Azerbaijan – the Land of Fire, Food, Wine & UNESCO World Heritage

Have you ever been to Azerbaijan? Most people will probably say No.. And if so, may I suggest this as your next destination … But this isn’t going to be another of the thousands of travel guides available online. This is rather a little tribute to my place of birth, with focus on its delicious food and wines and a little bit of virtual sightseeing. 🙂

FOOD

Ever since I was a little girl and went to Baku to visit my grandparents, the smell of roasted meat, saffron infused rice and the taste of figs and pomegranates picked freshly from the trees accompany me as dear memories. Did I become a foodie back then, I wonder…?

Traditional Azerbaijani food is very rich and extremely flavorful. Despite of the coastal location, meat – in particularly lamb – is the main ingredient of Azerbaijani cuisine, along with lots of fresh vegetables, herbs and fruit.

Fish, especially the Caspian sturgeon, is also very popular. Although there are many fresh water varieties from the rivers flowing through the country, the sturgeon remains the king of fish. Sadly, it is becoming a very rare treat due to its decreasing population. Because sturgeon is a very meaty and richly flavored fish it can be either oven baked or grilled on skewers as kebab (Azerbaijani BBQ). It is commonly enjoyed with a few drops of narsharab – a traditional sweet-and-sour pomegranate syrup. In my view, Caspian sturgeon is a perfect fish to enjoy with red wine rather than white. I am thinking Pinot Noir or Sangiovese… yum!

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Sturgeon kebab with narsharab

Speaking of kebab… No summer feast is ever complete without it. Everything that goes on the grill is cooked on long metal skewers: lamb cutlets, tike (filet pieces), lule (sausage shaped lamb mince patties), aubergines, tomatoes and potatoes. Prior to going on skewers the meat is marinated for a few hours in salt and pepper and if desired, sliced onions.

The following video I made will (hopefully) say more than a thousand words and briefly showcase how it’s done.

I may be a bit biased but Azerbaijani cuisine is so appetizing and delicious that it is quite difficult to keep your fingers off the food the moment it comes on the table. Therefore here is just a small selection of other traditional dishes I managed to capture prior to indulging…

Last but not least, one of the (food related) highlights of my trip… On a tour of Icheri Sheher, the Old Town of Baku, I stumbled over a small shop that has been baking the traditional tendir bread on site. The staff were very kind to let me have a look inside and to see the tendir oven. I finally realized what Azeris mean when they say “hot as in a tendir” – it was absolutely boiling in there!

 

WINE

I remember my first proper tasting of Azerbaijani wines at the London Wine Fair back in 2014 and I reported on it here. Since then I wanted to experience these wines in the environment where they came from. Sadly, I still didn’t get to visit the winery in Gabala, but it is certainly on my to do list for the next trip.

Fast forward a few vintages and I found myself all the way down in Baku with a lineup of Savalan wines again awaiting my humble opinion. Please visit my separate post dedicated to the tasting and some food pairing recommendations by clicking on the picture below:

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Do not forget to check out my newest post from the SweervyWine & The City series on Baku & Savalan Chardonnay.


BAKU – THE CITY OF CONTRASTS

Finally, I will share a few impressions of Baku itself. It is truly a remarkable place for many reasons. It is set as an amphitheatre around the Bay of Baku, a natural harbour. This provides stunning sea views from the hills as well as a fantastic view of the city from the sea, especially when illuminated at night (hence Baku is also referred to as city of lights). Once a smallish and cosy city, with buildings no higher that 5-7 stories in the centre, Baku has developed into a surprisingly modern metropolis following the construction boom, renovation and rebuilding works in this century.

It is now truly a city of contrasts: next to the modern skyscrapers and the sophisticated coastline somewhat reminiscent of Dubai, Baku has luckily managed to keep and maintain its incredible charm, in particularly around and within the walls of Icheri Sheher, the Old City of Baku which is listed as the UNESCO World Heritage site.

So, if you are looking for an unusual and surprising destination only five hours flight away from London,  Azerbaijan will not disappoint you. Be prepared to see, hear, smell and taste a mix of Orient and Occident…

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