I love how different cultures can broaden our way of perceiving not only the world but ourselves as well. Thus, I feel really greatful for having the chance to spend a few years living in Azerbaijan and diving into its traditions and everyday habits together with my family.
Today I want to share with you some of the top foods that you should try while visiting the country. Azerbaijani cuisine is very delicious; it uses a wide variety of spices, greens and meat, and is deeply rooted in the national identity of the country. The table is usually set with warm bread (tendir bread, lavash and/or flatbread), fresh herbs and greens (tarragon, mint, dill, parsley, green onion, etc.), vegetables (cucumbers, tomatoes), cheese plates, sour yogurt plates, and other cold starters, which are followed by abundant and filling meal.
People in Azerbaijan cherish their cuisine and are always willing to share it with others. One of the things that always astounds me is their desire to show how the food is prepared instead of just handing you the recipe. They perceive cooking as a way of bonding and if you decide to ask for a recipe you’ll almost always be invited over in order to witness the cooking process and enjoy the meal in the good company of the local people.
Below I will list 10 of the most famous and must-try foods in Azerbaijan. I advice you to give them a try even if you feel a bit skeptical and you doubt whether your taste will match with some of the meals. People in Azerbaijan cook really well, and I’ve always (always!) been pleasantly surprised with the deliciousness of every meal.
10 must-try foods in Azerbaijan
Kebab & Shashlik
Meat is an essential part of Azerbaijani cuisine. Almost all dishes are prepared with lamb, beef and/or poultry meat. Lyulya kebab is one of the most famous national meals and is prepared with mutton minced meat, herbs and spices. There’re also chicken kebab, potato kebab, etc. The main difference between a kebab and a shashlik is that kebab is usually prepared with minced meat (but not always), and shashlik is made with chunks of skewered meat (lamb, beef, chicken, fish). They are often served with lavash (very thin and soft bread), fresh greens, and sumac. Fish is often accompanied by pomegranate or plum souse.
Qutab is a thinly rolled dough, stuffed with greens, minced meat, pumpkin or cheese, and folded into a crescent shape. It can be served as a light snack, but also as a main dish. Qutabs are often sprinkled with sumac and accompanied by yogurt.
Piti is a very interesting Azerbaijani national soup. It is cooked in earthenware pots and depending on the region where it’s prepared there’re many different variations. The most typical for Azerbaijan is the Sheki Piti. It is made with mutton pieces, vegetables and broth and is eaten with bread. A traditional way of eating Piti is by crumbling the bread in an empty plate, and then pouring the broth (first) and then vegetables over it.
Plov (pilaf) is probably one of the most famous Azerbaijani dishes, and there’re numerous variations of it, each of which bears its own name. Rice is the main ingredient accompanied by meat, dried fruits, chestnuts, eggs, and greens. When I asked friends to name some of the most emblematic meals of Azerbaijan, they all agreed on Shakh Plov being one of the most remarkable ones (The King of Azerbaijani Pilaf). What’s interesting about it is that it is cooked inside of a closed pocket made from lavash.
Similar to plov, there’re many different ways to prepare dolma. In its essence, this is a meal with minced lamb meat (sometimes mixed with rice) rolled inside cabbage or vine leaves. However, you will very often encounter dolma prepared only with meat (lamb or beef). What’s fascinating is that the rolled pieces of dolma are so small and perfectly folded that you can easily each a bunch of them in no time. 🙂
There’s also the so called Badımcan dolması, which consists of three different vegetables (eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes) stuffed with minced meat (most often – lamb) and sometimes mixed with chickpeas.
Dushbara are little dough dumplings filled with minced meat and cooked in a flavorful lamb broth. The soup is absolutely delicious, and every woman in Azerbaijan can make it. The art of it is to make the dumplings as little as possible, striving to fit 10 of them into 1 tablespoon. 🙂
Lavangi is a baked stuffed chicken (or fish) with walnuts and onions. It is most emblematic for the southern part of the country, especially for the Lankaran and Neftchala districts.
Pakhlava is one of the most famous desserts in Azerbaijan and is also often served with tea. It’s a sweet pastry in a diamond shape filled with walnuts or almonds. It’s one of the three main sweets and pastries cooked on the traditional spring holiday in Azerbaijan – Nowruz, representing the fire.
Shekerbura is a crescent-shaped pastry filled with nuts, sugar and cardamom. Just like pakhlava, it is also an integral part of the national Azerbaijani cuisine as well as one of the most emblematic foods prepared for the holiday of Nowruz, representing the moon. Its preparation gathers relatives and friends together. The decoration on the top of the shekerburas is made using specific tweezers called maqash.
10. Shor Gogal
Shor Gogal is a non-sweet pastry with aromatic filling made by turmeric, fennel seeds, anise seeds, and other spices. Together with the other two desserts (pakhlava and shekerbura) it makes for the perfect Nowruz setting. Shor gogal represents the sun.
I hope you will get a chance to try all of the deliciousness listed above, as well as other interesting and flavorful foods, while you’re spending time in Azerbaijan. If you’re still planning your trip, don’t miss my post on what to see in Baku.