Did you know Azerbaijan has 9 climates out of the possible 11? This diversity in terrain in addition to its history leads to a complex, flavorful, and creative cuisine rooted in centuries old traditions.
Azerbaijan has its own distinct dishes and way of preparing food, as well as some similarities to other Caucasus, Turkic, and Russian cuisines.
Of course, if you have the option to eat homemade food, you should! But whether it is served in a home or in a local restaurant, there are some foods you will absolutely come across. Such as a plate of fresh green herbs, crispy flatbread, slowly cooked meats, or locally made chocolates.
We’ve compiled our list of the top foods you must try when in Azerbaijan- with the Azerbaijani and English name so you can both look for it on a sign/menu, and pronounce it. 🙂 We also will include where you are most likely you find the food so you can get your hands on some as easy as possible!
1. Təndir // Tandoor Bread
Tandeer (especially if you are able to eat it FRESH from the oven!) is the most delicious bread. And lucky for you, it is served often with meals. If you love the crust of coal-fired pizza, this will be divine. It’s an oval-shaped bread roughly an inch thick, cooked directly on the inside of a clay oven.
From ancient times to the present- the method of cooking this Azerbaijani bread has stayed pretty consistent. The making of this bread is an art- and quite dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing! Bread dough is formed in its oval shape, it is carefully placed directly on the inside walls of the clay oven. The walls are so hot that it cooks the bottom of the bread, while the top of the bread gets cooked by the coals. The cooked bread is grabbed out of the oven by a metal stick, and wrapped up warm.
Stop by a shop with a “Təndir” sign, and you most likely will see some tough women working the oven.
2. Dolma // Dolma
Dolma literally means “filled.” There are several distinctly different variations of dolma that are either stuffed cooked vegetables (such as tomato, eggplant, pepper) or rolled using either grape or cabbage leaves. You will see different variations throughout Central Asia and parts of the Middle East.
In Azerbaijan, what makes dolma unique is the use of “greens”- meaning copious amounts of various freshly cut herbs are mixed in with the filling of meat. (A vegetarian version can be made substituting rice or bulgur, though this version isn’t as common.) Typically the “greens” consist of cilantro or parsley, green onion, mint and dill.
The wrapped version of dolma is unique from other variations in its size- Azerbaijani dolmas are typically bite-sized, so one might have 10 on their plate.
They are often served with homemade plain yogurt on the side. YUM!
An Azerbaijani cook we love to follow, Feride Buyuran, teaches a bit more about the grape leaf version and shows how to make some for yourself:
3. Aş (Pilov) // Ash (Pilof)
Aş is one of those dishes that after trying you will crave the rest of your life! In our opinion at least. At the most basic level, it is a rice dish. But what makes it so special is the pastry/bread crust it cooks in, and the perfectly balanced ingredients layered within and on top. Aş is made with simmered chestnuts, chicken, dried apricots, raisins and sometimes more. It takes hours to cook and is almost always made when there’s a reason to celebrate or gather for a holiday.
4. Piti // Piti
Piti is a special Azerbaijani meat stew that is slowly cooked in a clay pot, preferably all day. It is common to use fattier cuts of lamb and veggies. You will find similar variations of this dish throughout the Caucasus.
5. Şiş-kabab // Shish kebab
Shish kebab is an absolute stable in Azerbaijan for special occasions or gatherings. “Shish” means ‘skewer’. Meat and/or veggies (depending whats on hand) are simply put on a skewer and cooked over coals. Once the food is cooked, it’s thrown together in a serving dish where guests can take what they like.
6. Mürəbbə // Miuraba (tip- ‘ə’ is the sound of ‘a’ in ‘cat’)
This isn’t the most up-close pic of miuraba, but you can see it is a delicious (often homemade) jam served with tea. Yes, it is sweet! But the idea is to eat a little, and drink a little plain tea to even it out.
This shown above is apricot, but you will find all sorts of miurabas such as black walnut, melon, cherry, etc. Some prefer to mix some into their hot tea to add sweetness and flavor while others like to simply enjoy the jam by the spoonful and chase it with their tea.
If you find yourself out at a sit-down tea shop, be sure to ask for miuraba. It’s very Azerbaijani!
7. PASTRIES! Shekerbara (sweet), Paklava (sweet), Qoğal (savory)
There are 3 special pastries enjoyed year round, but always served together at the special holiday Novruz in the spring.
Also served with hot Azerbaijani tea is one of the more unique and beautiful desserts of Azerbaijan, shekerbura. Curious how the pattern on the pastries are formed? It’s not a mold like you might think- actually each line is pinches individually, making each pastry’s design one of a kind. Depending on the maker of the shekerbura you may get different patterns.
The pastry dough itself is not sweet- while the center is a walnut, sugar and cardamom mix. Most bakeries will offer their version of this pastry. Something you might notice if you spend some time here is the prevalence of walnuts. Unlike the States where walnuts are hard to come by, here in Azerbaijan you’ll find them in many desserts because they grow abundantly here.
Speaking of walnuts, if you love baklava (paklava here) you’re in luck. There are different variants throughout the country. Above is a design and texture of paklava from Quba.
Qoğal // Gogal
If you’re more of a savory pastry kind of person we have the perfect one for you. Gogal is a beautifully golden color from the spices baked in. Turmeric, anise, caraway, cinnamon and black pepper and folded into this buttery dough and rolled up in an appetizing shape. Finally, each is sprinkled with black sesame seeds.
We’ll keep adding to this of delicious foods of Azerbaijan so you’re fully prepared for your time there.
Thanks for reading!
—Go Travel Azerbaijan