Peruvians have their cuy colorado, Brits have black pudding, Japanese have shirako and people of Azerbaijan have khash. Khash (written xaş in Azerbaijani) is a traditional winter soup eaten all over the Caucasus, Iran and Central Asia. The key ingredients vary from country to country but in the Land of Fire the dish is usually prepared from sheep’s entire head (yes, including brain, eyes and tongue) as well as hooves and stomach, which are boiled overnight and eaten for breakfast. Thanks to its high fat content and the timing of serving (early morning), the dish is said to be a perfect hangover cure.
Khash is not a quick dish to prepare. First it is necessary to flame sear the head and hooves, then chop them and mix with the stomach. Afterwards all of this has to be boiled and chilled to remove any possible impurities. Now the real cooking begins! The ingredients are simmered in water with some carrots and onions, usually overnight to separate the meat from the bone and to change the water into a jelly-like liquid. Only then the dish is seasoned with spices, including cinnamon and lemon. This is, of course, only one of the recipes – some cooks don’t add vegetables at all while others throw in some garlic and hot peppers similar to jalapeno. The soup is usually accompanied by lavash, Azerbaijani thin flat bread, which is often torn into small bits and threw into it.
Due to the time-consuming preparation followed by hours of cooking, the dish is rarely cooked at home. However, if someone makes the effort to prepare it, it will surely be shared with friends or extended family. Otherwise there are restaurants that specialize in khash and they are often opened at night or in early morning hours. In the past it used to be common to invite guests for khash the morning after the weeding and this tradition prevails in some villages of the country. Typically, khash is consumed by men and accompanied by vodka, which is believed to help digestion.
As the story goes, sometime in the 1970s the famous Baku-born cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich, on the way to a performance in Azerbaijan informed a friend of his that he’ll be arriving from Moscow around 6am. When asked why he chose such an early flight, he replied that he wanted to have a bowl of khash as soon as he gets to the city. And so he did.