In the past decade, annual visitors to Azerbaijan have almost doubled, and the majority of visitors come from Russia, Georgia and Iran. The first democratic Muslim state, the country claimed its independence in 1918. It became part of the Soviet Union in 1920, and then proclaimed its independence again in 1991. With high rates of literacy and low rates of unemployment, Azerbaijan is considered to have had better economic development than some of its neighbouring countries, which makes it a pleasant place to visit.
Azerbaijani cuisine is typified by an abundance of vegetables and a rich variety of herbs. Seasonal vegetables are a staple throughout the year, and the climate enables a diverse number of plants to be grown. Fish is popular, as is mutton and beef (but rarely horsemeat, which has fallen out of local favor), and green vegetables in particular. Plov, a rice dish, is the staple, as it is in many neighbouring countries. In Azerbaijani culture, black tea is typically drunk with jam mixed in. Another popular dish is dushbara, which is a doughy dumpling filled with meat and vegetables. Kutabi - stuffed pancakes - are also popular.
With a rich cultural history, the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List in Azerbaijan features no less than twelve different items, including traditional carpet weaving, the musical instrument called a tar, a sport called chovgan which is played on horseback and the making of lavash, a thin unleavened bread.
Carpets are the national pride of Azerbaijan, and so would make the perfect souvenir if you can fit one in your luggage. A woven kelagayi headscarf would also be a nice choice. Intricately woven gold jewellery, embedded with vermillion red or sky blue precious jewels, would make a wonderful gift for the special lady in your life. Round, dangling earrings in this style are also popular. Typically, Azerbaijani tea is drunk from hourglass shaped glass vessels, sometimes painted with paisley or floral patterns, and these would also make a unique gift - just be sure to pack them carefully!