A Circassian Velibah with spinach filling decorated with white cheese, pomegranate seeds and torn basil

Is Circassian food the next big thing?

Short answer: no. But does it have the potential? Absolutely!

Circassian food is the food of the Circassian people, also known as Adyghe. Their homeland is in the North Caucasus where many still reside but as a result of the Circassian genocide most now live overseas, especially in Turkey. In recent years Circassian nationalism has had a bit of a revival, especially in the diaspora. Reviving and exporting Circassian cuisine could be a great thing for Circassian soft power and brand Circassia. What makes this cuisine distinctive is the unique landscape of the Caucasus that shaped it and the influences from the tribes that neighboured the Circassians.

So what elements of Circassian cuisine would appeal to the wider world? First things first: velibah. This cross between a bread and pie is traditionally filled with spinach or potato and spices but the possibilities for variation are endless. Almost like a pizza, the velibah is a simple base but with a bit of creativity and inventiveness, it can become so many different things. It’s quite similar to the Georgian cheese bread khachapuri (Georgian: ხაჭაპური – the megruli khachapuri is my favourite) and the Ossetian cheese and potato version. I made mine with a spinach and cheese filling and served it with crumbled cheese, shredded herbs and pomegranate seeds.

Another old Circassian favourite is the haliva. These deep-fried pastries are generally stuffed with cheese but again the scope for customisation is endless. I’m not saying the traditional versions are boring but it would be great to see updated Circassian cuisine finding a following across the globe.

There’s also potential for Circassian cuisine to go high end. The region of Circassia was famed for its high-quality food products even in the time of the Ancient Greeks. According to Captain Edmund Spencer who travelled through the Caucasus in 1836, the plants of the Circassian highlands give their honey “that singular intoxicating quality mentioned by Xenophon, Strabo and other ancient writers”. Apparently, the linden and rhododendron blossoms were responsible for helping produce this “fine green honey” that was also highly esteemed as a delicacy in Constantinople and Tehran too.

Captain Spencer also describes the wine made by the Circassians. The white wine was said to resemble those “of the neighbourhood of Rome” and the wine they made from black grapes was often mixed with fruit juices or their famous honey.

It would be great to see Circassian food exports and to be able to use them to produce the finest food representing Circassian heritage. The pilaf could definitely sit on a fine dining menu with variations involving the fruits, herbs and spices indigenous to the hills of the North Caucasus. I would also like the see the small barley breads revived that were cooked on a hot stone or metal plate covered with cinders. If you wanted to take this dedication to the next level you could even make sugar the way the Circassians used to: from the refined sap of walnut trees, or from honey bleached in the sun.

As you can see, Circassian food certainly has the potential to be exported and loved by people across the globe. There’s a strong and varied culinary heritage and a history of creating high-quality food products. Reviving this cuisine would be a great way of preserving heritage, finding a market for Circassian products and raising awareness of the Circassians’ situation.

 

Circassian Velibah, Ualibah, filled with spinach and cheese, decorated with cheese, pomegranate seeds and basil
Circassian Velibah filled with spinach and cheese

 

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