I first became acquainted with Iranian cuisine in November 1996 while in West, Central and Eastern Iran. As I did not have the opportunity to eat as a guest in people’s homes, I ate mostly in restaurants. The food here consisted mainly of red meat, chicken and pilaf1. Some time later, in December 1998, I went to the cities of Şerefhane and Tabriz and southern Azerbaijan. I first tried pickled garlic there. On this trip we also saw dried limes for sale in Tabriz2. While researching the Karapapah Turks, we tried to devote some space to their cooking3, and observed significant similarities between their cuisine and that of the Hazara Turks of the Ismaili faith. The Turkish group which we had the greatest opportunity to study was the Qashqai tribe. Although we were in Northern and Southern Azerbaijan, we did not have the opportunity to do a detailed comparative study of these regions’ food cultures. Starting out with monograph collections from the Iranian Turkish tribes among whom I found myself, I will present my findings on the cuisines of Turkish tribes and regions such as the Giresunlus, Şahsevens, Afşars, Beydillis, Karapapahs, Ehl-i Hak and Karabakh in Northern Azerbaijan4.
The Mugan region where the Şahseven-Elseven Turkmen live includes the cities of Porsabat, Bilasuar and Germi. This is in the northwest portion of Iran’s Azerbaijan region. To the north and east of Mugan is Otay Azerbaycan (North Azerbaijan – North Mugan). Divided in two by the Aras river, Mugan and its surroundings are populated entirely by Turks speaking the Azerbaijan dialect of Turkish. With a strong Turkish folk culture, the Elseven Turkmen have a very rich folk cuisine. Among the foods noted there are:
Hedik: Known as aşure among the Şahseven-Elseven Turks, this is the same aşure as is made in Anatolia. Whatever the reason may be, it is known here as hedik.
Eğirdek: This dish is made from milk and flour. The dough is shaped into a small cup shape and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Although I do not remember the name, I do remember that this dish was also made in Kars in the 1940s.
Şorba (Bozbaş): Although the word is reminiscent, şorba has nothing to do with the çorba (soup) of Anatolia. This dish is made from fatty meat and chick peas. In Kars and Northern Azerbaijan it is known as bozbaş, and is a very popular dish. Bozbaş is made either in a pot, or in a clay casserole where it is cooked for many hours in the tandır, or pit oven. Bozbaş also contains potatoes.
Kelle: Kelle is a dish made of avuz, or colostrum. (Known by the same name in Anatolia as well, avuz is the milk which a cow gives for the first few days after calving. The avuz is placed in a pot and slowly heated, where it becomes firm. In the Caucasus, this solidified colostrum is known as “gumus.” Just as in Anatolia, in South and North Azerbaijan as well, avuz is eaten sprinkled with sugar. In the local dialect of Kars, kelle means “in large, unbroken.” “Kelle sugar” means rock sugar. “Kelle” also refers to a whole, uncut onion.
Bulama: Bulama is known in Kars and Iğdır by the same name. It is made by boiling down milk.
Haşıl: Haşıl is a local variety of halvah. After preparing a dough of wheat flour, a generous amount of sugar is added. A similar dish is made in Turkey out of fine bulgur, and eaten with milk or butter. This type of haşıl is also made in the Caucasus.
Kuymak: Among the Şahseven Turkmen and the Afşars, Kuymak is mostly made for pregnant women. The Turks of Southern Azerbaijan make Kuymak out of flour, butter and sugar. In the Caucasus and Eastern Anatolia, various foods are made of flour, butter, sugar or honey as a tonic for expectant women. These are known by a variety of names according to region. In the Caucasus, butter is melted and a bit of flour is sprinkled over this. This flour sinks down to the bottom. This prevents the butter from spoiling. This buttery flour is very tasty and is known as çıka or kuymak. Various types of kuymak are made in Anatolia, some out of cornmeal. These are sometimes eaten with cheese. The layer of kuymak which hardens and adheres to the pot is called kazımak (the verb kazımak means “to scrape”)..
Doğa: Another name for this dish is ayran aşı (thinned yogurt stew). It is made and known by this name in the Kars and Iğdır regions. Ayran aşı is a very different dish from yogurt soup. Doğa is made from yarma (hulled wheat) while yogurt soup is made with rice. Another variety of this stew is known as şumun aşı.
Traditionally among many Turkic peoples, a baby is not taken out of the home until it is forty days old. Among the Afşar Turks of Southern Azerbaijan, a midday meal is held for the occasion, and ayran aşı is prepared. The soup is white, symbolizing good luck.
Diş Hediği(“Tooth Hedik”): As in many different parts of the Turkic world, this is made when a child’s first tooth comes in. Diş hediği is made of wheat, chickpeas, beans and lentils. In Turkey and the Caucasus, nuts and/or dried fruit may also be added to this mixture. Hedik is also made in the Caucasus to eat while traveling.
Kavurma: Kavurma (literally “sauté,”) is made by sautéing meat and onions and cooking it down in its own fat. In Anatolia, there are various types of kavurma. In many areas, onion is added in order to tenderize the meat and add flavor. It is mostly made in a sac or shallow griddle and eaten with either thin yufka or tandır bread, accompanied by ayran.
Çilo huruş: Çilo huruş is the name used in Southern Azerbaijan for pilav with vegetables (sebzeli pilav in Anatolia). In Anatolia there are several different variations on this dish. The richest form of this dish is made in Uzbekistan.
Giyme: This is a dish made of cubed meat and chick peas, common among the Şahseven, Afşar and Beydilli Turkmen.
Gorma Sebze: This dish is very common among the Giresunlu, Karapapah, Şahseven, Beydilli and Afşar Turks of South Azerbaijan. It is made by sautéing kavurma with various herbs.
Turşası: “Sour stew,” is a thick soup prepared with the addition of pickles, which lend it a tart flavor.
Umaçaş: Another thick soup made with pieces of dough, onion, lentils, water, pepper, salt and butter.
Sarı Şile: This dish is associated with mourning, prepared on the anniversaries of deaths. It is especially made during the month of Muharrem, on the anniversary of the killing of Imam Hüseyin.
Sütlaş/Sütlaç: Just as in Turkey, this rice pudding is made by combining milk, rice and sugar.
Yarma Aşı: Literally “cracked wheat soup,” yarma aşı is made from chick peas, rice and yarma, cracked wheat berries. It is also known by this name in Kars, Ardahan and Iğdır.
Rişte Aşı (Thick Noodle Soup): Rişte, or homemade noodles, is known in several parts of Anatolia and Northern Azerbaijan as erişte. The Afşar, Beydilli, Giresunlu and Şahseven Turkmen make rişte out of chick pea flour. Up until the 1950s or 1960s, “erişte days” were made in Northeastern Anatolia in the autumn in preparation for winter. These were shared work parties in which large amounts of noodle dough was prepared, opened into thin sheets, cut into noodles and dried.
Among the Turks of Southern Azerbaijan, an “eğirdek meal” is served on the last Wednesday of the year. Eğirdek is a small oily type of bread. For this day, a special halvah is made by frying flour in butter. Yufka is mixed with doşap (grape molasses) and formed into balls; this dish is called müce. These dishes are passed out to guests.
Among the Hazara Turks of Afghanistan, a number of whom live in Iran as well, the habit of eating from a common dish is believed to bring concord, or “unity of words.”