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Hospitality and food culture in Azerbaijan

Lala Bayramli

Excited about the ingredients of a new box of chocolate or the rush of excitement when tasting some of the home made jam, I, most of the time was interrupted by my mom who always repeated: “Leave it for the guests!” As a result I (as a small kid) was annoyed by these words and even by the abstract notion of a long awaited guest who God- only- knew- when was going to visit our house. I am sure I wasn’t the only one with my living frustration as many of my peers grew up with similar phrases.  You see, in Azerbaijan we always leave the best of everything for our “future” guests since we want to make sure that when this guest arrives, we have everything necessary to offer him/her. Hosting a guest is an honour for Azerbaijanis (I would confidently add that this feature is prone to the whole of the South Caucasus region residents, i.e. the Armenians and Georgians).  We believe that once the guest enters the threshold of your house you must treat him/her in the best possible way, for no host would want the guest to leave his/her house unsatisfied or unhappy.

In Azerbaijan, for instance, if we are hosting someone for a few days and we don’t have a guest room to offer we will insist (even force but this is out of respect only :) ) our guest to sleep in our own bedroom, which, for us means spending the next few days on the sofa in the living room :) . While preparing the room the best bedding, new pyjama (if the guest hasn’t brought one with him/her) and even new slippers would be prepared for the guest (I bet this is much better than a 5* hotel :) added to everything else it’s for free).

Moreover, the host would not only host, feed and treat the guest nicely but in case the guest is from another city or country, the host would feel obliged to organize a sightseeing tour for the guest and will make sure that he/she is happy with the whole experience.

The most important part of hosting someone is feeding him (at least for Azerbaijanis since we are so proud of our cuisine :) ). In Azerbaijan the host lady would definitely want to treat her guest with homemade plov/pilaf  (there are different kinds of plov [rice] such as borani plov, fisinjan plov, dosheme plov, qazmaxli plov, shuyudlu plov, lobya plov and etc) (http://www.azcookbook.com/layered-rice-pilaff-with-dried-fruits-chestnuts-parcha-dosheme-plov/), dolma (http://www.azcookbook.com/stuffed-grape-leaves-yarpaq-dolmasi/) (though in Azerbaijan there are three different kinds of dolma), dovga (http://www.news.az/recipes/22601) and many other dishes and starters including salads and home made preserves (compote, various kinds of pickles and etc.)

If there were an opportunity, the host would even take the guest to different regions of Azerbaijan to enjoy the beautiful nature of the countryside and taste various delicious dishes popular in those regions. In Azerbaijan every region is famous for its specific food, for example, Shaki is famous for its pity (http://www.mct.gov.az/?/en/metbex//57), Gazakh and Tovuz for khingali (with qurut- salty substance made of yogurt) (http://azerbaijan.tourism.az/?/en/topmenu_content/2495/), Salyan and Lenkeran for fish/chicken lavangi (http://merlinandrebecca.blogspot.com/2012/01/lavangi-talysh-delicacy.html), Ismayilli for delicious kebab,  Novkhani/Jorat (village at the shore of Caspian sea) for Jorat Qutab (made of camel meat), Baku for dumpling soup (dushbere) (http://www.azcookbook.com/dumpling-soup-dushbere/) and there are many more places with great number of delicious dishes to offer.

While seeing off the visitor, the host would try to make a small parcel mostly consisting of local traditional sweets- pakhlava (Sheki pakhlava, Ganja pakhlava), shekerbura (one of the symbols of Novruz Bayram J), badambura (pastry filled with nuts and walnuts), qogal (salty rolls), sweet milk bread (shirin corek) and more.

Even though the Azerbaijani cuisine mainly consists of fatty dishes (this is what I’ve heard from some foreigner guests :) it’s impossible not to fall in love with it. It would also be impossible to say no to the hosts too :) . It is for these reasons that most Azerbaijanis are rightly pretty capricious when it comes to food- wherever they travel/live, whatever they taste they still say that there is no cuisine on the earth as tasty as the Azerbaijani one.

This article is made possible by the support of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) as a part of Eurasia Partnership Foundation’s Community Youth Peacebuilding Through New Media project. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of its authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Eurasia Partnership Foundation, FCO or the British Government.

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