Please, tell us about yourself. Who is Feride Buyuran?
I was born in Baku where I lived for 23 years, and then I moved to Long Beach, CA, where I’ve lived for the past 13 years (sounds like “guess my age” quiz, doesn’t it?), with my husband and our 2 kids. I received my BA and MA back in Baku from the University of Languages, and later received an MBA from California State University in Long Beach. Currently, I am a food blogger of www.azcookbook.com Besides blogging, I do flamenco dancing as a hobby and love reading when I get a chance.
Tell us about your blog and why blogging about cooking is important to you?
I started blogging in 2008. My blog features recipes that I try in my kitchen and want to share with everybody. The recipes are both for Azerbaijani and for non-Azerbaijani dishes, and I try to accompany each with some interesting write-up. Blogging is important to me as it provides the opportunity for me to express my passion both for cooking and, to some extend, for writing. Cooking to me is like a university you enter but you never graduate from because you learn so much every day and you keep learning. And this, perhaps, is the biggest thing I am attracted to in cooking – the never-ending learning and exploring.
What is your first food memory?
I am not sure if this would count as my first food related memory, but I can tell you about my first cooking disaster. I was about 12-13. My sister and I had to be home alone for a day as my parents had to leave somewhere. I decided to surprise them by making kotleti (fried ground meat patties) for dinner. Guess what I added to my kotleti? Uncooked rice! I thought it was one of the ingredients. So my kotleti turned very crunchy, and in fact, dangerous for teeth. My parents still ate them though.
Let’s talk about travel experiences. As I know, you recently traveled to your homeland Azerbaijan after 3 years. Did you meet your expectations after so long time? Any changes since that time?
Yes, I was there in the summer of 2013 after not visiting for 3 years. Baku has changed a lot. Lots of constructions going on everywhere. There are more high rise-buildings and because of constant renovation and demotion of old buildings, I could not recognize some streets. The city has a completely new look. Besides the changing look of the capital, what surprised me was the use of Internet. It is more widespread. A lot more people now have a Wi-Fi at home.
Did you have a culture shock? If yes, please, tell your story?
I never have a culture shock when I travel to my birthplace. Why would I? I was born there, I am familiar with how things work there, and I know the culture and mentality. To me it is all about understanding and seeing the differences between the countries but never being shocked at anything.
What has been the best experience you’ve had on the road? The worst?
The best experience is when I get to travel from Baku to other parts of Azerbaijan. Some of my relatives live in Balaken and Zagatala, in the northwest of Azerbaijan. So this year, too, just like before, we packed our car and drove there to visit them, stopping in other regions along the way: Shamakhi, Ismayilli, Gabala, Gakh, Sheki. On our way, we stopped at a roadside restaurant somewhere in Ismayilli and sampled some of the most delicious kababs and freshly brewed samovar tea. On the way back we stopped in the village of Ilisu in Gakh, a beautiful historic village spread on the lush hills. Despite the summer heat elsewhere, we enjoyed the cool weather in the village, sampling the local delicacy – surhullu (boat shaped pasta with dried meat) to warm out stomachs. From Baku, we also travelled to Ordubad, where our other relatives live. That part of Azerbaijan is completely different. The city seems to be frozen in time in a good way, where every street, every door speaks history. One feels like in a Medieval town. To sum it, the best experience was realizing once again how beautiful and diverse Azerbaijan is. The worst experience was that kids (me, too) would get sick going from Baku to other places. As we say in Azerbaijan, this happens when one changes the “weather” and “water.” So it was a temporary discomfort.
What’s your favorite city in Azerbaijan and why? What are the best things to do there?
I like northwest a lot. I like Sheki, its history, its narrow streets. When you are there, don’t forget to stop by one of those Sheki Halvasi shops where they sell the most famous specialty of the region, Sheki-style baklava (or halva, as the locals call it). My favorite of all the places I’ve been to in Azerbaijan so far is probably Zagatala. I love its nature, its modern yet authentic vibe, the people, and the food. When you are there, make sure to visit the central park, from where open the breathtaking vistas of the lush green region.
What was you funniest travel experience so far?
We were riding in a car, just a little outside Baku, when we saw a tendir bakery on the road. One can spot many tendir bakeries along the road leading from Baku to the villages of the Absheron peninsula. So we stopped at one named Bibinin Tendiri (Aunt’s Tendir). I saw a big poster in front of the bakery featuring a tendir picture from my blog (copyright laws are not common in Azerbaijan and I spotted photos from my blog in many other places, too). The baker, a young woman, greeted us. I told her happily that I made that tendir bread featured on their board and took the picture. She looked at me, smiled, and said quietly “Mashallah,” but her face said she was not convinced. She examined me thoroughly probably having a hard time picturing me toiling over a piece of dough, shaping and baking it. We had a lot of laugh about it after we left the place with loaves of freshly baked tendir breads that were devoured within minutes right in the car.
You traveled with family, including kids. What has been your favorite family travel experience?
The most favorite part of my travel experiences is when I see my US-born children reconnecting with my birthplace, enjoying their time there immensely and always wanting to go back. They get a chance to go outside and play with the neighbor kids. They play games that are not common in the US but have ben a part of my childhood. They get to pick a freshly laid egg, still warm, from the hen house at our relatives’ and get to cross ice-cold river in the countryside.
What are your top travel tips for traveling as a family?
My advice to myself and to my friends – pack only what you will need and you will see how light your suitcases and bags are. It goes both for flying on an airplane, or riding a car. Put aside the “I may use” it items and go for “I will use it.” Makes all the difference.
Have you been able to keep up with your cooking blog while traveling? How has it changed while you’ve been on the road?
When I am in Baku it is a big challenge to be consistent ith blogging. I do my best to post as much as I can. It is not easy when you are often on the road, and with kids. But my readers understand and I love them for that.
I have just announced the news about my first cookbook on my blog. The book is called Pomegranates and Saffron: A Culinary Journey to Azerbaijan. It is available to pre-order at www.azcookbook.com/pomegranatesandsaffron. I will probably post some new recipes on the blog soon. Keeping the names secret for now 🙂 And other recipes that I’ve tried and cannot wait to share with my readers.
Thank you very much Feride Buyuran, for talking about your travel experience. I believe that your Azcookbook blog fans enjoyed reading about your travel adventure and learning more about you in addition to your cooking recipes 😉
Feride Buyuran Azcookbook www.azcookbook.com Pomegranates and Saffron: A Culinary Journey to Azerbaijan