Two months have passed since Cynthia nominated Farida from Farida’s Azerbaijani Cookbook as my next participant in this Edible Lives series of conversations with food bloggers. The delay is all my fault – I went off to France and got carried away with being in holiday mode, and then my emails ended up in Farida’s spam and delayed our conversation further until they could be found again. Thank you for bearing with me throughout this time, Farida!
Before I met Farida, I knew little (aka nothing) about the food and culture of Azerbaijan. Through her blog and our conversation together, I have discovered not only a wide array of temptingly delicious recipes but also an affectionate portrait of Farida’s homeland. As Farida writes, it is traditional for the doors of people in Azerbaijan to be always open to guests. I’m honoured to have been invited to take my own place at Farida’s table in her journey to recapture and present the familar flavours and tastes of her childhood memories.
Here, then, is the story of Farida’s Azerbaijani Cookbook …
How did you get the idea of starting a food blog?
I got the idea to start a food blog a little after I took on writing an Azerbaijani cookbook. One day, I happened to listen to a radio program that talked about blogs and this was actually the first time I’d ever heard the term. I did a search on the Internet and was quite impressed by the number of food blogs out there and became immediately fascinated with the whole idea of sharing the recipes and stories online. A good friend of mine encouraged me to start a blog too and I didn’t wait any longer. My blog is primarily focusing on Azerbaijani cuisine, but I also post other recipes I love which are not particularly Azerbaijani.
Were there any food blogs in particular that inspired you at the start?
I can’t say that one or two blogs inspired me in particular, because there are lots of nice ones out there and a little bit from all of them somewhat inspired me to start my own blog. I especially loved the ones with ethnic foods from around the world. I find that one can learn so much about a culture by learning new recipes and by reading the stories behind them.
Yes, Cynthia commented on how she learns something new each time she reads your blog, yet at the same time she notices similarities between your culture and hers through the food you describe. Have you found that writing for your blog has helped you in the process of working on your cookbook in any way?
Writing on my blog absolutely helped me on working on my cookbook, and in more than one way. Since my cookbook is going to be a mix of food and culture, I wanted to know what aspects of the culture people would be more interested in knowing, what exactly draws their attention about Azerbaijani food, what it is that that they would like to learn more about and I found that comments I have been receiving on my blog are really helpful in this respect.
Through my blog, I have also met wonderful people who have volunteered to test the recipes that are going to be in my cookbook. And what is most important is that receiving feedback on my posts from all over the world really motivates me to go that extra mile and work harder on my cookbook.
You say on your blog that you only cooked occasionally when you were living in Azerbaijan. How did you go about compiling your recipes and putting together all of the background information that brings your posts to life so vividly after your move to California?
Yes, it is true that I didn’t cook much back in Azerbaijan. My cooking was limited to salads, appetizers and some cakes and sweet pastries that my family made quite often, especially for special occasions, like birthdays or holidays. But I was familiar with food. I saw food being cooked on a daily basis. I was familiar with ingredients and which ingredients were used in what dish, but I never put it into practice.
This is to say that I grew up in a culture where food is a very important part. Azerbaijanis do not eat out much except for special occasions, when extended families get together to celebrate an occasion. There is somebody in every family who cooks every single day. It is usually a mother or a grandmother. Since receiving a higher education is very important in Azerbaijan, parents would rather see their children reading a book and going to libraries than spending their time in the kitchen cooking for the family, or better yet, inventing new dishes. Such was my case too.
I would like to mention that I’ve always had a passion for recipes and I’ve been collecting them since I was about 11-12. Sounds contradictory, right? I know, but this is true. I kept collecting and being fascinated by all the ingredients and methods of cooking described in recipes, but I rarely used them. All until I came to the US in 2002. Away from Azerbaijan and my family, I missed homemade food and had no other choice than to begin cooking myself. Later came the idea for a cookbook, then for a food blog. Most background information on recipes I provide on my blog is coming from my everyday exposure to those foods back in Azerbaijan. Today I cook Azerbaijan and Turkish food on a daily basis, and I love to experiment with other international foods as time permits.
What do your family and friends back in Azerbaijan think of your food blog and does it help you to keep in touch at all?
My family was a little surprised when I told them I would write a cookbook and start a blog, but they were very happy and supportive of the idea and believed in me from day one. My friends support my initiative too.
I receive emails from friends or relatives who have tried some of the recipes from my blog and it is especially encouraging to hear that my recipes actually work. So, in a sense, my blog does help me stay connected with people I love but who are far away from me. More than anything, my blog helps me stay connected with my roots and with the culture I grew up on.
As well as staying connected to Azerbaijan through the recipes you post on your blog, you also say that you like to experiment with other international foods and to write about these too. What are your favourite sources of recipes for these other foods?
I love to learn about cultures though their foods. In the past, I used to experiment with them more often but now that I am concentrating on my cookbook, I have less time to do so. My favorite sources for the recipes are ethnic cookbooks and blogs. I am an avid reader of quite a few blogs on ethnic cuisines, and here are some of my favorites: Marija’s Palachinka on Serbian cuisine, Peter’s Kalofogas on Greek cuisine, Sunita’s Sunita’s World, Cynthia’s Tastes Like Home on Caribbean cuisine, Zerrin’s Give Recipe and Banu’s Almost Turkish Recipes, both on Turkish cuisine.
Another favorite blog of mine is Elise’s Simply Recipes. Elise is one of the bloggers who warmly welcomed me to the blogging world where I had just stepped back then. Her blog is a fantastic source for great recipes.
In terms of your own culture, what have you discovered that people like and want to learn about Azerbaijani food?
I think people who visit my blog, particularly non-Azerbaijanis, like to read stories behind traditional recipes. This is where they can learn about a particular tradition, or a ceremony, or just how and when a certain dish is eaten. Anything that would help them catch a glimpse of culture along with the recipe sounds interesting to readers.
How close are you to completing your book?
My goal is to have it published by the end of this year, or early next year, at the latest. I am almost done with the recipe writing part of it and what is left is mostly the cultural, historical information that will appear at the beginning of the book as well as throughout it.
What’s your own favourite recipe on your blog, and what’s your most popular post?
My favorite recipe on my blog is for stuffed grape leaves and this is only because it happens to be my favorite dish.
The most popular post must be that that on zebra cake.
Although it is not a traditional Azerbaijani cake (most cakes are a European import to Azerbaijan but Azerbaijanis have wholeheartedly accepted them into their cuisine) it is definitely not a stranger in the country. I have received numerous comments on that particular post and continue to receive emails from people who have tried the cake. This is a great honor and I am very flattered that my zebra cake is being made in different parts of the world.
And finally, who do you nominate to be the next person I invite to talk to me about their food blog, and why?
I would like to nominate Marija from Palachinka to be your next interviewee. Marija and I met (virtually) when I had just started my blog and have become good friends ever since. Her blog has taught me a lot about Serbian food. Marija is an amazing photographer and food stylist. Her blog is truly inspirational.
As is your own, Farida . Thank you ever so much for talking to me. I’m looking forward to being able to buy your book and reading more of your fascinating stories behind the food of Azerbaijan.