For Food Lovers: Azerbaijani Cuisine

Food plays an important role in Azerbaijan’s culture.  Throughout the centuries, Azerbaijani cuisine has been influenced by the foods of different cultures, though at the same time, it remained distinctive and unique. Many foods that are indigenous to the country can now be seen in the cuisines of other cultures. For the Azerbaijanis, food is an important part of the country’s culture and is deeply rooted in the history, traditions and values of the nation.

Out of 11 climate zones known in the world, nine zones lie within Azerbaijan.  This contributes to the fertility of the land, which in its turn results in the richness of the country’s cuisine. It is famous for an abundance of vegetables and greens used seasonally in the dishes.  Fresh herbs, including mint, coriander, dill, basil, parsley, tarragon, leek, chive, thyme, marjoram, green onion, and watercress are very popular and often accompany main dishes.

In Azerbaijan, people can eat well without spending a fortune on dining out.  Azeri culture displays an intriguing blend of influences from Turkey, the Middle East, Iran, Central Asia, and India.  Most towns in Azerbaijan have at least a handful of inexpensive yəmakxanəs, or food houses, as well as slightly more expensive restaurants catered to tourists-foreign or local.

Lamb, the staple ingredient in most Azerbaijani meals, is usually seasoned with saffron, cinnamon, and fresh coriander.  Dolma, badimcan dolmasi, dushbara (pictured, above), qutab, tika kabab, and qovurma are just a few traditional meals found in Azerbaijan that all typically include lamb.  Several soups, such as sulu khingal (lamb soup with noodles), also boast lamb as their main ingredient.

To accompany Azerbaijani entrées, numerous side dishes are often ordered or cooked at home for a meal.  Sometimes, these dishes will be chosen arbitrarily by the restaurant staff.  If someone does not want to eat one of the dishes, it must be sent back to avoid being charged on the final check.  To the right, you can see a number of Azerbaijani side dishes that typically would be served for lunch or dinner.

Outside of Baku, one will not likely find food houses that serve non-Azeri cuisine.  To find Chinese, Italian, or other cuisines from around the world, one must dine only in the capital.  Staying in Baku will also allow someone to experience the fast food experience of the West.  However, the “fast food” culture outside of Baku is not a burger-and-fries type of meal; Azerbaijani “fast food” cafes and kəbabxanəs (kebab houses) typically serve inexpensive sandwiches made with dönər or tikə kebab or qutab (meat and herb turnovers).

For sheer ambiance, seek out one of Azerbaijan’s caravanserai restaurants, where full cultural shows accompany your banquet.  To find one of these caravanserai restaurants, go to Baku’s Old City.  Mugham Club, in particular, would be a great caravanserai restaurant to visit because of its fame for local music performances and dances.

Azerbaijan also places high importance on fruits found from their region.  Every year a cultural festival is held in Goychay, Azerbaijan known as Pomegranate Festival.  The festival features Azerbaijani fruit-cuisine mainly the pomegranates from Goychay.  At the festival, a parade is held with traditional Azerbaijani dances and Azerbaijani music.  The Pomegranate Festival usually takes place in October.

All in all, Azerbaijan cuisine is not only is tasty but also good for your health – the evidence to this is a lot of long-livers and centenarians in the Republic.


Post written by Elizabeth Cavin Urquhart