Having a unique geographical location and 9 climate zones out of 11, Azerbaijan enjoys an advantage to grow organic fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains as well as prepare some of the most delicious mouth-watering dishes. What’s interesting is how every region in Azerbaijan is famous for a particular type of produce. For example, the best potatoes come from Gadabay, the best pomegranates from Goychay, the best tomatoes from near Baku on the Absheron Peninsula, the best hazelnuts from Zagatala region and so on. And this produce is the foundation for the rich flavours of Azerbaijani cuisine, which itself differs in interesting ways from region to region. When you add in all the spices and multiculturalism brought centuries ago along the Silk Road, it makes for a surprisingly vibrant culinary scene.
One can indulge in best dining experiences in both the capital city, Baku and unique towns across different directions of the country thanks to the fact that each region has something special to offer the food enthusiasts. In Baku, travellers can find restaurants in the labyrinth-like, cobbled streets of Icherisheher – Old City where traditional dishes and local music accompany each other in a delicate way. An appetising breakfast with organic eggs, tomatoes, home-made jams, honey and crispy tandir bread following a beautiful sunrise in this authentic part of the city will certainly be a great way to start your morning. Food lovers can also choose to have a nice dinner where rich flavours and dishes like dolma – traditionally made of grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice, plov – prepared with rice mixed with herbs, dried fruits, meat or fish and other local ingredients, qutab – a sort of thin pancake stuffed with different fillings such as meat, spinach, cheese or pumpkin and cooked on an iron disk called a saj.
Considering the importance of the local gastronomy and cultural heritage, the EU-funded project -COVCHEG (“Community-based Value Chain Enhancement in the Greater Caucasus Mountains Area”) is also being implemented by Slow Food in partnership with the Azerbaijan Tourism Board. This project aims to foster economic regeneration and the well-being of rural communities, create sustainable livelihoods in the country with main focus on agriculture and gastronomic tourism.
Within the COVCHEG project, the Slow Food Travel concept has been prepared where travellers can get first-hand experience based on meetings local with farmers, shepherds, winemakers, butchers or bakers to learn more about local traditions and culinary culture first-hand. An online catalogue – the Ark of Taste – was also created to list some products that might actually disappear within a few generations, such as grape, rice, nut and other food ingredients. The catalogue invites everyone to rediscover these products and put back on the table or consume less of endangered wild species in order to increase their rate of reproduction.
Another related initiative was the establishment of 5 Slow Food Presidia in different regions to gather small-scale producers willing to cooperate, preserve their knowledge and stimulate sustainable practices. Local chefs were also considered as an integral part of the project, and the Slow Food Azerbaijan Cooks’ Alliance was created. Chefs included in the alliance are requested to add the names of the producers to their menus, give visibility to their work. They are also in constant communication and brought together in different events to raise awareness about different Ark of Taste products and how to best use or reproduce them.
Overall reflecting Azerbaijani culture, the cuisine offers a spectacular fusion of delicacies, from fruity sauces to juicy mutton-based meals and more. With a variety of dishes to suit all dietary preferences and lifestyles, tourists can have lots of fun exploring and tasting the country’s flavours. - Advertorial
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