Tastes of Abroad: Azerbaijan

From learning how to open a pomegranate without staining my white t-shirt bright red, to experimenting with cuts of meat I had never tried in the United States, studying abroad really expanded my culinary palette. Instead of sticking to simple options at Cafe Mac such as a piece of grilled chicken or the regular option of a burger and fries, now I’ll grab a little cilantro, throw a little butter and pepper into a bowl of rice from south, cut up one of the peppers lying around the ice-filled troughs, and top it off with chopped up pieces of hamburger meat to make my rendition of Azerbaijani plov.

Coming from a Latino family in the United States, my parents have always instilled a strong sense of culture in me by talking about their food. Rice, beans and spices were staples to be combined and experimented with on a daily basis in order to make a tasty meal. It was really grounding to find similar culinary basis while abroad in Azerbaijan. My host mother would respond with smile on her face when I would describe how one of her dishes was really familiar to something my mom would make on a Friday night. She had told me that it was not often that an American student would be familiar with many ingredients used in Azerbaijani cuisine. While I quickly realized at college that my idea of a home-cooked meal everyday was different than many of my white peers, it was very strange to actually find more similarities while in a foreign country.

Learning about how another culture incorporates food into their daily life really gets you to understand so much more about where you are. I personally found so many cultural parallels between my Cuban identity and Azerbaijani culture over conversations at the dinner table in Baku.

This is the first edition of a column about experiences with food while on a semester abroad, and I look forward to hearing and talking about other experiences in the future.