Our national cuisine is very rich. About 2000 dishes are known in Azerbaijan cuisine. As witnessed Antony Jacson -English voyager, 150 varieties of dishes were on the table when he was invited to dinner by Abdulla khan in Shamakhi and 140 varieties presented after the table cleared.
For the richness of our cuisine we shall be grateful to housewives and specialists, as well as division of labour.
Turkish voyager Evliya Chelebi reminded that thousands of people worked at 12 aspazkhana (cook-house) relating with the names of 12 imams. They were baker, yukha maker, shatir, ash cooker, pity cookers, kebab makers, tea makers, halva makers, confectioner, syrup maker and others. Today specialists work at public-service centers under the names of the same groups of dishes and products. Such kind of division of labour and its development caused growth of similarly named dishes, for example 200 varieties of plov, 20 varieties of dolma and 20 of lula kebab are already known.
Azerbaijanis used meat of neat and small cattle since ancient times. According to sources meat of horse used at early stages of the development of the cuisine. Today Azerbaijanis do not use horse-meat as food. Old people kept their minds the taste of camel meat and especially gutabs made of it.
Our cuisine is rich with meats of wild and domestic animals. Meat of male-animal, shishek(two-three years old ship) and meat of gelded animals are considered to be more delicate and delicious. Preference is given to white-velvet like meat of animals of mountain and mountain-foot plains and pastures. This kind of meat contains oil drops only within the structure of cells.
Fresh meat dominates in comparison with that of frozen. Together with meat fat of ship's tail and other secondary products are used in cuisine.
To keep meat for a long time it is fried on fat of ship's tail in small pieces and filled into wineskin or special clay plates. Fat is melted and flew over it. Storage of jerked meat is also wide-spread.
We widely use game and eggs of the poultry and wild birds in our kitchen. Hunting on wild birds starts after melting of snow and after the bills and legs of the birds reddened of the cold. Game of the poultry- goose, turkey, duck and hen is widely used in Azerbaijan cuisine.
In majority of the cases the birds are kept in particular cage to restrict its movements and feed it with fat grain (corn, sunflower, etc.). When looked after like that birds have fat and delicate game. Fat of bird is much of the quality than that of the animal.
Game of birds and meat of animals is cooked whole, in the form of big and large pieces, separately or together with other products.
For a long time we use force-meat in our kitchen. When preparing dolma, kufta and other dishes meat is minced through mincing machine.
The Caspian Sea, rivers Kur, Araz and others, lakes Goy-gol, Jeyranbatan, Goycha and others enriched our cuisine with different varieties of fish dishes which include fried, stewed and stuffed fishes.
The dishes are made of the whole fish, its big and small pieces and stuffed fish. Black, red and pressed hard-roe is of wide use.
Hen eggs are of frequent use among poultry goods. Quail egg is used in diet kitchen. "Gayganag"(fried eggs), "chalkhama", "kuku", "chigirtma" and others are widely used in our kitchen. Azerbaijan is very rich with milk dishes. Milk, agiz sud, bulama, sour clotted milk, cheese, dug, cream, chiya, ayran, cottage cheese and other dairy and dishes prepared of them-dovga, dogramaj, ayran ashi, atlama, milky porridge and other dishes enriched our kitchen since old times.
Azerbaijanis respect yukha, fetir, lavash, sengek, khamrali, tendir bread and other varieties of bread that are considered to be a special rich of our table. When bread is brought on the table Azerbaijanis first start their food with it as expression of respect. Azerbaijanies respect bread as Koran and even pray on it.
Pastry and culinary products take particular place in our kitchen. Most of the dishes prepared of meat and pastry belong to Turkic people. to prove Turkic kinship with Seljugs Faig Sumer-the historian, in his book "Oguzlar", several times pointed that the seljugs ate "tutmaj"(dish of arishte and bean), "khangal" (watery khangal and leaf changal), "gurza", "dushbere", "khashil", "horra" and other foods made of four. The abovementioned dishes are mainly prepared in winter.
As weather gets warmer dishes made of food and pastry lessen and dishes made of wild plants mainly found on the table. 'Kete', 'suyug', 'dovga', 'ejeb-sandal' and other dished are made of wood-louse, spinach, beet leaf, mint, aubergine, tomato and others.
'Siyig', 'plov', 'govurga', 'hedik' and others are made of grain and bean.
'Plov'is the 'king' of all the dishes in our cuisine. There are 200 varieties of plov in Azerbaijan- one of the lands of rice. Rice replaces bread in some regions of Azerbaijan. for example people of Lenleran did not use bread before.
