TRADITIONAL ARMENIAN CUISINE
Armenian Cuisine belongs to the family of Middle Eastern cuisines, such as Turkish Cuisine, Persian Cuisine and Arabic Cuisine. Historically, there have been mutual influences with all of the above listed cuisines, due to the nature of close cohabitation of the Armenian, Turkish, Kurdish, and the Iranian people during the past seven centuries.
A full course meal in Armenia begins with appetizers, which feature herbs, greens, cheese, sliced Basturma and Sujukh (dried spicy beef), bean and vegetable salads, and bread. The first course is usually a soup or other prepared specialty. The main course is a variation on meat, poultry or fish, though there may be two main courses, varying between the two. Tradition demands that fruit and dessert always completes the menu, along with a demitasse of Armenian coffee.
The first course is usually a selection of sliced Basturma and Sujukh (two varieties of a dried spicy beef). Each appetizer course includes a vegetable salad (mixed tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, carrots, radish and lettuce), the Panir (Armenian cheese), the pickled vegetables, the whole tomatoes, cucumbers, green and red bell peppers.
Other dishes may include Aveluk (a wild mountain sorrel, which is dried into long braids, and then prepared by steaming or boiling) and various types of eggplant (fried or first roasted on fire, then peeled and mixed with garlic, onions, herbs and spices, or sliced and folded over heaps of garlic, walnuts and herbs).
The Georgian Lobio pashtet (a pate made of red beans and walnuts, garlic and spices), the Spanakh (spinach mixed with eggs or with garlic mixed with yogurt) and the Sunk (the mushrooms): pickled, spiced, fried, mixed into a pate, or a Julienne (a gratin dish of mushrooms in sour cream sauce).
Ever present is a large plate of Kanachi (herbs and greens), that include fresh tarragon, scallions, parsley, celery, basil, cilantro, rosemary, oregano, thyme, dill and others. It is customary to have a tomato or Matsun based sauces on the table as well. The Matsun (natural yogurt) and its village variety is a riot of delicate tastes – you haven’t had yogurt until you’ve had it in Armenia!
Armenians love their bread. They might eat half a kilo each per day. If anything identifies the Armenian cuisine, it is the traditional form of bread, called Lavash (very large oblong thin bread made entirely by hand and baked in stone or clay ovens buried in the ground). To observe the process as done in the villages, is to see a thousand-year-old tradition without change.
Lavash has made it into UNESCO’s list of intangible heritage for Armenian culture. It’s not only the bread’s unique role in Armenian cuisine, but also the unusual technique for producing it coupled with the role lavash plays in the community that has influenced the local culture.
Matnakash (soft and puffy leavened bread made of wheat flour and shaped into oval or round loaves). The characteristic golden or golden brown crust is achieved by coating the surface of the loaves with sweetened tea essence before baking.
Zhingyalov hac (dough, dried cranberry, pomegranate molasses that go in the dough, and 7 different greens, which include spinach, cilantro, parsley, basil, scallions, dill and mint).The greens are placed in the dough and the bread is folded like a Calzone.
There are a few Armenian specialty soups that you ought to try if you get the chance. Spas (made from yogurt, hulled grains, greens and herbs) and Aveluk (made from lentils, walnuts and wild mountain sorrel prepared in soup).
Another soup is Khash, which is made from ham hocks and herbs made into a clear broth. Tradition holds that Khash can only be cooked by men, who spend the entire night cooking, and can be eaten only in the early morning in the dead of winter, where it served with heaps of fresh garlic and dried lavash.
Other soups include Russian Borsch (beet root soup with meat and vegetables, served with fresh sour cream), the Kufta (a soup made with large balls of strained boiled meat and greens) and Bozbash, a vegetable soup served usually in summer.
Meat dishes are divided between chicken, pork and beef. The most popular dish is Khorovats, which is a barbecued or grilled meat (usually pork) that has been marinated. Khorovats also includes grilled eggplant, tomatoes, whole onions, green, red bell peppers and hot peppers. Grill also includes whole or quartered chicken roasted on the spit.
Second in popularity is Kebab (uncased sausage-shaped patties from ground meat grilled on a skewer) and Khashlama (boiled meat dish, generally beef, lamb or mutton, seasoned with herbs and some salt – a stew, of sorts, in its most basic form).
