A letter from an Azerbaijani

This concerns my Azeri menu posted at http://www.marga.org/food/int/azerbaijan/


Dear Margarita,
I recently came across your International Recipes web site and I was
thrilled to see the section you created on Azerbaijani food among many
others. Needless to say, I clicked to read what you had to say about the
cuisine of the country I was born and raised in.
Unfortunately, I was shocked. From the very first sentence, your
introduction to Azerbaijani cuisine sounded biased and I found the language
you described it quite offensive to say the least. I applaud and
appreciate your initiative, but I also believe if done it needs to be done
professionally and be grounded on sound research or at least personal
experience.
Let me bring clarification to some of the things you’ve mentioned in you r
article.
YOU SAID: At first glance (and at second and third), Azeri cuisine
resembles both in name and form the cuisine of its neighboring countries.
Indeed, it seems to me that Azeri cuisine falls right within what I know
suspect is a large Persian-Ottoman culinary tradition. It’s therefore not
surprising that I have encountered versions of many typical Azeri dishes in
my previous culinary journeys. Azeris love kebabs (skewered meats), for
example, and even have their own versions of kofta (meatballs, ). They
serve a variety of dolmas (stuffed vegetables) and among their desserts you
can find such Middle Eastern favorites as baklava and halva. They even have
a type of meat turnovers called kutabs which are extremely reminiscent of
Argentine empanadas. And of course, the crown of any meal is a well-known
pilaf.
I SAY: Yes, Azerbaijan has been influenced by the food of its neighboring
countries, but it is not a one way process.Many countries have been
influenced by our food as well. Show me a country with the “pure”
cuisines. There is simply none. Also, note that Azerbaijani dolma (dolma
in Azeri means stuffed by the way) is way different from its counterparts
from other countries so well known to you. Azerbaijani Pakhlava is in no
way similar to Baklava from the Middle East you are familiar with. And do
you really believe Argentine empanadas found their way to Azerbaijan and
turned into Gutabs? Gutabs are indigenous to Azerbaijan. Would you also
claim that Japanese Gyozas are where Azerbaijanis drew their inspiration
and created Gurza, a dough pocket filled with meat? Then you probably are
not aware that Azerbaijan was a part of Soviet Union for 75 years and
traveling to distant countries was a very rare and almost non-existent
thing to happen not to mention bringing food ideas from there.
YOU SAID: I was thus a bit skeptical when I read that Azeris consider their
cuisine to be “unique and original” and unable to be confused with that of
any other nation. While I still believe that such statements are
exaggerations, to say the least, I was pleasantly surprised by the
simplicity of Azeri cuisine.
I SAY: This is by far the most offensive statement I’ve read so far in your
article. Azerbaijani cuisine IS unique and original in its own way.
Perhaps you haven’t tried Piti in Sheki, lamb slowly cooked in clay pots,
or Dushbere, a clear broth soup with meat filled miniature dumplings. The
list can go on a on. There are hundreds of dishes in Azerbaijani cuisine
that do not exist in other countries. Moreover, Azerbaijani cuisine is not
simple at all. And the ingredients we use are not copy-cats from other
cuisines! The techniques we use to make our dishes are different too.
YOU SAID: Indeed I wonder if some of the ingredients that I encountered in
my Azeri journey, such as sour cream and salmon, are Russian in origin.
I SAY: Yes, Azerbaijan was a part of Soviet Union for 75 years and our
cuisine was influenced by Russian foods and visa versa. If you did a better
research, you would know that Caspian Sea is known for its rich fauna and
it is home to the most delicious Caspian Salmon. Oh, sour cream is used all
over the world, to my knowledge, not only in Russia.
YOU SAID: I chose the dishes I made based on their simplicity (I now have a
small baby which makes it impossible for me to spend long hours in the
kitchen), the ubiquity of the required ingredients and the overall balance
of the meal.
I SAY: Unfortunately, the dishes you chose to prepare are not the best
candidates to represent Azerbaijani cuisine. Some of the ingredients you
used as well as techniques are quite strange to me. For example, we do not
baste chicken in sour cream for Djudja Kebab.
I read that you have a baby and as someone who has young kids and writes a
cookbook at the same time I do understand it is not an easy thing to
compile such a comprehensive directory with international recipes, but I do
believe in the saying – ALWAYS DO YOUR BEST! Please research and ask and
you’ll have a different opinion on Azerbaijani cuisine.
In closing, I would like to invite you to visit my food blog dedicated to
Azerbaijani cuisine. It is still new and I will be adding more post to it.
I hope it helps you understand our food culture better and makes you think
otherwise about the beautiful cuisine deeply rooted in the history, culture
and the tradition of the people who created it. I would appreciate if you
revise the section on Azerbaijani cuisine in your recipe project.
If there is anything you would like to know about our cuisine, please do
not hesitate to contact me at my email address. farida@azcookbook.com. I
will gladly help.
Regards,
Farida
Farida’s Azerbaijani Cookbook
http://AZcookbook.com

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