a secret food paradise series 3 – southern specialties

  • homestay meals

At the southern part of Azerbaijan, we had a whole chicken at a hill top garden of Lerik. We suspected that the owner’s wife only killed the chicken after we placed our order because we waited for a really long time in the garden, while the owner came to sit and chatted with us in Russian. He even offered us a bottle of vodka – free of charge!

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Figure 1: the chicken was a bit skinny because we asked for a small serving

We also decided to overnight there so that we could hike without our luggage. When we came back in the dusk, they offered us self baked tendir bread, cheese and compote in their living room – a cozy hut with a black and white TV set. We watched a Russian animation movie and drank a lot of tea with them until we became warm in the cold wind.

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Figure 2: home made tendir bread

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Figure 3: black berry compote

  • Shashlik in the Talysh mountains

When our host Azer from Astara brought us to a cafe by the river in the Talysh mountains, he asked if we wanted to try the famous national dish that Toni mentioned so many times when we were skyping. I was excited to see how it was prepared from the beginning. It tasted similar to the popular Muslim barbecue in my hometown and the lamb was so juicy that none of us could utter a word when the crispy fats burst open with the tender meat in our mouths.

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Figure 4: weighing the lamb at an old balance

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Figure 5: heating with charcoal

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Figure 6: the delicious shashlik is ready!

  • village food in the Talysh mountains

The warmth of the Talysh people was overwhelming. Just as we parted from our kind host Azer and hiked into the Talysh mountains, we were stopped by a villager who saw us from his window and invited us for tea. We thought it was impolite to reject his invitation, so we came up to his living room where he stayed with his beautiful wife, four or five children and his parents. We had little conversation because it was too difficult to talk to each other. Then the wife started serving us tea with home made marmalade, and continued cooking and brought out more and more dishes – fermented cabbage, eggplant, bread, cheese, popcorns, until the whole table was full! We ate in awkward silence while they observed us curiously, and left in guilt because we couldn’t offer anything in return~~

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Figure 7: more and more dishes came out

  • the lonely honey seller

On our way from Istisu back to Lankaran, we met a honey seller in the midst of the wood. He was squatting in front of three big glass jars of honey and had a melancholy expression. It was hard to understand why he had chosen such a spot because apart from the miserably scarce traffic to the resort, there was no one in the wood except for us. Upon seeing us, he opened his jar to show us the translucent amber jelly with a huge honey comb inside and told us each jar cost 20 manat. We were hesitant initially because we would have to carry the jar for the rest of our journey, but decided to render some support to him, only realising that we didn’t have any small change. His beaming face darkened again when we wouldn’t buy all three jars from him and couldn’t get any driver to stop and change some small money with us. Taking one last glance at the miserable spot, the honey seller decided to call his day off and walked together with us to the nearest grocery store so that we could get some changes. When he finally sold his honey to us, he became cheerful again and laughed loudly when he told the story to the grocery owner. After we went back to Baku, we tried the wild honey eagerly and agreed together that it was the best honey in the world 🙂

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Figure 8: honey seller in the wood

  • second round of Shashlik in the railway restaurant

In the same evening, we bought the train tickets back to Baku, but since it started raining and the station was a few kilometers from Astara, we decided to wait for the train in a crowded and smoky cafe near the station. A middle aged lady came to us and brought us to an isolated room. When we asked for the menu, she smiled and reassured us that she had us taken care of. In the same commanding manner, she shouted out “beer”, “shashlik” and “drink” on our behalf and jotted them down on her notepad quickly without waiting for our response. In the course of our waiting, Toni was again invited by some guests to chit chat outside the cafe, but when we carried our beer and joined the table, the lady boss stormed out, took away our beer and brought us back to our special room while having a few harsh words with the guests who were probably a bit drunk. She placed our beer heavily on the table and closed the door forcefully, only entering again to deliver our shashlik. After our meal, she served tea and opened all ten fingers to show us the price of the meal. We thought it was 10 manat, but she laughed and extended her ten fingers twice this time. When Toni reopened his wallet, she forked out another 10 manat note with her fingers nimbly… We had to marvel at her charisma.

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Figure 9: a private room at the railway cafe

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Figure 10: having shashlik again for dinner

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