Other specialties include Dolma and Kufta. Dolma comes in two varieties: spiced meat and rice wrapped in grape leaves (served with yogurt mixed with grated fresh garlic) and Summer dolma, which is wrapped with cabbage leaves. Another variation is to stuff tomatoes, eggplants, apples and quince with spicy meat and rice, and cook over a slow oven with plums. Kufta is specially prepared strained meat, which is boiled until tender in large balls, served with hot butter or oil.
Fish are usually broiled, steamed and cooked in soups. By far the most popular fish is steamed Ishkhan, the Lake Sevan trout, whose name stands for a “prince”. Another is a Sig, a whitefish from Lake Sevan, native to northern Russian lakes. Karmrakhayt, a river trout and Kogak, an indigenous Lake Sevan fish of the carp family, are also popular.
Traditional snacks are Pirojkis (deep fried potato crust with ground meat or cabbage as a filling). The Lahmajoun, a round, thin piece of dough topped with minced meat and minced vegetables and herbs including onions, tomatoes and parsley, then baked. The Georgian Cheburekis (wonderful deep fried flat round bread with spicy meat inside) and the Adjarian khachapuris, in which the dough is formed into an open boat shape and the hot pie is topped with cheese, raw eggs and a pat of butter before serving.
Traditional desserts include Pakhlava (layers of thin pastry filled with honey and nuts), Halvah (sesame seed paste), Alani (pitted dried peaches, stuffed with ground walnuts and sugar), Kadaif (shredded dough with cream, cheese, or chopped walnut filling, soaked with sugar syrup), Pastegh (homemade fruit leather) and Gata (round or a long oblong pastry, and delicate fruit filled tortes).
Grape sujukh (not to be mistaken for the meat variety, for it is made from strings of shelled walnuts dipped in grape syrup until a thick and tender coat covers them). Grape sujukh is a wonderful high energy snack that can be taken on hikes and daily excursions and eaten at will.
The dessert course always includes fresh fruit (peaches, apricots, figs, grapes, apples, melons, etc.) which is peeled and sliced into quarters at the table.
Like a Greek or Turkish coffee, Armenian coffee is a demitasse of thick brew boiled and served with powdered grounds in individual copper or brass pots.
Tea in Armenia can be a delight, especially if it is herbal. Armenians will spend spring and summer collecting mountain herbs, drying them for teas. Name an herb, and it is available in tea form in Armenia.
Traditional soft drinks are Tarkhun (tarragon flavored soda), Tan (salty yogurt drink, still or carbonated), Kvas (sweet, fermented rye bread drink) and a variety of mineral water, with popular brands like Bjni, Jermuk, Arzni and others.
The best local beers to try out are the Kilikia, Erebouni, Kotayk, Ararat, Gyumri and Aleksandrapol.
Armenia produces a remarkable variety of grapes under soil and climate conditions perfect for fermenting excellent wines. The Areni red wine is particularly lauded and many other Armenian semi sweet or dessert wines are world-renowned. Also popular are sweet and semi sweet fruit wines made from pomegranate juice and apricots.
Of all Armenia’s alcoholic drinks, the Armenian brandy is truly one of the best brandies in the world, the only type William Churchill drank (Stalin often complained about Churchill, saying he cared more about his next shipment of Armenian brandy, than how the war was going).
Armenian brandy won its first Grand Prix gold medal in France in 1904, which has been followed by 51 gold, 21 silver and 3 bronze medals over the years. Armenian brandy is rated using stars, each depicting the number of years it has been fermented, the youngest being three years. Thus, 3 star brandy is three years old, 5 stars – five years old, etc. After six years, the brandy is given special names to denote its age and quality.
Besides the Russian vodka, traditional local vodkas, usually distilled from fruit are very popular. Honi aragh (Cornelian cherry vodka), Tsirani aragh (apricot vodka) and the most common, the Tuti aragh (mulberry vodka).
Phoenix Tour invites you to taste centuries of tradition in each of our many dishes and whether it’s your first try at Armenian cuisine or your hundredth, there will be always something to suit your palette!