A bumpy seven hour drive from Baku is the small town of Lankaran. It may be famous for a number of things, but what they’ve chosen to highlight is a particularly large samovar.
The head and deputy head of tourism in the area turned out to have their photo taken with us and the aforementioned samovar.
What I would choose to celebrate is the local restaurant called Khan Lankaran. They serve food from the southern regions of Azerbaijan, which is mainly meats and vegetables flavoured with walnuts and pomegranates. These give them a rich, fruity flavour quite unlike anything else I’ve tasted.
All the ingredients are locally grown, including herbs from the grounds of their hotel wing. We were given a brief look round the hotel rooms, accompanied by the mouth-watering aromas emanating from the kitchen.
Finally we were seated in a long, narrow room on the ground floor of the restaurant. Happy laughter could be heard coming from the numerous other private rooms lining the courtyard, so we knew we were in for a treat.
A troop of waiters brought more food than could fit on our table, whilst the head chef looked on, approving each dish.
Once we’d eaten more than is healthy, the second course of hot dishes emerged. My favourite dish in the second course was the Lyulya kabab. These are a mixture of mutton and herbs squeezed around a skewer and barbecued, served in thin sheets of unleavened bread called lavash. The name of the kebab comes from the word lyulya, meaning barrel as their shape resembles a gun barrel. We’d had then at the caravanserai meal the day before, but the inclusion of suet made them far moister.
3 White Onions
100g Sumakh (a semi-sour spice, similar in taste to pomegranate seed)
Salt & Pepper
- Mince the mutton, suet and onions in a grinder and add salt and pepper. Leave for 30 minutes for the seasoning to work.
- With wet hands, take portions of the meat and press onto a soaked kebab stick.
- Grill for 10-15 minutes
- Serve in Lavash, with herby salad and chopped onion. Sprinkle a little raw sumakh on top.
Hotel rooms at Khan Lankaran (www.xanlankaran.com) are from €60. The only problem I can foresee in staying there would be tearing yourself away from the restaurant to try other foods from the surrounding area, which is exactly what we had to do.
The rich food at Khan Lankaran had left us all a little drowsy, so our guide decided we needed tea.
We drove about 10 minutes down the road to a small riverside tea shop, where we dutifully looked at a large rock, then sat down for some caffeine.
Of course, the legendary Azeri hospitality can’t do just tea, so we were also presented with an array of cakes and sweets.
Back to Baku
We continued south to the Lerik region to stay overnight. On the way back to Baku, we’d set off before breakfast and still not had lunch by about 4pm. We noticed a sign to Lankaran and the general agreement was that it would have been bliss if we could have stopped back at the Khan Lankaran.
Our guide had already called ahead and a few minutes after we pulled in, this was awaiting us:
It’s a large iron pan filled with lamb chops, chicken, more lyulyu kebabs, chopped potatoes and a little flat bread. There may have been some salad and stuff as well, but no time for that, or unfuzzy photos.
This trip was arranged by the Azerbaijan Tourist Board, as part of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation Silk Road Conference.