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Azerbaijan Cuisine, Food

General info

Food is an important part of Azerbaijan culture, and it is possible to eat well with out spending a fortune. Azeri cuisine displays an intriguing blend of influences from Turkey, the Middle East, Iran, Central Asia and even India. Lamb is the staple ingredient, and typical seasonings include saffron, cinnamon and fresh coriander.

Most towns of any size have at least couple of cheap yemakhanas (food houses and anywhere that attracts tourists - foreign or local - will have a selection of slightly more expensive restaurants.



A yemakhana is the cheapest and most basic type of eatery, often tacked onto a Chayhana (teahouse).

Fast Food


The term 'fast food' has caught on in Azer­baijan, though it doesn't just refer to west­ern-style burgers and fried chicken, although these are widely available in Baki. Street stalls, 'fast food' cafes and kebab-hanas (kebab houses) offer cheap and tasty sandwiches made with donar or tiks kebab, as well as qutab (meat and herb turnovers). Prices range from 50cents to $2.


Azeri Restaurants


Somewhat more upmarket is the traditional Azeri restoran, which can range from an open-air riverside barbecue aimed at local people out for a weekend treat, to a con­verted caravanserai aimed squarely at the tourist market. The classic spread at these places is a mixture of shashlyk, lyulya kabab-and barbecued chicken accompanied by greens, tomato and cucumber salad, bread, yoghurt, cheese, fruit and nuts.


When ordering in such places, many side dishes will be brought to your table - be sure to send back any that you don't want-or else you will be charged for them.

Cost per head ranges from $2.50 in the countrywide to $12 in the Baki tourist restaurants and you may pay with cash or credit card.

Main Dishes

A typical Azeri meal begins with a plate of aromatic green leaves called goy, and is ac­companied by plenty of chorek (bread), salat (a tomato and cucumber salad), and perhaps qatik (yoghurt) and pendir (cheese). The traditional condiments are duz (salt), istiot (pepper) and sumah (a sweet, dark red spice with a flowery flavour). Main dishes may include a selection of the following:

Baliq - fish, which usually means sturgeon, normally skewered and grilled as a kebab, and served with a tart sour-plum sauce.

Dograma - a cold soup made with sour milk, potato, onion and cucumber, a lot like Russian okroshka.

Dolma - the traditional recipe calls for minced lamb mixed with rice and flavoured with mint, fennel and cinnamon, and wrapped in vine leaves (yarpaq dolmasi) or cabbage leaves {kalam dolmasi), but most restaurants offering dolma tend to serve up stuffed tomato, sweet pepper and aubergine.

Dovga - a hot, thick soup of yoghurt, rice, spinach and fennel.

Dusbara - small dumplings stuffed with minced lamb and herbs, served in broth.

Lavangi - delicious casserole of chicken stuffed with walnuts and herbs. It's sup­posedly a speciality of the Talish region of South Azerbaijan, but is very difficult to find in restaurants.

Lyulya kabab - a mixture of minced lamb, herbs and spices squeezed around a skewer and barbecued, often served with lavas win sheets of unleavened bread).

Piti - a soupy stew of mutton, fat, chick peas and saffron, cooked and served in in­dividual earthenware pots. Spoon it out into your bowl, and mop up the juices with plenty of bread.

Plov ? a classic dish of rice, mutton, onion and prunes, flavoured with saffron and cin­namon. Difficult to find outside upmarket Baki restaurants.

Qutab - a sort of pancake turnover stuffed with minced lamb, cheese or spinach.

Tika kabab - chunks of lamb marinated in a mixture of onion, vinegar and pomegran­ate juice, impaled on a large skewer and grilled on the barbecue. More commonly called shashlyk, from the Russian word shashka (sword).


Azerbaijanis, like their cousins in Turkey, have a sweet tooth. Typical Azeri desserts are sticky, syrup-saturated pastries such as pahlava (baklava) and halva. The latter, a layer of chopped nuts sandwiched between mats of thread-like fried dough, is a spe­ciality of Sheki in North-West Azerbaijan. Other traditional pastries include shakarbura (crescent-shaped and filled with nuts), peshmak (tube-shaped candy made out of rice, flour and sugar) and girmapadam (pastry filled with chopped nuts).

