipe to another and depends on personal preferences. Since plov is a heavy, fatty food, it is traditionally served together with sour drinks such as ayran, black tea with lemon, or verjuice. Plovs have different names depending on the main ingredients accompanying the rice:

Name Ingredients
Sabzi qovurma plov Mutton plov
Sheshryanch plov Six-color plov, eggs cooked "sunny side up" on a bed of fried green and white onions.[10]

Azerbaijani plov consists of three components[clarification needed], served simultaneously but on separate platters: rice (warm, never hot), gara, fried meat, dried fruits, eggs, or fish prepared as an accompaniment to rice, and aromatic herbs. Rice is not mixed with the other components even when eating plov.[14]

Spices

Spices play an important role in Azerbaijani cuisine, especially saffron which is used in over 50 dishes.[15] Other spices widely used in Azerbaijani cuisine include anise, cumin, cinnamon, thyme, coriander seeds, curcuma, sumac, caraway, bay leaves, mint, dill, parsley, celery, tarragon, and basil.[16]

Desserts

Quba pakhlavasi
Shekerbura
Badambura[17]
Shorgoghal
Shorgoghal

Typical Azerbaijani desserts are sticky, syrup-saturated pastries such as pakhlava and Shaki halva. The former, a layer of chopped nuts sandwiched between mats of thread-like fried dough, is a specialty of Shaki in northwest Azerbaijan. Other traditional pastries include shekerbura (crescent-shaped and filled with nuts), and girmapadam (pastry filled with chopped nuts).

Sweets are generally bought from a pastry shop and eaten at home or on special occasions such as weddings and wakes. The usual conclusion to a restaurant meal is a plate of fresh fruit that is in season, such as plums, cherries, apricots, or grapes.

In March 2009, Azerbaijani bakers achieved an entry in the CIS book of records for baking the biggest and heaviest pakhlava in the CIS, weighing about 3 tons. More than 7 thousand eggs, 350 kg of nuts, 20 kg of almonds, 350 kg of sugar, and the same amount of flour was used in the preparation of the pastry.[18]

Name Description
Pakhlava The name of this pastry is derived from its diamond shape, symbolizing fire, which is called pakhla by Azerbaijani carpet specialists. It is one of the festive sweets baked on the eve of the arrival of Spring- the Nowruz holiday to honour the sun.
Shekerbura Shekerbura is a Azerbaijani sweet pastry, filled with ground almonds, hazelnuts, or walnuts. The name for this crescent-shaped pastry comes from Persian shekar bureh شکربوره. Shekar means sugar in Persian and Bureh is a word that goes back to the Middle Persian *Bōrak. This word ultimately goes back to the Proto-Indo-European root *bher- which meant "to carve, cut, split,".[19] In Azerbaijan, it usually involves the teamwork. This pastry typically gets served at novruz.
Samani halva Samani halva is made from malted wheat, and can be best described as a spicy, gooey, chewy treat.[20]
Shorgoghal Another Novruz delicacy, Shorgoghal is a flaky pastry filled with turmeric, anise, caraway, cinnamon and black pepper.
Badambura Badambura is a pastry filled with plain ground sugar, almonds, cardamom, and vanilla.[21]

Dairy products

Qatiq

Milk and dairy products play an important role in the Azerbaijani diet. Milk, butter, cream, sour cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, buttermilk, dovga, ayran, qatiq, qurut, suzme, and other dairy products are regularly consumed in the morning, as a snack, and even incorporated into lunch and dinner. Cow's milk is most often used to produce local dairy products, however sheep's milk is also sometimes used and goats' milk is consumed for its perceived health benefits. Rural communities in Azerbaijan produce local butter, buttermilk and cheeses using traditional churning techniques.

Name Description
Ayran A savory dairy drink. It is served cold.
Qatiq A fermented, savory milk product. It is typically eaten with Qutabs or with bread.
Qurut It is made from grain mixed with sour milk or yogurt.
Dovga A yoghurt-based soup cooked with a variety of herbs. Coriander, dill, mint and rice are mainstays of the soup.
Ayran

Breads

Salyan çörəyi (tandoor bread)

Different types of bread are baked in Azerbaijan: flatbread, lavash, sengek, xamrali, thick, thin, crepes, cakes, and tandoor bread. During the meeting held in Ethiopia, the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage decided to include lavash in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of the organization.[22][23]

Non-alcoholic beverages

Black tea in armudu stekan (pear-shaped glasses)

Black tea is a popular drink in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani people usually prefer tea made in a samovar. Jam (Murabba) is often added to the tea as a sweetener.

Ayran is a cold yogurt beverage mixed with salt.

Locally made brands of bottled water include the following:[24]

Brand Origin Originating area
Qax Qakh district North[25]
Kakh

Alcoholic beverages

Unlike multiple other countries with a predominantly Muslim population, alcohol consumption in Azerbaijan is entirely legal, and a variety of alcoholic drinks, both locally produced and imported can be found in shops and bars across the country. Although alcohol consumption in Azerbaijan is relatively moderate,[26] alcoholic drinks still play a part in nightlife, festivities and celebrations.

Wine

Chabiand Azerbaijani wine

Main article: Azerbaijani wine

Azerbaijan produces wine locally. In the Khanlar district of the Azerbaijan Republic, for example, archeologists have found jars buried with the remains of wine dating back to the 2nd millennium BC. One of the most ancient and notable regions known for its wine-making produce is Tovuz in northwestern Azerbaijan. Archeological findings in this region speak of ancient vessels for wine storage, stones and remains of tartaric acid used for wine-growing.[27]

The contemporary wine-making in Azerbaijan is seen in Ganja-Qazakh and Shirvan economic zones.[28] Vineyards in these regions account to about 7% of the country's cultivated land. The regions are famous for 17 vines and 16 table grape varieties, the most common of the wine cultivars being Pinot Noir.[29][30]

Beer

Main article: Beer in Azerbaijan

Beer in Azerbaijan is typified by lighter lagers. Of the domestically produced beers, the most widely distributed is Xirdalan named after the city of Xırdalan in Azerbaijan, formerly brewed by Baki-Castel (BGI) but bought by Baltika in 2008. In February 2017 company was renamed to Carlsberg Azerbaijan.[31] As a sponsor of Baku's Eurovision Song Contest, Xirdalan issued special commemorative Eurovision cans and bottles in 2012. Other widespread, locally produced brands include Novxanı, NZS, Afsana and Annenfeld. Beer popularity continues to grow in Azerbaijan as of 2018 and there are plans to fully localize malt processing for beer production, with a new malt processing plant being planned to be launched in 2024.[32] Unlike almost all CIS countries, the beer bottles in Azerbaijan are marked with excise duty sticker.

See also

References

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