Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Food of Azerbaijan.

Tava (fish) kebab.  (Photo from advantour.com)

Both Pat and I love good food. As much as we enjoyed our visit to Central Asia, the same cannot be said of the food. Sorry, but we were not fans of plov, lagman or manti.  We did like the shashlyk, especially when it was pork shashlyk but in countries where pork is rarely eaten, it was a real treat for us when we got to eat it.

Before we left for Central Asia, Pat and I headed to an Uzbek restaurant in Brooklyn, New York to try out the food.  For this trip, we have been to an Armenian restaurant but not Azeri or Georgian.

Lamb Rice Pilaff.  The meat is cooked with apricots, plums, and apricot seeds.
(Photo by Шнапс. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)

Azeri food is influenced by the cuisines of Georgia, Iran, Turkey, and Central Asia.  So, no surprise that it is heavy on meat - especially lamb, beef, mutton and poultry.  I will say it outright - I don't like mutton and unless it's good spring lamb....like what we get from Australia, I'm not much of a lamb fan either.  It's going to be a lot of beef and chicken for me.  I'm hoping that since the country borders the Caspian Sea that we'll get some nice fish as well.....something we didn't have when we were in Central Asia.

Rice Pilaff.  Like the Central Asian countries, the *king* of dishes in Azerbaijan is rice pilaff aka plov in Central Asia.  I had my fair share of plov in Central Asia but apparently the Azeri version is different so I guess I will have to try some.  Pilaff in Azerbaijan is fried rice with meat and veggies and even fruit and can be spiced with saffron as well as coriander, fennel, mint and parsley.  I'm not keen on eating meat cooked with fruits so I will be staying away from those menu items.

Dolma.
(Photo by MrArifnajafov.  Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)
Whereas Uzbek plov is cooked in oil in one pot, the rice and the various seasonings of the Azeri pilaff are cooked in separate pots and often served separately.  There are over 100 different kinds of Azeri pilaff; some of the most popular are:  chicken pilaff, shuyud pilaff (chopped dill), kishmish pilaff (raisins), sudlu ash (milk), giyma pilaff (finely chopped meat, potatoes and yellow split peas), sabzi pilaff (greens) and fisinjan (pomegranate syrup, walnuts and chicken).

Yarpag Dolmasy (aka dolmas or stuffed grape leaves).  I love, love, love stuffed grape leaves.  It's the one dish that I will glad devour minced lamb.  In Azerbaijan, they also wrap the lamb and rice mixture inside cabbage leaves.  The dolmas are spiced with coriander, dill, mint, pepper, cinnamon and melted butter and served with a sour milk sauce.  Hmmm.....not sure about the sour milk.

Kebabs.  Oh yeah.  Grilled meat on a stick.  Two thumbs up for this, especially if we can find a pork version.  Otherwise, it's beef for me and then lamb.  I think because of the country's location next to the Caspian sea, sturgeon kebab often shows up on the menu.  If it's not pricey, I'm definitely going to try it!

Dushbara.  (Photo from Cooked Earth)
Bosartma translates as stewed lamb.  In Azerbaijan, the meat is stewed with vegetables and cherry plums and served with lemon slices and cucumbers.  Given that I don't like my meat cooked with fruit, I would take a taste of bosartma off of someone else's plate but I don't think I will order a full dish for myself.

Dushbara aka meat dumplings.  Azeri dumplings are small in size and typically served in a broth.  Perfect comfort food.  I don't think you can go wrong with meat dumplings.....unless they're filled with mutton and there's loads of sheep fat in the soup.  Otherwise, I will be downing these whenever possible!
 

Kutab.
(Photo by MrArifnajafov.  Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)
Kutab.  Continuing on the meat inside dough vein, kutabs are among the most popular Azeri dishes  A kutab is essentially a lavash filled with savory stuffing while still raw, then folded in half and pan-fried. It is often served with a sprinkling of sumac on top, a red spice which imparts a lemony note.  This sounds delicious!

Soups.  Azeri cuisine is also full of soup options including the ever popular piti soup which is made of mutton and peas and served in individual earthenware crocks; dogva soup which is a creamy soup made of vegetables and yogurt and served with meatballs and herbs; kiufta-bosbash soup which is a clear soup with meat balls, rice peas and potatoes; dooshbere soup which has an Azeri version of ravioli in it, and last but not least, khamrachi which is a noodle soup.

Salads.  It's not all about meat in Azerbaijan.  Veggies are loved as well, especially salads made with fresh tomatoes, cucumber, and peppers flavored with coriander and basil.  Beets, which I love, are also a favorite.

Shekerbura.
(Photo by Urek Meniashvili. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via  Wikimedia Commons.)
Bread is served with most meals, the most common are the round loaves called *chorek* though lavash is also commonly served.  I wonder if their bread will be as delicious as the non we had in Uzbekistan.  If it is, I will be eating a lot of it!

Desserts and Tea.  I've not got much of a sweet tooth but I will give them a try, especially shekerbura, a popular Azerbaijani sweet pastry, filled with ground almonds, hazelnuts, or walnuts.

Tea is mainly black tea and it comes served in glasses that reminiscent of the tulip shaped ones that you find all over Turkey. 

Khash.  Breakfast Azeri style.  I think this might be the one thing that even this, adventurous eater, might have to really be coaxed into trying.  It's a dish of boiled cow or sheep's feet and/or head.  Not really my idea of breakfast.  Maybe for lunch??

Caviar.  I unshamedly love the stuff and because it's so expensive, I've only had the black caviar rare few times in my life.  Azerbaijan is one of the world's exporters of sturgeon caviar and while there is a lot of both political and environmental controversy around caviar, I am going to turn a blind eye and have some.  I'm not a caviar connoisseur so I don't know the difference between beluga, osetra and sevruga caviar but apparently, beluga is rare in Azerbaijan presumably because osetra and sevruga sturgeons are more commonly found in the waters near the country.  Most of the caviar is canned but apparently you can also eat fresh caviar though that is illegally poached.  We will not eat the fresh stuff but if we can get our hands on a reasonably priced, small can, I'll spring for it.  We've saved dollars on other aspects of this trip that we can easily afford the occasional splurge.  We're also allowed to take up to 125g of caviar out of the country so I might bring some home with me as well. 

There's definitely a nice variety of dishes in the cuisine of Azerbaijan.  For me, there will be some likes and some....hmmm, not so good plates.  I'm still looking forward to digging in to a meal!