However, sweets like this are generally bought from a pastanesi (pastry shop) and eaten at home or on special occasions such as weddings and wakes. The usual conclu­sion to a restaurant meal is a plate of fresh fruit ? plums, cherries, apricots, grapes, or whatever is in season.



In Baki you can find just about any kind of breakfast you like including pancakes and maple syrup or a full British fry-up. A more typical breakfast, available at cheaper ho­tels, is tea, bread and honey with yoghurt or smetana (sour cream). If you insist on cof­fee at breakfast, then take a jar of instant with you when travelling outside Baki. Most hotels and yemakhana will rustle up a plate of yumurta (fried eggs) if you ask. It's also acceptable to buy a bag of bamiya (sticky, deep-fried dough fingers) or other pastries at a shop or market, and eat them at a chayhane - provided, of course, you order some tea!

Non-alcoholic Drinks


The national drink is chay (tea), which is drunk Turkish-style from small tulip-shaped glasses. It is normally taken with sugar but no milk. Unlike Turkey, where sugar is usually added to the tea, the prac­tice in Azerbaijan is to put a sugar lump in your mouth and suck the tea through it. An­other unusual practice, more common among the Lezgi people of North Azerbai­jan, is to add a spoonful of rose-water to your tea. Tea is generally served by the pot (120 to 750) at a chaihana.

Qahva (coffee) is not often seen outside western-style hotels and restaurants in Baki, and even then is usually instant. Espresso machines have only just begun to make an appearance in the country, and a good espresso is still a rarity. Even Turkish coffee is usually only found in Turkish restaurants

Water Tap water throughout the country is not reliably safe, and even local people rarely drink it without boiling it first. Bottled mineral water is cheap and easily obtainable in shops throughout the country about 50 cents a litre. The main Azerbaijani mineral waters are Zam-Zam, Shollar (from Nahchivan) and Qah. The stronger tasting Borjomi from Georgia is also widespread.

Soft Drinks All the main western brands of cola and lemonade are widely available as are locally produced fruit juices and tars. Street kiosks and fast-food cafes sell ayran, a refreshing mix of lightly salted yoghurt and water, for 12 cents a glass.

Alcoholic Drinks


Despite being nominally a nation of Shiite Muslims, more than 160 years of Russian presence have left Azerbaijan with strong taste for alcohol. The country once produced large quantities of domestic wine and brandy, but the industry has fallen in decline since independence. Vodka and beer are the main tipples these days.


Spirits Russian vodka - mostly Stolichnaya and Moskovskaya brands - is available most everywhere, and costs only $2 to $2.50 for a half-litre bottle. The throwaway foil caps speak volumes about the Russian attitude towards an open bottle. Vodka, or arag as it is known locally, is the drink of choice when making toasts at a special dinner. Azerbaijan's own locally produced hooch distilled from tut (mulberries), and known tutovka - handle with care.

Whisky, gin, rum and other spirits can found in most Baki bars, but are more ex­pensive than vodka.


Beer & Wine The most popular pivo (beer) in the country is the Turkish Efes which can be bought canned or on draught almost everywhere. A French-Azeri joint venture has revived the Hyrdalan (Xirdalan) brewery on the north-west fringes of Baki, and it now produces a very acceptable bottled pil­sner. The strong Baltika brew from St Pe­tersburg is also fairly popular, and a wide range of European beers can be found in Baki's expat bars.

Azeri chahir (wine) can be bought in Baki supermarkets for around $2-4.50 a bottle - try the Ivanovka, Madrasa, Ipak Yolu (Silk Way) labels - or in up­market Azeri restaurants. Georgian wine is also widely available. Another hangover (apt word) from Soviet times is the popu­larity of Russian shampansky (champagne), which can be enjoyed for a mere $1.50 a litre.

The little yellow tankers you will see on Baki street corners in summer sell kvas (usually shown as the Cyrillic KBAC) for 12 cents a glass. Kvas is a traditional Russian small beer made from fermented rye bread. It is only mildly alcoholic, and tastes a bit like ginger beer.


