Slow food travel: how some are rescuing unique Azerbaijan’s food products from extinction


The Slow Food movement appeared in 1989 Italy – its adepts confronted the fast food culture by supporting local gastronomic traditions and food products. Over three decades, the project has grown into a worldwide network, uniting millions of like-minded people on more than 160 countries. Təzə People tells you how Slow Food operates in Azerbaijan and how the movement saves local agriculture and food products from extinction

The founder of the Slow Food movement Carlo Petrini set three foundations for his gastronomic philosophy – Good, Clean and Fair, which means 1) all food products must have natural flavor 2) the food production must be ecological and traditional 3) the sale of food products must be socially just.

In the early 1990s these simply rules became revelation and inspiration to millions of people worldwide. Farmers and craftsmen, restaurant and hotel owners, tourist agents and authorities started changing their views on regional gastronomy – seeing their future in it, not “days of the past”.

Over several decades the movement has grown into a global network of local communities. And today this network protects the environment, revives and develops regional traditions, supports small businesses and attracts tourists.

One of the key components of the Slow Food movement is the «Ark of Taste» – an international catalogue of food products facing extinction. The main task of this “Red Book” is to tell the world about small farms producing unique food products, endangered by climate change, industrialization and urbanization.

The global “Ark of Taste” catalogue has more than 5000 items. 31 of which can be found in Azerbaijan.

In order to save the disappearing food products and help traditional small businesses of Azerbaijan, the Slow Food movement organized the COVCHEG project here. It is aimed at economic revival of rural communities, uniting and educating food producers, as well as developing regional tourism. Today it covers settlements in five regions of the country – in Shamakhi, Ismayilli, Gabala, Sheki and Gakh.

All of these regions are renowned for their rich cultural heritage, incredible nature and at least one unique food product mentioned in the “Ark of Taste”.


5 diseappearing food products from the slow food list*, which can be found only in Azerbaijan

*Presidia Slow Food is an association of communities that continue to cultivate local plant species livestock as well as preserve unique technologies in food production

Madrasa Grapes Presidia

This type of grapes was named after the village with the same name in the Shamakhinsky district, which used to be one of the winemaking centers in the Caucasus for many centuries. Wine pitchers, dated second millennium BC, discovered here have served as a proof of thousands of years of winemaking traditions here.

This tradition had never ceased to live on until last century – when the nationwide anti-alcohol campaign started in the Soviet Union in 1985. Hectares of vineyards were destroyed here in that year. Today Slow Food supports winemakers who understand the value of this culture, rebuild the production and continue national traditions.

Red wines with special overtones, as well as rose wines with fruity and citrus flavors are made from the sweet and juicy Madrasa grapes.

Ata-Baba hazelnut

Unique type of hazelnut, which grows on the southern slopes of the Caucasian Mountains, between the Gabala and the Gakh districts. “Ata-baba” means “passed on from father to son” in Azerbaijani. And its not simply a metaphor for this region – every farmer here has at least two hazelnut trees on the premises, which go from generation to generation within a family.

The Ata-Baba hazelnut contains a lot of oils, which gives it a very tender and sweet flavor. Usually it is consumed raw, as well as used for making baklava and other sweets.

Azerbaijan is one of the world’s largest hazelnut producers (3rd place after Turkey and Italy). It is exported to dozens of countries, hundreds of factories worldwide. As hazelnut exports grew, local types of it have lost their significance, dwarfed by the more commercially profitable ones. Confronting this trend, Slow Food supports small businesses, which grow Ata-Baba hazelnut – helping them to popularize and to sell this type of hazelnut in Azerbaijan and beyond.

Wild Caucasian rosehip Presidia

The only type of rosehip of its kind grows in the forests of the Ismaillinsky district and the Girdimançay valley. Locals in this region have been carrying the knowledge of how to gather these small wild berries and turn them into food products – from generation to generation.

Nowadays, simply because many youths went to live in towns and cities, this tradition is on the brink of survival. That is why Slow Food helps the local community to preserve that knowledge – by attracting young people to rosehip gathering and cooking jams, syrups, compotes and desserts from it. Preserving these recipes means preserving traditions of every family here and of the entire region.

Apart from rosehip berries, which are valued for their vivid flavor and medicinal qualities, petals of wild rosehip are also used in culinary – and those are very useful for your health too. Jams are made of these petals, they are used as an ingredient for festive sweets or just served as a supplement to tea.

Mountain honey

Ancient traditions of honey making are still alive in the mountainous north-western part of Azerbaijan. Honey makers here use tekne – logs with carved holes, which serve as beehives.

Tekne are usually placed at the height of 600-800 meters, which allows bees to gather pollen from chestnut, apple, pear and peach trees. Such beehives are ideal homes for grey Caucasian bees. That is why preserving tekne means preserving the populace of local bees.

Nevertheless, because mobile hives were introduced in the 19th century, the less-productive tekne have been used rather rarely. Besides, making tekne costs more and the honey produced with this method differs greatly from the ordinary one – it is darker and thicker, its flavor and aroma are more intense. It is not considered as an everyday product, rather an expensive delicacy for foodies.

Khary Bulbul

A type of orchid, registered in the “Red Book of Endangered Species”, which grows on mountain slopes and fields of Karabakh’s Shusha. The petals of Khary Bulbul are velvet-like, purple or burgundy. They resemble a bird, which is signified in the name – “bulbul” means “nightingale” in Azerbaijani.

A beautiful flower, depiction of which can be often seen on Azerbaijani carpets, has become the symbol of Karabakh. Khary Bulbul is closely connected with local culture and legends. For instance, according to one of the tales, a Iranian Shakh of the 18th century built a garden for his beloved wife. He planted all the flowers in that garden, which usually grew in Shusha - where she was from. But Khary Bulbul was not one of those – it cannot grow anywhere else but home.

People of Karabakh make medicinal brews from Khary Bulbul – to treat cardiovascular diseases.

This story was written with the support from the Azerbaijan Tourism Board. The Təzə People editorial board expresses deep gratitude to Sakina Asgarova – Head of Gastronomy Tourism Management and Anar Latifzada – Specialist of Gastronomy Tourism Management.