Pleasure on your faces…

…is our success. So reads the front page of the menu of what has quickly become a favourite restaurant for me in Baku – L’aparté. It reads like a book, translated into three languages: Azeri, Russian, and English. Hours of reading pleasure can be had in simply deciding what to eat for dinner. And, interestingly, I came across the exact menu in another restaurant – Port – and there’s also a third of the same suite – Baku Restaurant. Same menus, same prices, different ambience.

The name of each dish is followed by a complete list of ingredients in parentheses; so complete, in fact, that lists include the basics, such as vegetable oil. It’s so comforting to know what it is you’re eating. My favourite is:  Coffee (coffee, water, sugar). The phonic translations to English are amusing. Qat-qat xәmirdә şatobrian – translates as Shatobrian (the French must be having palpitations at the thought!)

Dishes like Yeralaş (which translates as Muddle) might at first glance look similar to colcannon (the Irish dish of potatoes and cabbage) but I have it on good authority that it’s literally whatever is left in the fridge. My particular favourite is mimosa salad – a mix of potatoes, chicken, mayo and sometimes fish – a little fish called ‘sprat’. I’ll be attempting to add that to my dinner repertoire back in Budapest.

Eating out in Baku is quite the experience, one I’m thoroughly enjoying. If you’re in the know (or have people with you who are in the know) it’s as cheap as… well… chips…even if the chips are not quite chips! Anywhere you can get lamb cutlets (quzu antrekota) for €3 or çakapuli (lamb in wine sauce with tarragon) for €2 is quite all right by me. Mind you, I’m not at all sure that there’s a clear line of distinction between lamb and mutton. One dish – assorti quzu içalati – was just a little too adventurous for me. Inside allsorts mutton is an experience I’m saving for my next visit.

Along with Azeri and Russian food, I’ve also ventured a little into Georgian cuisine. Xarço supu – kharcho soup is an exotic blend of beef, rice, spices and verdure (the herbs on the top!) Cviştari are pellets of corn flour and cheese fried like potato cakes. Gürcü xingali are Georgian dumplings which come steamed or qizardil miş (baked).

I’ve learned, too, that the food has hidden depths. Out at Binә market, in what appeared to be an Uzbeck restaurant, I ordered what I thought was kharcho soup. While it looked just the same, the beef had morphed into worm-like noodles and the taste wasn’t anything like in Georgia.

Navigating the vineyards is a little different. Dry white wine seems to be universally absent from the menus. And while I’ve dallied a little with the reds, they’re just not for me. I did find one I liked – Ivanŏka – and the search is on to find it on a supermarket shelf.

So Baku, when you finally get on the tourist map, I suggest you tout your culinary prowess and tempt those travellers with your food.

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