Azerbaijan is famous for its long-livers. Indeed, there are lots of people here who are above hundred years old. Scientists explain this phenomenon by many factors such as favorable climate, mode of life, healthy food and regular nourishment which positively effect on workability and life activity of man.

Any experienced gourmand visiting our Republic would be amazed by fine taste and delicate flavor of the Azerbaijani cuisine. Dishes of the Azerbaijani cookery are unique and original.
In cafes and restaurants, some national dishes are served in special crockery in which the dish is prepared
Most national dishes are mutton, beef, poultry and minced meat.

The Republic is rich in various fish sources, especially sevruga (starred sturgeon) and sturgeon.The sturgeon and scale types of fish are mainly used in Azerbaijan.

The Azerbaijan cuisine is famous for its vegetables, primarily vegetable greens, eggplants, tomatoes, paprika (byber), cabbage, spinach, sorrel, red beet, garden radish, onion, cucumbers, green haricot and others. Variety of national dishes include many items, such as rice, flour, vegetables andvegetable green.
TheAzerbaijan cuisine is included to use such spices as saffron, caraway seeds, fennel, anise, capsicum, laurel, coriander and spicetaste leaf vegetables as mint, dill, parsley, celery, tarragon, basil, savory, thyme, etc. Absheron peninsula is the only place where saffron is cultivated.

The national cuisine has 50 different dishes and 10 different flour confectionery with the saffron addition..
Such seasoning as lemon, olives, milk, cream, food acids, abgora, azgilsharab, narsharab, cherry plums, elbukhara, gora, kizil-akhta, kuraga (dried apricots), lavashana, sumac and others are widely used to improve the food taste and smell.
A special place in the Azerbaijan cuisine belongs to salads prepared from fresh vegetables. When making salads of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, capsicum, coriander and basil these ingredients are finely cut. Salads are served together with main course.

Salads "Khazar", "Azerbaijan", "Bahar", red caviar salad, salad a la Shaki, kuku of greens, kuku of kutum (kind of fish), kuku with nuts, fisinjan of beans, red beet etc. are the most spread salads and cold dishes in the Azerbaijan cookery. Pickled garlic, capsicum, eggplants, khyafta-bedjar, onion, pickled onion with sloe, pickled grapes, tomatoes are served separately accompanying different soups and meat courses.
The Azerbaijan national cuisine includes more than 30 kinds of soups. These are variousmeat courses as pity, kufta-bozbash, shorba, or dishes prepared from sour milk and greens such as dovga, ovdukh, dogramach, bolva, etc.
When cooking some of dishes each is prepared separately (pity) or in smallquantities (dushbara, sulu khingal).
The Azerbaijan first courses differ from usual soups by their concentrated and denseconsistency because they usually contain a small amount of broth.

The specific feature of the Azerbaijan cookery is that some of nationaldishes can be used as the first and main course (pity, kufta-bozbash). In this case the broth is served separately and then the rest (meat, peas, potatoes) as the main course but they are cooked together.

Another distinction of national soups is the application of sheep fat which is put into the dish in fine-cut pieces.
The first courses are very seldom seasoned with tomato paste or puree. For this purpose fresh tomatoes are usedin summer time and in winter - dried chilly plum (to add sourish taste) and spices with colorants (saffron, sary-kek).
Thereare a lot of different first flour courses as sulu-khingal, khamrashi, umach, gurza, dushbara, etc.
Fresh and sour milk are widely used to make dovga, firm, sudlu syiig, kelekosh, ovdukh, etc.
Main courses are mostly prepared of mutton and also ofpoultry, game birds, vegetables and rice.

The most popular main course in Azerbaijan is pilaff (or 'plov'). There are about 40 recipesfor preparing this dish. Depending on the type of additions pilaffs are named as kaurma-pilaff (with stew mutton), sabza kaurma (with stew mutton and greens), toyug-pilaff (with chicken), shirin-pilaff (with sweet dried fruits), sudlu pilaff (rice cooked in milk), etc.
Among main courses SHASHLIKS should be distinguished by following types: SHASHLIK-basturma, fillet SHASHLIK, liver and kidney SHASHLIK, SHASHLIK a la Kars which are prepared from natural meat; lulya-kebab, tava-kebab, sham-kebab and others are prepared from mince meat.

