Visiting Baku and not getting caviar is like visiting New York and not trying a hot dog; it’s like coming to France and not getting a croissant. Actually it’s more like being in Spain and not trying jamon Iberico. It’s probably a much better comparison given its price and taste.
Since the first day in Baku we were asking everybody where and how to buy a little caviar. Some people said just go to a supermarket, it’s safer. Others said in order to get a better quality and a better price – go to the market, but there is a risk. Even though I loooove caviar I am not an expert on quality especially on beluga. I had my share of osetra but definitely not beluga, so it’s easy to be cheated on quality, i.e., pay higher price for lower quality. Also, there is an issue of freshness since there is no government supervision there.
So it was our last day in Baku, all the sightseeing was accomplished but no caviar yet. Finally, I decided to put my trust in the hotel’s cook. I was watching her all thru breakfast and it was the best hotel breakfast so far. She took care to constantly replenish the buffet, every minute she brought out more and more food: crunchy cucumbers, succulent tomatoes, variety of hard and soft cheese, pastry, jams and finally fluffy steaming yummy omelets. The woman knows food. So I went to thank her for breakfast and asked her opinion. Of course she knew all about it. Definitely go to the market she said, it’s the only choice. Best quality best price. Just trust your taste. The price range is between 900 to 1500 manat for a kilo depending on the season and now it should be on the lower side.
So the decision was made and now we needed to make sure we get a good deal and we were very serious about it. All we wanted was to get a measly 100 gm but we approached it seriously. On the way to the market we were rehearsing the strategy. Don’t show them that we are interested at all and we will be in a better bargaining position.
So this is how it went. We arrived at the market and slowly moved thru the vegetable section pretending to buy. If anybody was once in Washington Square in New York, they know that some suspicious types come close to you and whisper rather loudly: smoke, smoke…. Well, exactly the same happens here just instead of smoke they whisper: caviar caviar, in Russian and English. The “half secrecy” is because apparently it’s illegal to take large quantities of caviar out of the country, it has to be done thru appropriate channels.
One particular insistent guy began to convince us to get caviar while we insisted that we are not interested: we are here to buy vegetables. Well, just taste some, he said. “Reluctantly” we agreed just to taste and followed him thru the market to a small well-lit almost empty room with huge commercial refrigerator. Then, he began to pull out numerous little jars with caviar and so the tasting began. Well, it wasn’t spoonfuls but several eggs that he put on top of our palms. He pointed out the osetras and the belugas and I saw that he wasn’t cheating, the difference was obvious. My role was to make faces: this is not salty enough, this is too plain, this is too sharp, this is too fishy, etc. The jars appeared and disappeared got opened and closed and shuffled around in the speed of light. The more he pushed us for a decision the more “reluctant” we appeared. And all the time we were repeating the mantra: “we are here to buy vegetables, not caviar”. Finally, when the guy was becoming desperate the negotiation process began. It started with 140 manat per 100 gram. I continue with my “reluctance” regarding the whole thing while Roman kept pressing the price down and all the while we continued the tasting. At the end we got it for 85, better than expected. Being in Azerbaijan for two weeks by then definitely helped our negotiating skills.
Next step was to buy few grams of fresh butter and fresh hot bread from the oven, which was an easy task. Then we rushed back to our hotel where a bottle of wine was waiting for us. (I don’t subscribe to champagne with caviar model; I think champagne kills the taste of caviar). Thirty minutes later the caviar was gone…