Dolma, a Journey to Azerbaijani Culinary

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  • Azerbaijan Dolma. Courtesy of Aznews

    Azerbaijan Dolma. Courtesy of Aznews

    TEMPO.CO, Jakarta,

    Written byNia S. Amira, an Indonesian author, journalist, and linguist. She writes on culture, international affairs, multiculturalism and religious studies. Her articles have appeared in over thirty media, published in Europe, Asia, and the US.

    When we observe closely, each culinary characteristic originates from the geographical area and from the plants that grow or animals that live in that area.

    The Indonesian people are blessed by its tropical climate, especially those living in the west part who can easily grow all kinds of plants, breed the avian, goats, sheep, cows, and even buffalo from which we can process the meats into various types of delicious dishes.

    Azerbaijan is a land geographically situated in the Caucus region. It has four seasons and enjoys 9 of 11 climate zones known in the world that contributes naturally to the fertility of the land, which in its turn results in the richness of the cuisine. Azerbaijani cuisine refers to the cooking styles and dishes of the Azeri in the Azerbaijan Republic and Iranian Azerbaijan. It has a lot in common with the Iranian and Turkish cuisine due to the close distance with these neighboring countries. The Azerbaijani culinary has a Mediterranean-style tendency that comes from some countries with the medium climate around the Mediterranean Sea, where the sun shines sufficiently and fresh seafood is easily obtainable. The sunlight affects the quality of products such as vegetables, fruits, and grains to be very good.

    As you may know, the Mediterranean culinary, which is a combination of the culture of different countries, makes the appearance of Mediterranean food very diverse. We can see vividly the touch of Greek, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Turkish in it. Although sometimes used, but red meat or dairy products are rarely encountered in the authentic Mediterranean food. Similar to Mediterranean food, olive oil is a mandatory spice in every Azerbaijani dish, along with various types of grains including wheat grains, fruit, vegetables and seafood in a certain number.

    The Azerbaijani is a friendly nation and will never allow their guests to starve or go home without anything in their hands. National traditions are well preserved in Azerbaijan and one of the traditional dishes that must be on the Azerbaijan family table when entertaining their guests is Dolma. Dolma is a stuffed vegetable dishes, and it is common in Mediterranean cuisine and surrounding regions including the Balkans, the Caucasus, Russia, Central Asia and the Middle East. Dolma is derived from a verbal noun in Turkish for “dolmak” or to be stuffed.

    In Iran (read: Persia), dolma in many versions have been known since the early 17th century and according to Persian cuisine, dolma means for stuffing grape leaves, cabbage leaves, cucumbers, eggplants, apples, and quinces. In Azeri language, Dolma means ‘stuffed’ and in Azerbaijani cuisine dolma is absolutely delicious using amounts of fresh herbs along with other delicious ingredients such as salt, pepper, onion, and olive oil. Considering Azerbaijan’s climate that consists of four seasons, thus the stuffing for dolma can vary according to the seasons. We can use sweet tomatoes, eggplants, and cucumber and in Azerbaijani cuisine. The importance of making dolma is the grape leaves, but the mint leaves are also a must with coriander. Once we forget to put one of these ingredients, the taste will be not the same. Meat dolma is generally served warm, often with plain yogurt or garlicky yogurt or egg-lemon sauce. Making Dolma is easy and the grape leaves are full of vitamin C, but then we need such skill to roll the leaves, so not to ruin the look of Dolma. Mince the meat and onions through, add rice, chopped herbs, salt, pepper, and olive oil, mix by hand. Wrap small rolls of meat into the grape leaves and place into a casserole dish, then cook for about an hour on a small fire by adding first the water to the casserole.

    It can be said that no Azerbaijani table is complete without the presence of dolma. Many variations of dolma are made in some countries around the world, including Turkey, Lebanon, Iran, Greece, and others, but the Azerbaijani source can be logically agreed that the favorite dolma is the one served on Azerbaijani table. Why? Because of its particular taste and it is also due to the size and shape. Azerbaijani dolma is much smaller and has a round shape, except in the city of Ganja where dolma has an oval shape and is a bit bigger. According to the Azerbaijani, the smaller dolma bundles, the better, it is like a finger food.

    For every nation, food is an important part of the culture and is deeply rooted in the history, traditions, and values, and so for the Azerbaijani. Serving tea to the guests is one of the ancient traditions in this land of fire. In Azerbaijan, people usually dunk a piece of sugar into the tea, then bite a piece and sip their tea instead of adding sugar to it. Hot tea in cups of pear-shaped glass or called as Armudi glass served along with a plate of dolma. Presenting in a form of a white plate with flower motif surrounding and served with fresh yogurt will give the total appearance of dolma interesting and inviting anyone to taste.

    Dolma making and sharing the tradition, a marker of cultural identity in Azerbaijan. The quote from Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Azerbaijan in 2016, described dolma as the tradition presented throughout the Republic and is perceived as a central culinary practice in all regions. It is enjoyed on special occasions and gatherings and express solidarity, respect, and hospitality. It is transmitted from generation to generation and transcends ethnic and religious boundaries within the country. Dolma is also used for various cultural and social purposes. Therefore in 2017, dolma making in Azerbaijan was included into the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists. Dolma in Azerbaijan is something that nobody can imagine living without.*)