Sweets, confectionery, halva have particular place in cuisine of Azerbaijan thanks to ancient sugar production in Azerbaijan. Sugar was made of sugar-cane that was brought to Azerbaijan by Potyomkin from Russia with the order of Yekaterina. The name of sugar was 'takhta gend'(wool sugar). This variety of sugar extracted in crude form, though refining of sugar was familiar to Azerbaijan in the 10th century. People also made fruit sweets-nabat. Bekmezes and doshabs made of boiling of honey and fruit juice, 'pakhlava', 'shekerbura', 'rahat lokum', 'richal', 'sujug', 'peshveng', 'gatlama', yukha halvasi' and others enrich our cuisine.
Richness of products for sweets (honey, sugar, bekmez) and of fruits caused appearance of confitures, compotes, jams and sugared foods prepared of cornel, quince, cherries, figs, nut kernel and rose-leaf.
Vegetable preserving (tutma) by means of pickling and salting is widely used in Azerbaijan cuisine.
'Umaj', 'khash', 'horra', 'guymag' and many other foods widely used in Azerbaijan cuisine for the purpose of treatment and diet.
Foods prepared in ceremonies and holidays are the important part of the cuisine; dishes made of Samani are prepared only in Novruz holiday, govut is prepared in Khisir NAbi holiday, govurga is prepared when first teeth of child grew or a hundred year old people lost their teeth, particularly preserved water-melon is cut in 'kichik chille'.
'Yakhma'(open butter and bread), 'durmak'(butter or cheese spread into rolled thin bread-yukha or lavash or tendir, khamrali and other varieties of breads)(it is also named 'bukme' that means folding and 'jibli' for pocket-like cut of the bread) are used for lunch.'Durmek' is used both in cold and hot form.
'Mezeler'-salads should especially be mentioned among lunch dishes.
'Cherez'(fruit, dry fruit, walnut, hazel-nut) and sweet dishes are used as the desserts.
The next factor determining richness and development of the cuisine is sauces and broths. Evliya Chelebi, the famous Osmanli voyager of the 12th century wrote that Azerbaijan cuisine was rich with 12 varieties of sauces and broths.
Sauces made of soured milk (sour-milk) and garlic, vinegard and garlic, condensed honey or cream and of fruit juice are widely used in our cuisine as well as sauces prepared from pastila(misture of sugar and fruit wash) and lavashan (dry pastila).
Fish in Azerbaijan is eaten with narsherab (sauce prepared of pomegranate juice) of sauce on narsherab.
Season, weather, age, consumer's way of life, place etc. are taking into account when prepared menu in Azerbaijan cuisine. Thus we may count the following varieties of foods: food of aran (plains), dietary food, food of a pregnant, food of bride, food of fiance, food of children, youth and elderly persons.
Azerbaijanis, long-livers of the world crated the most healthy cuisine as to live along like is possible only with healthy cuisine.
Traditional table traditions of Azerbaijan requires hand use in the process of eating. We fold yukhas, sengeks and lavishes-thin breads, in the form of a spoon and liquid of the dish is eaten by means of this artificial spoon and hard piece of the dish is held with thin bread. Eating with hands has some priorities;
1)there are points of the nerves in the tip of the fingers. Extrasensory works with hands and the blinds "see" with their hands; hands may feel heat and consistence of the food.
2) it is possible to burn or shiver mouth cavity while food if taken by means of spoon or fork. In the case when hand is used the temperature of the food decreases to that of the body, thus taste receptions and ferments function better in mouth cavity. So the food is not swallowed at once and chewed better. That is why Islam prohibits to eat and to drink piping hot food and advices to use warm instead.
3)metal ions of metal forks and spoons destroy fluorine and iodine and thus spoil the teeth.
4) while eating with hand a person has to obey the hygienic rules-washing hands. This process positively affects the psychology of a person and prepares himher to quiet eating. It was tradition to sink fingers into rose -water after washing the hands.
The peculiarities of the cuisine may be determined by its influence on the cuisine of neighbouring people. If the cuisine of China influenced that of Asia(Thailand, Malaysia etc.) and French cuisine influenced that of Europe the cuisine Azerbaijan in its turn served base for cuisines of neighbouring people. So for its effectiveness the cuisine of Azerbaijan might be placed on the same level with that of China and French.
The guest, is more important in Azerbaijan cuisine than delicious food aromatic beverage and fruits and is the reflection of its philosophy. That is why the popular calling of Azerbaijanis id ""welcome and be our guest".