The land of fire, its complex history, its contrasts. The Caucasian mountains and blue of the Caspian sea. The soft camel wooden scarfs and its carpets. There is no other way to experience the real Azerbaijani culture but doing it through the food.

Mince meat, dairy products and a generous dose of oil. If your palate enjoys living the flavour of these ingredients it will find in here its cup of tea. I invite you to take a seat at Firuza restaurant in Baku and to order the Dolma. You can go for the one with grapes leaves if you like a stronger and sour taste or the ones with the cabbage leaves, the “sweet dolma” for a delicate meal. They look like small green tubes but judge them only after trying them. I would suggest you consider the “3 sisters dolma”, composed of a tomato, a pepper and one aubergine. All the combinations are filled with minced meat and spices.

 

 

Beside them, it can be ordered some Plov. There are many versions of this delicious serve and it is up to you to find the one that better satisfies your request. The plov comes in two pots, one with the Azerbaijani rice. İn the other one you’ll see the dressing: a mix of dry fruits, hazelnuts, onion and meat cooked together slowly. Another very traditional dressing has the taste of their famous promenades that perfectly match with the onion and the sauce: say hello to the Fisincan Plov.

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To accompany a nice meal there is no better drink than the famous Dovga. Yogurt, water, salt and sometimes eggs with chopped green vegetables; it is not a substitute for water but it will refresh you on a hot day. It is possible to find it in supermarkets but it doesn’t have the same intense, natural taste.

Are you in a rush because you want to assist to the switching on of the flame tower from the Boulevard? Get a Gutab and eat it on the way. Just imagine a pretty perfect round shaped dough. Imagine an old lady standing it on the table and making it thin. Thin enough to make the light first come across it and then catch it with a carpet of mince meat and then fold it in two. What about using pumpkin or green herbs instead? My favourite is the one with camel meat and dry grapes. I love diving the Qutab in the creamy yoghurt and then into the red sumakh spice.

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I also love the sound of the tar when it covers the one of the metal against your teeth. This is what I experienced when I went to Fisincan. I was walking near “Targovi” and as a bug is attracted from the light, so I was with the indoors of this restaurant and its 3 musicians with their lively art. People sitting at the table had their head in the long menu and waiters were moving around with elegance. One of them was carrying the “Mimosa salad” (o stopped him and asked). Eggs, potatoes, carrots, all boiled and chopped. Some mayonnaise, salt and pepper. Served cold. Few ingredients for a wide sensation of delicate flavour.

Flavours completely different from the Duşbara. This soup gains its distinction for being light and delicate, perfect for cold winters but it is also worth giving it a try in summer. In your bowl, there will be tiny dumplings made of ground meat wrapped in the dough. Let the flavour of onions and spices in the background embrace your senses.

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Add some bread. Clean the bowl with it or just bit it. There is always some tandir bread in an Azerbaijani house, so it is on eating place. A big tube, around 1mediameteretre and 1,5 metre high. Hot. Inflamed, where the bread is placed inside at the borders like stars are sticked in the sky. The tandir oven is a master piece of the traditional azerbaijani cuisine. No matter if you go to supermarkets or if you follow the smell of flour on the streets. The round shape of bread that the bakers take out from this peculiar oaven will became addiction. Crounch and soft parts fit together divinely.

 

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And I wish your heart and your desire of exploring will make your journey going on into the middle of the country. Up to the village of Seki. There the bread is essential for Piti. A slowly cooked meal that combines land, animals and people. Piti is a food ceremony where the lamb meat dance in an oily sauce, accompanied with chickpeas and saffron. You should chop bread on a plate and then pour the sauce on them. When you have eaten this, you can start the next part. You can pour the rest on the plate, smash it and add sumakh as you wish.

If the smell of the ancient recipes brought you to the depth of the soul of the tradition of Azerbaijan, you might now leave Seki and take with you 6 manats of the local halva. It will make your return sweeter. Your mind will think about the lady that lay out the nuts with sugar and honey on the wide plate. Your thoughts will always be there and this flavour will last in your heart.

Article/Photos: Laura Fabbri, Anna Popova
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