Esmer was born in Baku, but has lived in the Netherlands from a young age. She loves Azerbaijani culture because of the combination of hospitality, culture, modernity and traditions. You are welcomed and warmly greeted everywhere you go. Whether it's the neighbors, the taxidriver or the owner of the bakery in one of the narrow streets of the old town. Esmer tells us more about Azerbaijani cuisine and food culture. Among other things, she explains to us three special traditions. If you get married and have children, this is accompanied by special eating and drinking habits.
Food plays an important role in Azerbaijani culture. Eating together is especially important here. “Sharing food with another person builds a special bond.” Besides, Azerbaijanis take hospitality very seriously. If you say 'no' as a guest when food is offered, this is experienced as rude. “Even if you're completely full, out of respect you should still put a little bit on your plate to taste it,” says Esmer.
“Sharing food with another person builds a special bond”
Azerbaijan has an age-old and traditional cuisine with a lot of diversity and unique flavors. Esmer explains: “To this day, cooking is done according to the old methods. Traditional cooking in copper pots and ovens made of clay gives the dishes a unique and distinctive aroma.” Azerbaijanis love to cook with fresh ingredients. “Preferably from your own vegetable garden,” Esmer adds. “Although most of the main courses are prepared in combination with meat, almost all starters are vegetarian or vegan and antioxidant-rich. Examples of commonly used ingredients are: saffron, sumakh, pomegranate, fresh black basil, coriander and dill.” Besides, something characteristic of Azerbaijani cuisine is that the ingredients retain their original flavors after preparation. Therefore, not much use is made of predominant sauces.
“Azerbaijan has an age-old and traditional cuisine with a lot of diversity and unique flavors.”
When we ask about the eating traditions in Azerbaijan, Esmer starts talking enthusiastically. There are several traditions in getting married and having children. The first tradition Esmer explained to us is not related to food, but it is related to an important drink in Azerbaijan: tea. “When you have found your other half and want to get married, there will be an official announcement to show that the relationship is serious. The boy then pays a visit to the parents of his future wife together with his parents. He brings gifts and a ring. Then freshly brewed Azerbaijani tea is served. If the family likes the boy, the soon-to-be daughter-in-law can deliver sweet tea called 'Shirin Chay'. Sweeten the tea is a sign from the parents of the bride-to-be that they agree with the marriage.
On the day Azerbaijanis get married, another tradition follows. The bride-to-be then receives a beautifully wrapped large piece of 'nabat' from her mother-in-law, as a blessing for a fruitful marriage. Nabat is a piece of crystallized sugar with saffron. This is kept until the bride-to-be has a child. At that point she can chop it up into small pieces, wrap it nicely and hand it out to family and friends. “This is one way to bring the good news. You can compare it to the Dutch ‘beschuit met muisjes’,” Esmer explains.
Once the child gets a little older, a final tradition takes place. “When the child gets his or her first tooth, a silver spoon is given as a present. Because this is usually the first step to a child's first bites, one wants to avoid as many pathogenic bacteria as possible. Eating with a silver spoon is seen as a natural antibiotic.”
Finally, we asked Esmer if she has any good cooking tips. She didn't have to think about it for long. When Esmer cooks for her Dutch friends, she is often asked how she gets the rice so light and airy without it sticking together. “Azerbaijani rice should be light and fluffy, but not sticky. This is a big challenge. It even goes so far that if the rice is sticky, it will not be served to the guests. This can lead to loss of face.” According to Esmer, the secret lies in the first step: rinsing the rice well. Rinsing removes starch so that the rice grains remain separated after cooking and do not stick together. Boil the rice for no more than 10 minutes and let it brew over very low heat for 20 to 30 minutes.
“Azerbaijani rice should be light and fluffy, but not sticky. This is a big challenge”
Not only does Esmer know about cooking, she also shares this with others on her website: Chinar.eu. Because of her love for the Azerbaijani food culture, she and her partner founded this food platform with, among other things, blogs about Azerbaijani culture, traditions and authentic recipes. You can also order traditional, authentically prepared products that are delivered throughout Europe. Be sure to take a look at her website!