Put a country in the middle of two great continents and what do you get? Delicious foods. Eating and drinking in Azerbaijan promises a delightful dining experience involving Turkish, Persian, and Central Asian dishes.
Azerbaijan is found between Europe and Asia, specifically just below Russia and on top of Iran. To its east is the Caspian Sea and to the west are two other former Soviet states, Georgia and Armenia. Azerbaijan is a beautiful country that is known for its ancient heritage, colorful Eastern culture and cheap caviar.
Caviar is an expensive luxury food that could cost up to $500 per hundred grams in American and European restaurants or up to $10,000 per kg depending on quality. In the city of Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, a hundred grams only cost about $30!
Caviar is cheap here not because it is poor quality but because the country is located by the Caspian Sea. This luxury food that is composed of fish eggs was originally made only of wild sturgeon eggs that were found in the Caspian. The best, most expensive and most sought-after caviar products are still found in Baku, but foreign tourists are not allowed to take more than 200 grams of caviar out of the country.
While tourists can enjoy the cheapest best-quality caviar in Azerbaijan, there are other interesting foods to enjoy. The most popular local specialties are lyulya kebab, which is spicy lamb skewers; dograma, a cold milky soup with potato, cucumber and onion; piti, a mutton and chickpea soup; kutab pancakes; and the savory badimjan dolmasi, which is mutton in sour cream with tomatoes and basil. Every foreign tourist should try some or all of these local delicacies.
Meanwhile, the most common dish that tourists are sure to see and taste is plov, which is rice mixed with greens, herbs and chicken, lamb or fish. Also common are bread with local white cheese, kabob, lamb, beef, root vegetables, and plenty of potatoes.
These are all delicious and unique, unlike any dishes in the West. The only downside to Azerbaijani food is that they are served organic; too organic that they sometimes still have dirt. Meat and poultry are butchered in unsanitary open spaces and transported on equally unsanitary vehicles. For tourists with weak stomach, there are a couple of McDonalds and other Western restaurants in the capital city.
Local markets in and around Baku are also known for their fresh vegetables and fruits. Open markets are called souks and they are often overflowing with fresh, locally grown vegetables. The Azeri people love their greens and herbs, which is why most of their foods and drinks are garnished with different herbs, such as parsley, basil, green onion, coriander, and leek, to name a few.
To down the foods, Azeri people love their sour milk, tea or chay and Sherbet, a locally produced soda that is made up of sugar, lemon, saffron, and mint. Black tea is casually sipped any time of the day and is typically offered to visiting friends, family or guests. Men enjoy sipping tea for hours while playing backgammon inside a chaikhana or tea house.
Finally, eating and drinking in Azerbaijan becomes more interesting with alcohol. Although most Azeris are Muslims, Islam is not the official religion and so alcohol is not prohibited. Locally produced wines and spirits are widely sold and largely available.