Cuisine of Azerbaijan
The cuisine of Azerbaijan is one of the ancient, rich and delicious cuisines in the world. "The cuisine of Azerbaijan" is not only dishes, the technology of their preparation, but a part of material culture as well. The cuisine of Azerbaijan is the harmonic unity of culture, history, philosophy, table psychology, traditions, physiology, hygiene, chemistry, equipment, ethics, aesthetics, poetry and poetic aspects of the cuisine, as well as practical habits created by Azerbaijani people in the territories where they lived in harmony with the environment.
The cuisine of Azerbaijan "born" with the genius of Azerbaijan people in the territories of its historical habitation: today's Azerbaijan Republic, Southern (Irani) Azerbaijan, former khanate of Iravan that turned into today's Armenia after forced ethnical clarification, the lands of Zangezur and Goycha mahals(districts), ancient settlements of Azerbaijanis in Georgia-Borchali, Dagestan, Derbend-the capital of one of the former khanates of Azerbaijan and there surroundings.
The main factor influencing formation of and development of the cuisine is the climate. The territory of Azerbaijan Republic is under the influence of 8 climate zones that causes variety and richness of flora and fauna of the region and form favourable conditions for life and development of all animals and plants. This is the main factor of rich cuisine.
Agricultural production is important for further development of the society alongside with wild animals, birds, fish and plants. Thus people should have high culture of cultivation and animal-breeding.
For example, complex dishes made of paste and grain might appear in the case only if agricultural production dominated the requirement to bread or its substitute.
Experimenting and formation of compound dishes was possible only if there was some need to preserve the remains of grain for a long period of time. The process continued for ages and thus appeared new dishes. The existence of "cheten"(archaic form of colander) proves that dish -making from grain and paste, dates to the 5th-6th century B.C. and stable crop in its turn points to high quality cultivation.
Great amount of grain production points to the culture of cultivation, irrigation systems development of animal-breeding etc.
All the abovementioned is not possible without sedentary life.
Goods necessary for the South Caucasus cuisine were produced by Azerbaijanis-people of high culture of cultivation and animal-breeding. Georgian scientist M.I. Tkeshelov wrote about Azerbaijanis lived in former Iravan khanate in 1888: "People in the villages were mainly busy in grain growing, cultivation and gardening. It is evident that animal-breeding is not the only kind of engagement in plains and summer pastures. Azerbaijanis may be called cultivating people as they mainly live on the banks of the rivers, while Armenians settled only in the mountains."
E.K.Artamanov wrote about Iran in 1889: "grain is mainly distributed from Azerbaijan, Khorasan, Kirmanshah, Fars, Isfahan, and Yezd."
G.V.Sologubov wrote in 1952: "Armenians were generally busy with trade and gathering of wealth. Azerbaijanis, depeding to the place of their settlement, mainly interested in cultivation and animal-breeding and thus are main producers in Transcaucasia."
I.V.Segalov wrote in 1902: "Moslems lived on the banks of Bazarchay, Ayrichay, Bargushad, Okhuchay and their flows as well as on the bank of Araz; Armenian lived in separately under hard climate in the mountains. Majority of Armenian men (15-40 ages) moved to the shores of the Caspian, Baku and Tbilisi to earn their life, where they worked as servants and interested in outdoor life. As to Azerbaijanis, they lived cultivating in plains and under good conditions."
All the abovementioned was the result of natural process. Local people settled in and used productive lands before other nations appeared. This fact is proved by Armenian scientist G.A.Yezov in 1908: "New land did not accept Armenians cordially, for it had very few free lands."
Information gave by the voyagers, scientists, merchants, diplomats and others, as well as archaeological digs prove that great amount of grain, rice, kunjut, soy plants, beet, melon, water-melon, grape, apple, pomegranate, quince and other garden and melon plants cultivated on those lands.
Local people and population of neighbouring and foreign countries supplied with the abovementioned products, as well as fresh drained fish, hard-roe, honey, butter and animal products. It is true that the Caucasus had for centuries been provided with animal and cultivation products by Azerbaijanis. Y.D.Angabadze and N.G. Volkova wrote basing on information given in book "Old Tiflis": "Osetins and Azerbaijanis brought cheese to the markets of Tiflis and sell it there with Borchalis (Azerbaijanis-T.A.). There was great demand in Tiflis market for salmon brought from the lake Goycha (after the surrounding of the lake added to the territories of Armenia the lake is now called "Sevan"-T.A.) in Azerbaijan."
