As soon as early humans learned to ignite and maintain fire, a powerful evolutionary leap occurred. Rather than eat meat raw, they would skewer it on wooden sticks and cook over an open flame – and inventing the precursor to a Caspian region favorite, known as kabab.
“Kabab is the first way of cooking meat, and its taste remained in human’s memory. Since then, humans have been looking for this taste and flavor throughout life”, explained Tahir Amiraslanov, head of the National Culinary Center in Baku, in an interview with Caspian News.
Kabab – meat cooked on a stick – has become one of the most popular grilled foods in the world, spanning culinary traditions as far west as the Middle East, Turkey and the Caucasus, to as far east as Central Asia, China and Korea.
The Caspian News team has put together some popular variations of this dish for visitors to the region that may want to experience one of the oldest cuisines known to man!
Standing at the crossroads between Asia and Europe, Azerbaijan is rich in culinary delights. Azerbaijani dishes are known for their abundant use of meat, such as lamb, beef and chicken.
There are many variations of kabab in Azerbaijan: Some are made with lamb or beef, others with chicken or fish. For tika-kabab, usually made with lamb, cubed meat is first marinated before cooking, and then threaded onto skewers. Lula-kabab is quite different, as it is prepared using ground meat that gets wrapped around the skewer.
If you’re visiting Azerbaijan, be sure to try khan kabab, a delicious variation on the traditional dish. Khan kabab is made with finely chopped lamb’s liver, served with burgundy-colored, ground sumac; onion rings, pomegranate seeds and chopped dill.
Typical Iranian cuisine includes several different types of kabab; stews, soups, and rice pilaf, as well as various salads, desserts and pastries.
One of the most common dishes in Iran is kubide kabab. If you are in Iran – no matter in which city or province – you will find this dish. The word kubide means “chopped” in Farsi, and this is no coincidence; the meat for this dish is hand-cut, not passed through a meat grinder. The dish is usually served with rice and a slice of butter, which slowly melts over the hot meat. Iranians also like to serve it with tomato, a yogurt sauce, vegetables, lemon and onions.
As one of Turkic countries in the world that share similar languages, customs and religion, Kazakhstan is closely associated with neighbors like Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan, yet its cuisine has also been heavily influenced by Russia.
Kazakhstani gastronomy has, at the same time, developed its own identity. The diet of Kazakh tribes centered on meat, including lamb, beef and camel. Therefor kabab has been popular in Kazakhstan, but with a twist: zhaubuyrek, which means “kidney” in Kazakh, is made from the kidneys and liver of the mountain goat, which was once cooked by hunters after a successful salburyn – a traditional hunt during the winter months.
As the world’s largest country, Russia is a multinational state with over 186 ethnic groups whose national dishes have had a strong impact on the country’s highly diversified cuisine. The prototype of the modern-day kabab was popular in Russia before the 18th century, but it was better known as a “skewered” meat because of the cooking method. Today, kabab is called shashlyk in Russia and is believed to be brought by the Crimean Tatars, who lived in the Black Sea region.
Russians cannot imagine a holiday without this delicious dish, while weekend getaways featuring shashlyk on the lunch and dinner tables have become a tradition. In Russia, kabab is usually made with pork, believing that the meat lasts longer and does not spoil as quickly as beef or lamb.
Turkmenistan’s national cuisine is as interesting as the entire history of its people. While Turkmen nomads and tribes were engaged in cattle breeding and lived in desert areas, some eventually became farmers that settled in the oases and floodplains near large rivers. Residents near the Caspian coastline, however, preferred fishing.
While the rice dish known as pilaf is considered the most popular in Turkmenistan, the national kabab dish known as keyikdzheren, which means “kabab made with the meat of a mountain goat” in the Turkmen language. Along with meat, fish – especially sturgeon – is widely used for cooking kabab. Known as balyk shara, this variation of kabab is cooked on a skewer together with onion rings.