Of popularity are the second flour courses such as khashil, khingalwith meat,suzma khingal, yarpag khingal, kutaby (with meat, pumpkin, greens), chudu, etc.

Many second courses are prepared of fish. Sturgeon shashlik, kutum ala Azerbaijan, kuku of kutum, balyg chygyrtma, stuffed fish, boiled, fried and stew fish, fish-pilaff, starred sturgeon pilaff, balyg mutyanjan are the most popular fish dishes.
There are more than 100 names of main courses prepared of meat, fish, vegetables and flour.
Such dishes of the Azerbaijan cookery as pity,lulya-kebab, stuffed fish a la Azerbaijan, etc., are merited all over the world.
Dish serving is very original: as a tradition tea is served first then main courses come. At the Azerbaijan banquets, celebrations and wedding parties the first courses (soups) are usually not served. The table is usually decorated with various greens, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers (in winter - pickles). As a rule, two or three courses are served. In many areas after dinner (especially after pilaff) they serve dovga. Dovga prepared of sour milk and greens, promotes better assimilation of previous courses (rice, meat, etc.).

Sweet dishes as the third courses in the Azerbaijan cookery are very limitedand their assortment is small. Sweet dishes include firni, sudzhug, tarakh and kuimag. Any meal is completed with a sweet course.

The Azerbaijan national confectionery is divided into three groups: flour, caramel and sweet type articles.
The flour articles are: shaker-bura, pakhlava, shakar-churek,cur-abje a la Baku,Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic a la Azerbaijan, roll a la Ordubad, kyata a la Karabakh, tykhma a la Guba, kulcha a la Lankaran, mutaky a la Shamakha, pakhlava a la Nakhchivan, etc. The are more than 30 varieties of the national confectionery whereupon each area has itsown special articles.
Shaker-bura, pakhlava a la Baku, shaker churek and other things ' have been prepared in Baku since olden days. A very special place belongs to Shaki sweets. These are pakhlava a la Shaki, peshmek, tel (terkhalva), gyrmabadam, etc. To make them rice flour, sugar, nut kernel, butter, egg-white and spices are used.

Caramel type sweets include shaker-pendir, parvarda, kozinaks of nuts, nogul of coriander, goz-khalva (more than 15 names).
Sweet type articles include rahat-lucoum (with different additives: nogul bitmish, jellied fig, solid sherbet, feshmek, etc.
The most popular soft drinks in Azerbaijan are sherbets. They are made of sugar, lemon, saffron, seeds ofmint and basil and other fruit. At present, more than 10 names of sherbets are served in cafes and restaurants of Azerbaijan.
Fromtime of immemorial, there is" a tradition in Azerbaijan: when guests come tea is served first. Tea in Azerbaijan is a symbol of warm hospitality.Tea is accompanied with various jams and quince, fig, water melon peels, apricot, white cherry, cherry, peach, plum. Carnelianberry, walnut, strawberry, blackberry, grapes, mulberry. Sometimes when making tea dried leaves or flowers of savory, clove, cardamom and other spices are added to give a special flavor.

Special tea is also made of cinnamon (darchin) and ginger.Recently, coffee a la Orient has become popular too.Sometimes rose water is added to tea. A special sherbet "Ovshale" (Shaki-Zagatala area) is made of rose water.
Azerbaijanis rich in mineral water sources. Of medicinal significance are mineral waters as "Turshsu", "Isti-su", "Sirab", "Garydag", and others. The table water "Badamly" is widely recognized outside the Republic. There are about 140 mineral water springs on the territory of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic.

The Azerbaijan cookery has been formed and developed from generation to generation. Dishes of high nutritious qualities, sharp tastes and nice appearances have become typical for the national cuisine.

(materials by courtesy of Mrs. G. Djangirova) 
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