The Cradle of Culture

It is said that a person from Karabakh swears on 3 things

his mother’s milk

the Koran

and bread…

International  culinary consultant  and food historian Amy Riolo explores the history of Azeri cuisine through her freshly pressed cookbook:  The Cuisine of Karabakh; Recipes, Memories, and Dining Traditions from Azerbaijan’s Cradle of Culture. It is a cook book meant to trace the roots of those dealing with the diaspora of Karabakh, Azerbaijan. At the Culinary Historians of Washington, D.C. monthly meeting on May 6th, Riolo gave its members just a taste of Karabakh’s historically influenced cuisine.

Karabakh is a geographic region in southwestern Azerbaijan and eastern Armenia, flanking the Caspian Sea. It’s name translates to “black garden” as the region is so famously lush that the vegetation appears dark, almost black. Since Riolo could not enter the region due to previous conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan (Karabakh was a disputed territory that led to  widespread violence) , she studied and learned about Karabakh’s cuisine through detailed data collection and total cultural immersion afar.

The indigenous peoples of Karabakh were quite sophisticated in their culinary progressions: they had diagrams depicting 15 different cuts of meats written on cave walls, whereas our modern diagram depicts 13. Indigenous ingredients from Karabakh included:

  • sour paste, a mixture of sour plums or Cornelian cherries ( Cornell University grows this variety of cherries in the United States)
  •  100 species of pomegranates
  •  mountain cilantro
  •  varieties of thyme
  •  saffron
  •  rice*
*Rice was, is and continues to be  a favorite daily dish and festival food- no event is possible without it! It is so important that  49 unique and special pilafs are made for each of the 49 days of Novruz, the coming of the  spring equinox.
The Karabakh-Azeri cuisine  has been greatly molded by pivotal historical events as well as it’s  transition into different caliphates throughout its time. The Silk Road introduced spices from India like turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and cardamom, as well as Chinese tea, during the 1st century BCE. The spices and tea were originally used for apothecary, rather than culinary purposes. When Christianity swept through Karabakh in 313 AD, fasting during Lent was introduced by the Caucasian Albanian. Islam made another culinary invasion in 647, prohibiting pork and alcohol. Harun al Rashid introduced “court cuisine.” This style of food was so lavish that a unique poem was said before every dish, in praise of its beauty and flavor (court cuisine may have been onto something: research from Cornell University finds that listening to a detailed description of food before consumption increases salvia production  and decreases eating). The 10th  century brought sugar from Russia. However, prior to Islam and the introduction of sugar, desserts were not a large part of daily life- they were not considered masculine.

Traditional modern day dishes in Karabakh include durmeyi “the original tea sandwich”, kabobs, cherry plum roast meat and miriads of pilafs- and even desserts such as mild sweetbreads. According to the Azerbaijani Community of the Nagorno Karabakh,  more than half of the 15 most famous dishes of   Karabakh cuisine have been were appropriated from Azerbaijani cuisine and Armenianized since Soviet times. These include:

  •  mutton and beef
  •  qavli
  • dolma
  • yakhni
  • bozbash
  • khash
  • kallapach
  •  sachichi
  • jiz-biz (fried heart, liver and kidneys) 
  •  soups
  • various types of pilaf
  • fried and boiled river fish
  • dried fruits
  • chad, meat qubat, fasali, kata, shakar bura, pakhlava, quymaq, halvah, qurabiya, shorqogali, dovga and various types of kebab
There is much more of Karabakh’s food and cuisine to bite into. Riolo’s cookbook is due to be released this spring.
Riolo and her assistant, Diana Ash.

Ref:  Riolo, Amy.  “Karabakh Cuisine:  Recipes, Memories, and Dining Traditions from Azerbaijan’s Cradle of Culture”. Culinary Historians of Washington, DC. Bethesda, MD. 6 May 2012.

Ref: http://www.karabakh.az/en/sb/culture/karabakh-cuisine/

Ref: http://www.news.az

Ref: http://img.blogcu.com/uploads/yumurtasepeti_dolma3.jpg

Ref: http://www.t-i.org.uk/images/aDSC01765-240x320sh.jpg

Ref: http://www.washingtonpost.com/rf/image_404h/2010-2019/WashingtonPost/2011/07/06/Foreign/Advance/Images/nk1%20105_1309990501.jpg

Ref: http://fresnoflavor.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/IMG_6320.jpg

Ref: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fichier:Granadas_-_Pomegranates.jpg

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Ref: http://eurovision-2012.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Pilaf.jpg

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Ref: http://www.nationalgeographicstock.com/comp/04/445/1043271.jpg

Ref: http://pocketcultures.com/topicsoftheworld/files/2009/01/azerbaijan-baklava.jpg

Ref: http://static.flickr.com/43/74331236_160c93454a.jpg

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