Sunday, November 02, 2008

Lamb - it's what's for dinner

Food is always a big part of any adventure into an unfamiliar culture - it can give a traveller a great deal of insight into the customs, religion, geography and economy of anyplace they visit.

Places with a wide variety of climates and soil conditions tend to have a wider variety of food, as do places with a more diversified economy and social structure.

In places like Azerbaijan, especially in the more remote areas, meals tend to be highly influenced by local factors.

First and formost is the fact that most Azeris are Muslim, and follow the dietary restrictions of Islam to varying degrees.

For example, I didn't see pork on the menu or being served anywhere in Azerbaijan. Come to think of it, I didn't see a single pif or hog on any of the many farms we drove past either.

But alcohol doesn't seem to be a problem. Local beer and wine were always available, although it clearly wasn't as big part of their culture as is is in neighboring Georgia, which is Orthodox Christian.
There's also the fact that most agriculture and livestock are locally grown, raised, harvested, and consumed. Most of what you find on your plate was brought to an open-air market by the person who grew or raised it, and sold the same day to the person who ended up cooking it.

Lamb - it's what's for dinner!

Then there's the ultimate source - the farm. You don't see industrial-scale farming in this part of the world, and what's available is very much determined by the local geography and what's in season.

For the most part, it's not uncommon to see people farming here the way they've farmed for the entire history of the human race, with a few modern refinements. There are some tractors on the larger farms, but it's still mostly small family plots of a few acres being tilled with an animal pulling a plow.

And it's the same with livestock - no gigantic feed lots full of big beefy cattle, pumped up with hormones and anti-biotics, mulching down grain from a trough.

Here, it's still sheppards with dogs moving small heards of sheep from one patch of grass to another,and goats eating weeds in the roadside ditches.

Meat on the hoof

For sale - Pepsi, in one fridge... Meat and Cheese in the other!


Steve S said...

As a Peace Corps volunteer there for a year, I never saw any pigs, but do know of at least one place where one could find pork sausages for sale. It was in a village outside of Ganja -- Khachmaz, if memory serves -- that was settled by Germans at the behest of some tsar or another.

People, even devout Muslims, in the north (around Zaqatala, specifically) tend to be more lenient about eating pork -- probably because of the heavy Georgian influence there.

It's an odd little country with a lot of interesting pockets, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

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