This article is from guest RD blogger, Valerie M. Houghton, who is living in Baku, Azerbaijan. I know, you probably are thinking, Azerba-where? In this blog, she tells us how “organic” food can be in other parts of the world.
Azerbaijan was part of the Russian Empire until 1991 when it broke away with hopes that everything would improve. However, 19 years later, it’s still struggling to become a modern society. What this little known country does have is oil and gas reserves—and tons of it. My husband is in the oil business, which is why we are here.
Food is a major topic of discussion among the “expats” like me who are living here. The major challenge is finding safe food. For example, meat is butchered in front of tiny storefronts and hung in trees to cool. Fresh poultry is often slaughtered at the farm and then transported to open air markets in the trunk of a car. I pass on both of these opting instead for frozen products imported from other countries.
Fruits and vegetables are another story…be prepared to shop in large outdoor markets, called souks, with hundreds of ramshackle stalls displaying locally grown produce.
The staple food of Azeri culture is oval shaped bread baked in
wood fired tandori ovens slathered with local white cheese; plov, a festive
rice and chicken dish, lots of potatoes and root vegetables, and of course lamb and beef
kabobs sold on the street wrapped around warm lavash. Tea or chay is the most popular
beverage followed by laban, a sour milk drink mixed with herbs.
One of the foods I miss the most is fresh milk. Dairy farms and milk production ceased after the war and all of Azerbaijan’s milk is UHT imported from Turkey. Of course you can purchase unpasteurized milk but the risk of bacterial infection is quite high. On a positive note I am not tempted by fast food outlets or ready to eat foods. There are two McDonalds in Baku- a city of 5 million people and no other fast food outlets.
The lessons learned from my experience here are not about what is missing but rather to be grateful for what is available. What I reflect on each day is that I don’t really need 50 kinds of breakfast cereal and pretty packages of organic foods to make me feel healthy. I just need the basics to be happy and that is all that is here.