This is a dish that’s almost onomatopoeic. “Here you go,” you can imagine your Azerbaijani granny saying, standing over you with a steaming cooking pot, ladle in hand. “Have some more.” And, as she plops a spoonful onto your plate, it makes just the sound you expect – ‘plov’!
There are any number of dishes which contend for the title of Azerbaijan’s national dish, but plov – rice covered with saffron, cinnamon, aromatic herbs, veggies and dried fruit, and often accompanied by fried mutton, chicken, beef or lamb – is probably the most frequently cited.
Dolma is another: a food so important that, in 2017, Azerbaijani dolma making made it onto the Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists. Similar to dishes found in the Balkans, South Caucasus, Central Asia and the Middle East, dolma is basically any sort of stuffed vegetable – in Azerbaijan, that’s usually tomato, pepper, onion, courgette, or eggplant (occasionally even vine leaves, much like our own koupepia) – and the filling can range from meat to rice to other veggie mixes.
Pancakes also loom large on the local menu, and kutabi are a strong contender for the title of national dish. Stuffed with pumpkin, veggies, meat or just a sprinkling of herbs, then flipped and fried on a griddle, these are more like crêpes – but always savoury. Although, interestingly, sugar does make one notable appearance on the menu – apparently, tradition dictates that during the matchmaking process, tea served with sugar means a wedding is on the cards; without, and there’s a slight more negotiation in the offing!
Which brings us to the national drink: tea. And here, there’s no competition. No traditional Azerbaijani social occasion is complete without tea, served with a myriad of trimmings. These could come in the more normal forms (sugar, milk, cream) or be more unusually flavoured: lemon, mint, rosewater or even thyme might be added to the concoction, and it’s not uncommon to find your Azerbaijani tea sweetened with jam!