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Azerbaijani cuisine still popular in Nagorno Karabakh

21 December 2011 No Comment

Photo: ankaatje on Flickr

Lusine Musayelyan

Azerbaijani dishes are still in high demand at restaurants in Nagorno Karabakh. All over the region people speak about Azerbaijani cuisine with respect. Despite the conflict waged between the two nations for more than twenty years, in many restaurants patrons can taste typical Azerbaijani dishes alongside the rich offerings of Karabakh cuisine.

Despite the Azerbaijani “ethnic origin” of this dish, many diners come particularly to taste khangyal, as the employee of a restaurant in Stepanakert, who preferred not to be named, told us.

“There is demand, and we cater to it with great pleasure. We serve not only khangyal but also piti and bozbash. It may be interesting for you that usually those meals are ordered by members of the elder generation. It seems that they are nostalgic for these dishes,” our respondent said.

Vania Grigorian, a 58 year old woman, remembers that during Soviet times she went with friends for a weekend to Shushi, just in order to enjoy piti – a meal of lamb meat and peas – at an Azerbaijani restaurant there.

“This was real piti! It is also prepared nowadays, but the taste of piti of the old times is just unforgettable” says Grigorian, her mouth watering at the memory.

While Karabakh cuisine makes wide us of greenery and herbs, Azerbaijani dishes, according to the gourmets, are heavier and are invariably served with matsoni (a fermented milk product similar to yogurt).

“This is a matter of taste. Just because I like piti, it doesn’t mean our cuisine has not its own dishes to offer. What about our jengalov ats (herb pies), our shashlik, tolma, pokhendz, and many others – it is difficult to list all of them,” Vania Grigorian tells us.

Photo: ankaatje on Flickr

Despite a great choice on offer at stores nowadays, Igor Davtian does not change his habits: he definitely drinks only Azerbaijani tea, which is sent to him by his relatives from Russia.

“I brew tea in a very particular way. I do not trust my wife in this matter at all. She just cannot brew it to the same taste. I order tea and my relatives send it to me from Russia – but they themselves order it from Baku. At the same time my relatives told me that their neighbors in Russia are sending Armenian cognac to Baku. What can we do, that’s just what our lives came to,” Igor Davtian says.

Several years ago, the Stepanakert-based NGO “Helsinki Initiative 92” organized an Azerbaijani Cuisine Day in the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh. Approximately a dozen members of Karabakh’s Azerbaijani community took part in preparing the meals. Within the framework of the same project, Armenian Cuisine Days were organised in Azerbaijan as well.

Armenia and Azerbaijan do not only have territorial disputes: there is also much argument about music, patterns of carpet weaving – and surely about the origins of dishes as well. Armenians and Azerbaijanis still discuss who of them came up with the song “Sari Gelin” and who invented tolma. As of the “ethnic origins” of shashlik, even Georgians enter the debate. But that is a different story…

This post was produced as part of the project “Media Cooperation and Peace Journalism in the South Caucasus” implemented by the International Center on Conflict and Negotiation (ICCN) in cooperation with the European Center for Minority Issues (ECMI) – Caucasus.

Lusine Musayelyan is a correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Stepanakert, Nagorno Karabakh.

Onnik Krikorian of Caucasus Conflict Voices was one of two trainers at a project workshop held in Famagusta, Northern Cyprus, in September 2011. The original article, written in Russian, is available on the project blog, the Caucasian Circle of Peace Journalism.

The project’s Facebook group is here.

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