Traveling gourmets may enjoy a lot of offerings from Azerbaijan, which is home to a flourishing food and drink scene supported by traditional methods. The nation's cuisine, shaped by scarcity yet enriched by trade and tradition, unveils a rich array of flavors, dishes, and dining customs that reflect its diverse cultural influences.
Azerbaijan is in a fairly arid location so doesn't have a lot of fruit and vegetable options. Historically, this has led to a diet consisting of breads, soups, and meat or fish products. Although much of the country is arid, there are locations that have produced some great seasonal foods and herbs, which were also integrated into the local diet.
Fortunately, the country was located on the ancient Silk Road so received a lot of spices and dry ingredients through trade with people from Europe, the Far East, and even from their nearby neighbor, the Persians. This led to the popularity of rice and a large number of new spices added to their already wide availability of herbs.
Today, their most popular dishes are a result of their traditional ingredients and their spices; heavily spiced meat and a spiced rice and meat dish called pilof are now commonly consumed.
Azerbaijan has much to offer travelling gastronomes
Bread, commonly served in round loaves or lavash (flatbread), remains a constant companion to most meals.
Dolma is ground lamb and rice wrapped with grape leaves and cooked
As a Muslim country, Azerbaijanis are fairly conservative (although they are very liberal on Muslim standards) so before meeting any locals, make sure your dress is appropriate; this means conservatively dressed with long pants and preferably long sleeves. Even more liberal Azeris tend to dress in more conservative clothing, although few expect foreigners to do the same.
Bring your local hosts a gift of pastries from a local bakery and expect your host to turn down the gift. This is common, but upon insistence your gift will be expected; if you are offered a gift, do the same and only accept after you host insists you take it. Expect your host to ask you to remove your shoes before entering their house and once inside make an effort to greet every person individually.
As the food is served, expect the host to serve the elders first and you, as a guest only second. Keep your hands within sight while dining and only begin after being told to do so or after you host signals the start of the meal. Enjoy your meal, but only use your right hand to eat.
Tipping in Azerbaijan is only common in Baku at nice restaurants; about 10% for sit down restaurants is common.
Tipping in Azerbaijan is only common in Baku at nice restaurants
Black tea is central to Azerbaijani culture and is probably the most widely drunk beverage in Azerbaijan. Two other common and fairly unique drinks are kvass, which is a fermented, but non-alcohol drink and sherbet, which is a naturally flavored drink, most commonly consisting of lemon, pomegranate, or other locally available flavors. Of course coffee, juices, soft drinks, and milk are also available.
As a primarily Muslim country, alcohol is not especially common, but Azerbaijan is fairly liberal so beer, vodka, and other drinks are available. Most of these beverages are imports as Azerbaijan produces few alcoholic beverages domestically.
The tap water in Azerbaijan is generally not safe to drink so it should be avoided.