Adventures in Peace (Corps)

Seven Days of Food

There is so much food in this country. Not necessarily so much variety, but there is a lot of food. The AZ people may not be wealthy, but they certainly are not starving. I took a long walk in the hood today. It was the first walk I’ve taken on my own that was longer than the short walk I take to school everyday. There is store after store after store filled with so much stuff, and so much of the same stuff, one wonders who is buying all these things and how do these people stay in business? But this entry is not about stuff it’s about food.

Let’s start with bread. The Azeri people consider bread to be sacred, and there are some rules one must follow when eating or dealing with bread in general. These are taken from a cultural manual the PC gave me before arriving in country:

1. Do not put bread or any bread products into the same garbage bag as regular garbage. It should be disposed of separately and given to local chickens or animals if possible. If there are dumpsters/large trash bins in a neighborhood, you’ll see people put bread in a separate bag and hang it on the side of the dumpster. That way if anyone wants to take it for chickens or animals, they can.

2. If you find a piece of bread, cookie, chip, or other baked good on the ground, pick it up and put it higher off the ground, like on a wall, or fence.

3. If you drop bread on the ground, pick it up, kiss it and touch it to your forehead three times.

I have not seen anyone do any of these things, but then again, I am in a larger town, which may not observe some of the cultural edicts people in the smaller regions do, but the Azeris do eat bread with every meal and they eat a lot of it. The bread usually comes in round loaves and you will find them sold all over the city. You might even find some strapping old man selling loaves out of the trunk of his car. Much like the gentleman who is selling apples out of the trunk of his car in the picture below. They also have wheat bread that tastes as good as home made.

Minaya makes sure I eat every meal and that I eat well. Not a morsel of food goes to waste. This is a good lesson for me as I can be quite wasteful, and lazy about cooking my meals at home in Amereekah. When you live on a fixed income, you can’t afford to be wasteful, so even the food left on someone’s plate goes back into the pot and there’s no eating out in restaurants so you can be sure that leftovers will be had for lunch the next day.

Meat is a big part of the Azari diet. Ground beef and ground lamb seem to dominate with beef being the more popular option, or at least in this house it is. Minaya has made dolma, kafta, chicken, and kasha for me. Dolma is ground meet stuffed into vegetables like eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes. There are also grape leaf dolma, but they are stuffed with meat too, unlike the Greek dolma many of us are use to back home. Kafta is another type of ground meat preparation cooked in a broth with tomatoes, potatoes and lots of cilantro.

Minaya makes almost everything we eat including the various jams we spread on our bread in the morning. I am in love with what I think is apricot jam. I could eat that jam by the spoonful it is so sweet and tart and chewy. She also makes this syrupy jam from figs. It’s not really a jam, but I don’t know what else to call it. The figs are left whole, and float in this syrup. It’s super sweet. It’s good, but a little too sweet for my buds.

Surprisingly, there is not a huge variety in the taste of their food. For the most part, it is pretty simple. That being said, I am certainly no expert on Azari food, as I’ve only been here one week and I’ve only had food from the hotel and meals prepared by Minaya. However, other volunteers have mentioned that the cuisine tends to be rather bland compared to other Middle Eastern countries that may use some of the aromatic spices. It seems that salt, pepper, onion, and fresh herbs like cilantro, dill, parsley, bay leaf, purple basil, and mint are what they use to add flavor to their dishes. No garlic though. I am surprised by that.

Lastly, I cannot end this post without telling you about tea. I drink about ten cups of tea per day. It is a huge part of the culture. There is always a pot of boiling water on the stove with a small ceramic pot filled with tea next to it. You pour a little bit of tea into your cup then fill the rest with water and you drink it ALL-DAY-LONG. Azaris drink tea like Americans drink beer. Well, not that we drink beer all day long, or at least not some of us, but it is a social event. When anyone comes over the first thing you do after welcoming them into your home is offer them tea, and if they don’t take the tea I think it is considered offensive. PC volunteers have told me that drinking tea with others is how you gain the respect and trust of Azaris. Not because you are drinking tea, but because you are spending time together doing it. It’s like hanging out around the water cooler at work. When I arrived at Minaya’s home I was sick with a runny nose and a yucky cough. She made me drink tea with a red jam. It was kind of good, but it didn’t get rid of my cough. Don’t tell Minaya.

Below is a picture of the my first meal in AZ. It is AZ fast food, so to speak, and is what I ate when I got on the bus at the airport and was delivered to the Neapol Hotel out in the middle of nowhere.

Love to all!!!

Produce Seller

First Supper

15 responses

  1. P o E

    mmmm! i want some of that jam!!

