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!!!