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The food in Azerbaijan blends regional influences from Iran, Turkey and the Mediterranean. Dishes tend to be meat-based, especially mutton, with recipes passed down generations to give distinct flavours. If you’re visiting Azerbaijan, sample some of these traditional meals.
Plov, or Pilaf, is a traditional food in Azerbaijan as well as other places in Asia and Eastern Europe. Azerbaijani pilaf uses saffron-flavoured rice cooked with aromatic herbs, fried meat and vegetables. Different restaurants have their own styles, meaning you won’t get the same taste twice. Most restaurants serve Plov. Consider sampling it in Baku.
Kebab is a favourite of Azerbaijan cuisine, having similarities to Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Various kinds of seasoned meat and vegetables are skewered and barbequed. If you go for a meal with a local, more likely than not, you’ll have a kebab.
Lyulya Kebab is a particular type of kebab that consists of mouth-watering barbequed minced lamb on skewers.
If you have travelled around Eastern Europe and the Middle East, you’ve probably tasted halva. Azerbaijan’s version is different and is produced only in the mountainous region of Sheki. Few people know the secret recipe for this sugary confectionery, making it somewhat unique to the area.
Large meatballs boiled into a delicious broth with potatoes, peas and mutton bones make Kufta Bozbash one of the national soups of Azerbaijan. Depending on the region, chefs add different types of ingredients and spices to the broth, and sometimes include a dried plum.
Walk around the streets of Baku and you’ll probably pass a few shops barbequing and roasting chicken. Roast chicken costs a few dollars and is wrapped in thin sheets of bread with a handful of raw onions. Locals take away and eat at home.
Sheki’s signature dish, piti, provides a hearty meal for local workers. The lamb stew cooked with vegetables comes in a traditional clay pot, and fills stomachs for hours.
Minced lamb meat and rice infused with herbs and spices wrapped in either cabbage or vine leaves make Azeri Dolma. This type of Azeri food has more than 25 varieties depending on the region and the season. Dolma uses vine leaves in the winter and spring, eggplants and peppers during the summer and cabbage leaves in autumn.
Azerbaijan’s version of dumplings, dushbara, are small balls of stuffed dough served in a lamb broth. Typical fillings include minced meat, tomatoes and onions served with dried mint, wine vinegar and garlic.
The Caspian Sea provides an almost endless supply of fresh fish. Grilled fish, or baliq, on a skewer is a favourite food in Azerbaijan and is eaten with a sour plum sauce.
Dovga, a traditional Azeri dish, is a type of yoghurt soup with rice, chickpeas and herbs. Locals eat it either warm or cold.
Buckwheat makes a great alternative to grains and rice. The heavy, carbohydrate-rich food can be eaten for breakfast or served in a large bowl in the centre of the table.
This is another type of traditional soup using minced meat, boiled beans and noodles.
Qutab is a type of pancake filled with either meat, cheese or spinach. Forget sugary syrup–Azeri pancakes are savoury and eaten with a yoghurt sauce.
Lavangi is a favourite food in Azerbaijan. Walnuts, dried fruit and onions are stuffed inside either chicken or fish and roasted to create a tantalising fusion of flavours. You’ll find this Azeri dish in southern Azerbaijan, especially in Lankaran.
The white cheese, made from the milk of either goats or sheep, originates in the Caucasus Mountains. It tastes a little like feta. Motal Pendiri matures inside sheepskin and is hung to dry for several days. Eat in small amounts and expect an intense flavour.
Strings of smoked cheese are often eaten with beer and alcoholic drinks. The salty, chewy and smoky texture makes a great snack while imbibing. Smoked cheese isn’t a food unique to Azerbaijan, but enjoying in the same way as the locals is a cultural experience.
Pakhlava, also called Baklava, originates in the Middle East. The multi-layered sweet pastry stuffed with nuts and flooded with syrup makes a scrumptious treat. Locals eat Pakhlava during Novruz, the Iranian New Year in March, to celebrate the coming of spring.
Visit an Azeri home and you’ll immediately have a cup of tea in front of you and see large jars of jam on the table. Local women create the jam from various fruits, walnuts and occasionally rose petals.
A favourite drink in Azerbaijan is sherbet, made from boiled water, lemon and sugar. Either try the milk or fruit sherbet, which comes with ice, making a refreshing drink.
Black tea deserves a special mention as tea plays an integral part of Azerbaijan’s culture and traditions. Locals drink it with most meals, following an ancient ritual passed down from one generation to the next.