Nicknamed as the ‘Land of Fire’, Azerbaijan is a world of contrasts. It is a nexus of ancient historical empires with influences from the modern world. Sharing a border with Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Iran and Türkiye, the Azeri cuisine is a colourful amalgamation of influences from these countries. The ‘Land of Fire’ is blessed with a cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables, fragrant spices, and juicy, seasoned meats. Azerbaijanis love to cook their food with fresh ingredients, flavorful herbs, and aromatic spices. This makes for some truly unique flavours and delectable dishes to try in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijani food is famous for its innovative and ingenious use of seasonal vegetables and fruits like pomegranates, peaches, figs, citrus fruits, etc. The way Azeris use the seasonal produce is quite unique. For eg., apart from desserts, fresh fruits are often used to elevate the acidic or sour elements in savoury dishes. Seasonal vegetables are either tossed into a zesty salad or are enjoyed as wraps stuffed with juicy meats. And the versatile use of nuts and dry fruits in the form of garnish, stuffing and even sauces will amaze you.
Let’s dive into this fascinating cuisine and discover 7 traditional dishes to try in Azerbaijan that you just can’t resist.
Dishes To Try In Azerbaijan – Top 7
With 30+ interpretations, Plov, traditionally known as Pilaf, is the king of Azerbaijani cuisine. Some variations of plovs are prepared as a one-pot dish where all the flavour develops in one pot. Other variations consists of two separate dishes of long-grained rice paired with rich curries prepared with meat, dry fruits, nuts, and caramelised onions to add layers of flavour.
Holding a royal place in the pantheon of plovs is the Shah Plov (King Plov). Shah plov is made by encasing the saffron-infused rice in a crisp, flaky ghee-laden lavash. While serving, the crust is cut open to resemble a crown! The name Shah Plov is derived from the crown-like appearance of the plov. The encased rice is accompanied by meat, dried fruits, chestnuts, and fried onion. Flavoured with the delicate flavours of succulent meat, crispy bits of lavash, and sweet and sour dried fruits, Shah Plov is amongst the most eminent dishes of Azeri Cuisine.
Originating in the city of Sheki, Piti is a broth made from fatty mutton, chickpeas, tomatoes, chestnuts, and potatoes. Saffron-infused water and dried cherry plum add to Piti’s mellow and subtle flavour profile. Traditionally simmered for nine hours, Piti is slow-cooked food at its finest. This rich and hearty stew owes its distinctive taste to the clay pot in which it’s cooked and served.
Traditionally, Piti makes up two courses and is one of the most famed dishes to try In Azerbaijan. For the first course, one must place pieces of torn bread in a bowl, garnish it with sumac, and pour the broth from the Piti pot on top of the bread. The leftover deliciousness can be savored as the second course. The best place to try Piti is in Sheki, the spiritual home of this dish.
Treat your palette to a unique culinary experience with a delectable, mouthwatering Azeri barbecue. A saj platter is Azerbaijan’s take on barbecue. It transforms different meats and vegetables into a flavorful family meal! Chicken, lamb, veal, fish, etc. is arranged in the centre of the saj (a flat pan) and is cooked over hot coals. An assortment of vegetables including slices of delicious fried eggplant, thinly sliced potatoes, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, and chilli accompany the meat.. A dollop of ghee and flavourful meat broth is added to the pan that melds with the vegetable juices to create a moreish chef-d’oeuvre!
Representing the flavour of Baku, Levengi is a succulent dish. Traditionally used as a stuffing, Levengi is a flavourful mix of caramelised onions, walnuts, dried fruits. aromatic spices, etc. Azeris use cherry plum and sour prune seasoning to add an additional layer of flavor to the dish. Traditionally, Levengi often serves as a stuffing for fish, duck and chicken and pairs perfectly with rice pilafs.
Dolma is one of the must-try dishes to savor on your visit to Azerbaijan. It is a medley of flavours, prepared with garden fresh veggies, fresh produce, and aromatic spices. This traditional snack is a delectable mix of ground meat, onions, rice, fresh herbs, and aromatics like cilantro, dill, and mint stuffed into fresh grape leaves and vegetables like peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, etc. These bite-sized bundles of deliciousness are rolled together and slow-cooked to perfection.
Jam and Tea
Tea is inextricably woven into the rich food culture of Azerbaijan. A ritual of sorts, tea punctuates the day in Azerbaijan. Usually, it is what concludes business meetings and meals. One must experience an authentic Azerbaijani tea ceremony at traditional tea houses or as the locals call it, cay khanas. The tea in cay khanas is served with delicious jams, lemon slices and lots of discussions. It is the very raison d’etre of tea houses. Contrary to adding sugar to their tea, Azeris eat a spoonful of jam to sweeten the palate and sip the tea through the jam. The traditional Azerbaijani tea ceremony elevates the experience of tea from the ordinary to the gourmet.
Azerbaijan is a paradise for those who love to indulge their sweet tooth. Apart from an astounding variety of jams, ranging from juicy cherries and plums to fragrant rose petals, one of the most well-known desserts is Pakhlav. It is the Azeri variation of baklava. Crunchy dry fruits and toasted nuts make for a delicious stuffing of this multi-layered pastry. The pastry is soaked in aromatic syrup to create a sweet, sticky, scrumptious delight that melts in your mouth. Locals are often seen enjoying Pakhlava during Novruz., the Iranian New Year.