Azerbaijan’s diverse landscapes make it a fantastic place to grow almost anything – and that diversity finds its way onto the country’s appetising menus.
Buta Kitchen returns to the South Bank with another selection of the finest foods from Azerbaijan, whipping up tasty treats on side and offering a wealth of preserves, juices and sauces to take away.
During the previous Buta Festival our chefs were among the stars of the Slow Food Festival, and this year’s collection is guaranteed to find its way on to the Christmas list of the most exacting gourmand.
But what is it that makes Azerbaijan’s cuisine so special?
A lot of it comes down to geography. Although the country is little bigger than England, its small package is stuffed with a vast range of terrain and climatic zones. The land soars to the snow-capped summits of the Caucasus, plunges into the pearl-blue lakes of the interior, crosses the arid semi-desert of the Absheron peninsular and touches the tropics in the tea plantations and steamy forests close to the Iranian border.
In total, nine of the world’s 11 climate types can be found in this small, yet perfectly formed territory – and each year’s harvest offers an almost limitless range of fresh ingredients.
From the northern slopes, where hardy shepherds watch over their sheep and rely on the nourishing ‘piti’ broth of mutton and chickpeas, to the warm fields of the south, rich in juicy pomegranate and watermelon, and Baku’s famous tomatoes, there’s a huge range of tasty natural food to enjoy.
Signature dishes include the ‘shashlyk’ kebab, flame-grilled marinaded meat that has become the by-word for a barbeque throughout the former Soviet Union. When the meat comes from the Caspian sturgeon, and arrives under a drizzle of “narsharab” sauce, a deliciously sour distillation of pomegranate, it’s a highly localized treat.
Then there’s plov, scented by cinnamon and saffron in a sweet-and-savoury blend. Unlike other versions from Central Asia, Azerbaijan serves its plov as a side-order of rice with lamb, onion and dried fruit delivered separately.
Strong black tea, the national drink, is a symbol of hospitality. The best is grown around the southern city of Lankaran, and is typically taken with a lump of sugar to suck on while drinking. Wherever friends gather, be it over a game of ‘nard’ or in a café to watch the football, there’s always piping hot tea ready to go.
It’s a cuisine with a serious sweet tooth as well, from the syrupy-sweet pakhlava to an assortment of jams made from an exotic range of fruits and nuts.
In Azerbaijan, a meal is a celebration. It’s a statement of the nation’s hospitality, an open-handed welcome and a feast for all the senses. That’s why the Buta Kitchen programme also brings musicians and dancers, serenading the spirits as well as feeding its guests.
Come dine with us, and get a taste of Azerbai-WOW!