A couple of years ago, in the depths of winter, we were staying in an apartment in a hotel on the edges of Zagreb. It was cold and dark and just a bit too far to walk into the centre of the city for a meal. So, with cooking facilities in the apartment, we decided to stay in. We had pasta, we had wine, we had wi-fi and we had access to You Tube on the TV. I can’t remember what we logged on to watch, but the last person’s choice of viewing caught our eyes and piqued our interest – the Country Life Vlog.
Filmed entirely on location on a remote farmstead in Azerbaijan, nestled beneath the Greater Caucasus Mountains, it largely features the matriarch, Aziza and her husband and their assortment of farm animals and pets. The story behind the vlog started when their son, a professional chef called Amiraslan, was working in a restaurant in the capital, Baku, which was forced to close due to the pandemic. Amiraslan saw this as an opportunity to share their region’s dishes and way of life with the world, and he returned to his native village and began to create videos of his family at work preparing traditional dishes and doing traditional jobs around the farm. In a year, their Youtube channel gathered over 450,000 subscribers with many of their videos reaching over one million views.
No sound accompanies these videos – which can be short as 10 minutes or as long as 40 minutes, depending, on what is being prepared and cooked – apart from the sounds of peeling or chopping or frying. Sometimes you’ll hear the sounds of nature – chirping birds, miaowing cats, yapping dogs, buzzing insects – but dialogue between the wife and husband is very, very rare. Mostly, they are totally engaged in their own work. She does the cooking. He does the manual work. There is no voice over. There’s no context which explains the vlog. But the more you watch, the more mesmerising it becomes. Although where we live now is pretty rural, we have 100% access to everything which makes our lives easy and totally 21st century. We can hop in the car and be in the hustle and bustle of Trieste within 40 minutes. If we need a litre of a milk, although it’s not as easy a nipping across Burton Road to the Co-op, we can easily get one within half an hour. We have access to strong and secure wi-fi, meaning that we have 24/7 access to what is happening in the world and are in very regular contact with family. So, although we are quite rural in terms of our location, our lives are still essentially like the ones we lived in West Didsbury. And, I think this is what makes the Country Life Vlog so compelling – it gives you a real time insight into a very different kind of life. A life that could have been lived in a different time.
All of the ingredients comes from the land and their animals. Everything is made from scratch and always in huge quantities – off camera, I do hope there are a lot of mouths to feed! The filming of everything is just beautiful – it is simple in technique, but evocatively beautiful in style. A close up of Aziza deftly chopping onions. A bowl of glistening red cherries. A turkey, fanning its tail feathers, the family puppies bounding around in the snow. An axe, swiftly chopping mountains of logs, to fuel the open stoves and fires that the cooking is done on.
The cooking is as authentic as you would expect. As well as Azerbaijani cuisine, expect influences from around the world. Expect to see demonstrations of how to make traditional lamb stews, cabbage dolma, kebabs and baklava, as well as pizzas, paella and cinnamon rolls. But don’t expect to see a sanitised version – this ain’t Nigella Lawson! Expect to see butchering. Expect to hear knives cutting through animal bones. Expect to see plucking. But also expect to see cooking done in a way that we don’t see any longer – it’s amazing how mesmeric the chopping of vegetables can be, or the peeling of fruit, or the grating of cheese. And, you can always filter out the more “real” demonstrations and opt to watch the episodes which focus on less meat and less gritty reality. (They also have episodes where they actually show how to make/build things essential to their lives – an oven, a woodstore, a firepit, for example).
The Vlog is filmed all year round – with the food that is being cooked obviously reflecting the seasons – so you get a real sense of the way this couple live their lives. It’s clearly a much easier life in spring and summer, but definitely not a life I would relish, as their hard work on the land continues, relentlessly. But the beauty of their surroundings is magical, especially when everything is in flower and growing profusely. Winter filming shows how these people just “get on with it”. Cooking still happens over open fires, or in big cauldrons – and outdoors, too, even when the snow is deep around them and icicles are hanging off the eaves of buildings. Life carries on around the cooking – heavy snow is pushed off towering conifer trees with a long stick, before the weight breaks the trees. Back breaking shovelling of snow happens around the cooking area, and the paths to the house. Trees are chopped down into logs with a single axe and the logs stored for winter fuel. And, all of this done against the backdrop of the most incredible natural beauty.
I know very little about Azerbaijan, and I think I expected that it would be bleak country, impoverished and harsh. But this Vlog shows how wrong you can be. Although they live a rural, sometimes quite feudal existence, they clearly have access to modern amenities – since we first watched it in 2021, it’s clear that improvements have been made around the farmstead, with new buildings (constructed by Aziza’s husband) in evidence, and everything looking a whole less “ramshackle”. A beautiful little studio kitchen area has been created, enabling the cooking to be done more easily, in terms of filming. But, the whole experience still offers an authentic, captivating and immersive experience of rural Azerbaijan. With its stunning cinematography and real storytelling, the Vlog has become a popular platform to explore the charm of country life. But, don’t just take our word for it – take a look yourself and we promise you will be as drawn in as we are…
We love to spend a bit of time, every now and again, just absorbing an episode or two of this wonderful Vlog. I doubt we’ll ever recreate any of the recipes, and I certainly don’t hanker after their life-style or where they live, as beautiful as it seems. For us, it’s pure escapism and a chance to just be totally quiet and peaceful and see into a quiet window of this rural family’s farm life and see a glimpse of Azerbaijani traditions and rich cultural heritage.
In a world where everything is faced paced and noisy and full on, you want to keep watching because of the silence. A rare treat, these days…