    October 3, 2010 at 1:09 am

  2. The bread thing makes a lot of sense, especially this one: “If you drop bread on the ground, pick it up, kiss it and touch it to your forehead three times.” What I do instead of touching it to my forehead is just blow off the mud, soot, fertilizer or whatever else my bread falls into. I do the same when my talis falls off.

    VERY entertaining entry, Denie. Love it.

    October 3, 2010 at 2:29 am

  3. Lori

    Thanks, Denie! I remember that when talking about traveling, some people didn’t pay any attention to the food – they thought that food talk wasn’t relevant to travel. I just never understood that! So this blog is really interesting to me, because culture, food and history are all tied up in it. Do the people stay lean despite all the bread? Do they walk a lot? Do they eat other carbs? Some of what you talked about is familiar to me (i.e. – the tea drinking) but not the rest. Thanks for posting, and it’s so great to hear from you. I miss you and think about you a lot. I hope you are having a wonderful experience! Love, Lori

    October 3, 2010 at 8:17 am

  4. Lori

    PS – Tell us about doing laundry…..

    October 3, 2010 at 9:08 am

  5. I’m tempted to join the PC so that someone will cook 3 meals a day for me.

    October 3, 2010 at 10:28 am

    • Yeah, but you also have to learn a really hard language, so there’s a trade off.

      October 4, 2010 at 7:15 am

  6. Sharona

    Hey Deanie –

    Just read both of your posts – and as expected, sounds exciting, terrifying, amazing and fantastic all at the same time. Please keep the posts coming, your writing is great, feels like I am there with you.

    Best of luck,

    October 4, 2010 at 9:16 am

    • Rona,

      Thanks for checking in. I plan to write oftern, but post less often than i will write. i don’t have daily access to internet, so i write and post all my entries at the same time. i think you probably signed up, which is how you were able to comment, but if not then please do and you will be notified when i make a posting. hope all is well and tell chanah i said hello.

      October 6, 2010 at 7:23 am

  7. tara yasmine mchenry

    I want some of the bread and jam too! I would eat that figgy stuff with some creamy white cheese…yeah, what about cheese, Glendene? I feel that you are holding out. And, I need a squirrel status on AZ. You may have to ask Minaya. I am still freaking that the cafes nearby for men only. I wish I was with you!

    October 4, 2010 at 11:31 am

    • Yasmine!!! Yes, they have cheese. Lots and lots of cheese that is really stinky. I thought i liked stinky cheese, but some of this cheese is worse than socks that come off the feet of homeless men in downtown LA. Need I say more? And, I hate to disappoint, but there are no squirrels either, or none that I have seen. Lots of ferril dogs and cats though, and tethered cows. kind of sad. I wish you were here too. come to visit!!!

      October 6, 2010 at 7:20 am

  8. Jamie Port

    How much of the language do you know so far? Is it easy to learn? Do you like it? And how is the environment? Lots of buildings or just empty farm land?

    October 4, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    • Jamalah!!! First of all, i miss you my little piglett. Tell me how you are doing. how is school and how is life? Write me an email and tell me everything.

      The language is not easy to learn at all. I don’t know much at all and it is probably the most frustrating part of the experience thus far, but i have only been here a short time so i have to be patient. I do like it here. The people are really nice. Very warm and friendly. I am in a small city right now that is not so nice looking. There are a lot of old Soviet style apartment buildings and lots of old factories. We are on the Caspian Sea, and that is nice, but like I said in my blog i wouldn’t swim in it. After I’m done with training, I will move to my permanent site, which will hopefully be nicer. I don’t know where that is yet. i love you Jamie!!!!

      October 6, 2010 at 7:18 am

  9. Cindy Hanson

    Hi Glendene – well, it sounds like you are settling in really nicely. I hope you are comfortable with your new family.

    I really look forward to your posts…keep them coming!

    xoxo – Cindy in Ameerika

    October 5, 2010 at 9:54 pm

  10. I want to know more about bread! I assume it’s leavened bread? Is it commercial yeast that they purchase or do they have their own cultures that bubble and froth somewhere in the kitchen? Does Minaya grind flour or buy it? Wheat or another grain? Wish I could taste some and send you some of my sourdough and fig preserves to share. I’m so glad I re-found your blog. Can’t believe it’s already been (more than) a month!

    October 8, 2010 at 11:03 am

    • HI Joanie bird,

      they have both leavened and unleavened bread (lavosh). I am in a small city and they use commercial yeast. In fact, my house mom does not bake her own bread, but purchases it, though her daughter made some bread the other day and I was the recipient of a loaf. It was yummy!!! You can send me your sourdough and fig preserve, but I have to say it is expensive to ship to AZ. I would love to share some with my family. I think they would like to taste it. Hope you are doing well. xoxo!!!

      October 11, 2010 at 12:34 am

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