WHAT THEY EAT: ARMENIA.
It is tremendous challenge to understand the intricacies of the Caucasian cuisine: where exactly, under what circumstances, and most importantly –by which nation, this or that dish was invented. Each nation of this region with a hoarse voice would argue that they were undeniable the first to bake flat cakes stuffed with cheese or to roast meat on woodfire. There are many of such "controversial" dishes;however, today speaking about the Armenian cuisine, we will stick to their "side". Local culinary traditions are considered one of the oldest on the planet - almost entiremodern menu of Armenia was formed more than two thousand years ago. Moreover, despite the development of technology, most of the utensils came from ancient times to the present day, and arewidely used by cooks both at home and in public catering establishments: centuries-old saucepans, vats, vessels - every Armenian family has a mini museumin kitchen.
Comparing the Armenian cuisine with the neighbours, the culinary expertsclaim that its main difference is a slightly higher salinity, which is explained by the local climate. Armenia is a very warm, even hot country, and therefore the human need for salt is slightly higher. A large number of all kinds of meat and dairy products is explained by cattle husbandry, whichhas been developed on these lands from time immemorial;fertile soil allowed to "dilute" the meat excess with vegetables and greenery. A modern Armenian cook uses about 300 kinds of herbs for everyday food, many of which are not only spices, but also self-sufficient elements of nutrition. Another important trend: despite the traditional "meat bias" in the Caucasus, it is the Armenian cuisine that is famous for its excellent fish dishes - all thanks to the mountain rivers, and of course, to the majestic Lake Sevan, dubbed as the Armenian Sea. In general, the nature of this country, with its diverse zones and climatic conditions, is undoubtedly the most important creative thinker of the cuisine, that is why it is so difficult for the large Armenian diaspora in the world to adapt to the lack of certain products away from home.
Considering the main dishes, we should start not with stereotyped barbecue, but with soup, although khach for the Armenians is much more than just the first course. When the autumn it gets colder and everyone wants some hot food, the "season of khach" begins, and in the first days of this cycle, relatives gather together to cook this beef broth all night, which it is customary to eat early in the morning with lavash(soft, thin unleavened flatbread) and a glass of home-made tincture. It is difficult to believe, but "ordinary" broth accompanied bylavash and radish for digestion, is the dish that can be enough even for an adult and hungry man for a whole day. The soup is very rich and nutritious, you should eat it with your hands, dipping lavash into a plate and sprinkling with garlic. Nothing else is needed, no meat, no fish - you just have one plate and then you do not want to eat until the end of day. When the season begins and "khash is going out", the Armenians gather together to take a sip and then spend the whole day on the couches in pleasant conversations over tea and cheese.
For vegetarians there is also a wonderful soup spas cooked based on the matzoni(something between sour cream and butter, an excellent spread for fresh bread) and wheat cereals. Cereals, by the way, are also very important; in Armenia, they eat many different cereals, adding mushrooms and other vegetables to them. All kinds of beans, eggplant and pumpkin are also popular. All these products are cooked in many ways - roasting, steaming, baking, but always turn out to be interesting and tasty. It is impossible not to try an eggplants stuffed with cheese and nuts - every cookmakes it a little differently, but it is always a masterpiece.
Well, let us move on to the meat, or rather to the khorovatz, meaning skewers of grilled meat. Local residents counted about 20 kinds of barbecue, from meat fried on coals, to meat cooked in a saucepan (khazani). Among the meat ingredients, pork, lamb and beef are most often used. Nevertheless,sauce is more important than meat itself, because with such abundance of herbs and spices, you can eat the same pork, which tastes like two completely different products. Naturally, every Armenian thinks that only in his family they make the right barbecue, if we talk about seasonings, roasting and marinade.
No less delicious than barbecueisdolma, another "controversial" dish:minced meat rolled up in fresh young grape leaves and well flavoured with garlic, the Georgians adore it. Attention deserve a few more fragrant and nutritious "kings of Armenian feast":harissa (wheat porridge with chopped chicken), soujoukh (sausage with spices), koufte (meatballs). It is important to note, that absolutely in any cafe or restaurant, any position on the menu is a satisfying full meal even for an adult. Armenian hospitality and huge dishes are something that goes without saying, it is impossible to be hungry after meal.
To feel at least some lightness in body after the feast, and to be ready to see the beauty of this country or the sights of Yerevan, it is advisable to take fish dish. Local trout is not just amouth-watering experience, this is a real finger-and-plate licking culinary staple. In the Middle Ages, the Armenians learned how to make artificial water reservoirs away from the rivers and the Sevan Lake, just to breed this yummy fish. Another delicacy, the glory of which spread far beyond this small but proud country,isishkhan(Sevan trout). Baked or fried on a spit, it is a real delight to eat. It is important to note that at the feast the fish may be served after several portions of barbecue, so that you still could it fish, you’d better be precautious and ask in advance if fishis planned in menu.
We will sum up our gastro story with desserts and alcohol. Whileit is known enough about the famous Armenian cognac (Ararat is the most legendary brand, but others are also very decent, this is the best souvenir), the history of wines is interesting. Traditionally, Georgia is considered the land of wine, but in recent years, a boom of wine culture has been observed in Armenia, and this phenomenon affects all areas - from creating new vineyards to opening atmospheric wine bars in Yerevan and Gyumri and holding festivals. A huge contribution to the popularization of this culture is now being made by the diaspora - it was the rich Armenians from all over the world who decided to raise this sphere and prove that not only food can compete with Georgia.
As for sweets, then, perhaps, among all the peoples of the Caucasus, Armenians are the main admirers of sweets. Perhaps this is because the eastern nations - the Turks, the Iranians, the Kurds - are their neighbours, and their love for Turkish delight was transferred to the Armenians. The main dessert is gata, a multi-layer cake made of melted butter and sugar: as they say in commercials,it melts in your mouth. Another thing to try is sweet sujuk (do not confuse it with sausage) is mixture of nuts coated with a grape syrup.
In general, fruits and products from them in sunny Armenia are still the main dessert - apricots, grapes and pomegranates, are as revered as meat. They are used to make syrups, jams, dried fruits, especiallydried apricots. All this fantastic food is healthy and has long shelf life, so do not hesitate to buy a jar and bring it home, although you will open it on the plane –verified by experience!
Main photo newcaucasus.com