Thus Azerbaijanis were the main people in Thanscaucasia able to create and develop rich cuisine who possessed enough good base for it.
This fact caused that majority dish names of Armenian, Georgian, Persian and other cuisines relate to Azerbaijan Turks.
The second factor influencing the cuisine is fire. For instance, majority of sweet buns, and dishes cooked in water and stewed dishes of Slavonic and particularly of Russian cuisine as appeared thanks to Russian stove. Creation and development of Azerbaijan cuisine related with different varieties of high heat open and closed fires such as tendir(clay oven with a whole), kora, bukhari(fire-place), kulfa(brick oven for baking), chala ojag (hollow fire), saj(iron disk for baking bread), mangal (brazier) and others.
Crockery and kitchen equipment also had some king of effect on our cuisine. Even today our women use different crockery made of animal skin, stone, wood, clay, glass, metal, etc.
Electricity, together with firewood, firewood coal, tezek(manure briquette) and others were used as fuel in Azerbaijan cuisine. In places where tezek is used, people rare cut the trees and the bushes for fire; people sued tezek did not suffer from liver and respiratory tract diseases. According to Indian scientists the smoke of tezek has antiseptic character.
Another factor characterising culture of culinary of the people is its attitude to water, its purity and ability of water use. From ancient times Azerbaijan people divided water into white and black. Black water is rich with salts, ions and metals. Water poor in the abovementioned is called soft.
Soft white water used in preparation of food and beverage foods. Weeping willow always grew on the banks of the rivers, irrigation ditches and canals. Roots, branches and other parts of this tree have antibacterial peculiarity and thus it purified water. For this purpose branches of weeping willow were always put into plates full with water. Sometimes silver thing or apricot pip put into the boxes filled with water.
The first and the best natural method of clarification of water applied by Azerbaijanis still exist today. That is water stone. Water stone is made of black or white chick-weed and looks like a drilled pyramid. The stone is placed on special wood rest with its tip down and a plate is placed under it in where purified water gathered. The stone is filled with water, sometimes silver thing or a branch of willow put into it. Water passes through capillary holes of the stone and drop by drop falls into the plate. Water is not only purified by stone but is cooled thanks to difference of pressure in the holes of the stone and passing through capillaries.
It should be pointed out that the oldest 3700 year age samovar found in Azerbaijan (in the territory of Sheki). It is much older than the 2000 year old samovar of the Egypt. This is an important point on culinary: from outside the fire passes into the inside of the equipment, water-air balance changes, separation of the volume of nutritive materials in water changes and thus correspondingly changes the taste of water.
Another important factor influencing the cuisine is historical-geographical location of the people and relations with neighbouring people.
Ancient trade caravans and military roads crossed the territory of Azerbaijan had some affect on our cuisine. Reference to common Turkic ethnos caused appearance of dishes with the same name or root and still Azerbaijan cuisine may be called the peak of that of common Turkic. From the point of the taste Azerbaijan is more close to Anadolu cuisine.
Long time relations with Arabians presented coffee to our cuisine and the historical "Silk Way" brought us tea. From Russian cuisine we took "shi" and "red-beet soup" (known among people under the general name of "red-beet soup") and got acquainted with cuisine of the Europe faultily changed by Russians. Thanks to the development of oil industry at late 19th and early 20th centuries we are directly introduced with the cuisine of the Europe (the process is still on) that influenced only the cuisine of the restaurants and got people used to aluminium equipment. Such kind of interference had only negative influence on the health of the people and brought nothing positive into national cuisine.
Religion and faith of the people also have definite influence on the national cuisine of Azerbaijan. Zardushtism (Zoroastrism), fire-worship, Avesta found their reflection in philosophical psychology and the mind of Azerbaijan people and its cuisine. We suppose that respect to the fire that is the main assistant of cooker comes from the abovementioned fact. Table traditions and dishes formed under the influence of fire and light still exist. For long time Christianity existed and still exists in the territory of Azerbaijan that also affects our cuisine. The people of Azerbaijan are Moslems for more than a millennium. Rejection to use gold crockery and pork, alcohol and other informs about strong influence of Islamic traditions. Different holidays, ceremonies and fasting also influence cuisine.
Kitchen traditions, prohibitions and advices relating to the religion are the objects of particular investigation. The requirements of religion, especially that of Islam about the food have serious scientific base. For instance, Islam does not advice to eat fruits and grain their without peel. The fact that main part of the vitamins and microelements diluted in water gather in peels of the plants only recently invented.