Caucasian hospitality is famous worldwide and during your stay in Azerbaijan you will have plenty of opportunities to experience it for yourself. You might, for example, get invited to someone’s house for ”tea”. However, if you think that you’ll just spend a couple of hours drinking tea with your host – think again. Azeri people are very modest and they will never admit that they had just spent a day preparing for you a small feast of delicious, home-made, traditional local dishes. You’d better show up hungry!
Before the visit
Although it’s not expected, it is always in good taste to bring some gifts for the host. A small bunch of flowers for the lady, sweets for children and a bottle of liquor for the head of the family will do just fine. However, if due to religious reasons alcohol is out of the question, sweets are a prefect alternative. Azeris love to have their tea with a candy or two so you cannot go wrong. Finally, make sure your outfit is appropriate and tidy as local people pay a lot of attention to appearance. You will find more information about Azerbaijani customs here.
A typical meal consists of appetizers, main courses, tea and sweets. Before the main dishes are served, the table is usually set with plenty of appetizers – fresh herbs (chives, dill, parsley, coriander etc.) and vegetable (mainly tomato and cucumber), mixed pickles and salads, cheese, olives, aubergine with nuts etc. They all look delicious but try not to indulge in them too much as they’ll be followed by a huge meal!
The choice of main dishes varies. The hostess may prepare vine leaves, aubergine, tomatoes and/or peppers stuffed with rice, meat and spices (dolma), fish filled with nuts and served with pomegranate sauce, lamb stew, delicious kebab or plov, which is considered a particular delicacy and served only on special occasions. Sometimes the main courses are preceded by a soup – dushbere with tiny dumplings on a cold day or dovga (yogurt soup) in the summer. If you feel full, leave some food on your plate as otherwise it’ll get refilled instantly. More information about traditional Azerbaijani food you will find here.
It is common to mix two types of tea – black and thyme. Drink will always be accompanied by dry fruit, varene, cookies or cake. To read more about the great tea drinking tradition in Azerbaijan, visit our past post.
After the meal
Once the meal is finished – don’t leave immediately. After the feast you will need to rest a while anyway, and it’ll also be a good chance to finally speak to the ladies of the house, who most likely spent the whole evening preparing and serving food. Also, if you’re lucky, you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise of traditional singing and dancing.