Armenian cuisine is one of the most impressive things visitors are offered to explore in Armenia. The cuisine reflects the history and geography where Armenians have lived as well as incorporating outside influences. The cuisine also reflects the traditional crops and animals grown and raised in areas populated by Armenians. Armenian food has an original and spicy flavor. Pepper, cumin, various vegetables and garlic are used as spices. It was estimated that for food preparation Armenian culinary specialists use about 300 types of wild grasses and flowers which are used as spices and even as main dishes. The reason for that can be a favorable climate and a variety of flora supplying the oriental cuisine, particularly Armenian, with various ether-bearing plants. The Armenian cookery widely uses beef and mutton; pork is seldom used. They cook an original Armenian dish stuffed with minced meat, rice and sweet grasses – Tolma – from fresh grape leaves in spring and from apples, quince, eggplants, pepper and tomatoes in autumn.
Besides vegetables and meat, in the diet of Armenians, farinaceous and groat dishes occupy an important place. Flour is used for Arishtu – original noodles, wheat grits for Arisu porridge with chicken, rice is good for different types of so popular pilaw.
From old times Armenia is famous for fish dishes what is conditioned by the geography of the Armenian Mountains, the rivers and lakes of Armenia are rich in such fish, as Sevan trout, whitefish, karmrakhait (lemming), etc. Many Armenian kings and nakharars (minister) in order to provide fish stocks created special reservoirs where they farmed especially valuable fish, such as brook trout. Fish was cooked, fried with oil, on a spit, on coals, stuffed with spices.
Bread occupies a special place in the diet. Lavash is an indispensable attribute of a feast. It is a long thin easily folded strip of yeast-free dough about one meter long. Even now, lavash is baked in ancient tonirs (clay furnace of a cylindrical form dug in the ground). Tonir is heated with either brushwood, or manure cakes. It heats up quickly and the dough layer put on it easily bakes. Along with bread, cheese must be on any Armenian table. From time immemorial, they make various types of cheese out of cow, sheep and goat milk in Armenia. Some sorts of cheeses are made and stored in the jugs dug in the ground and in wineskins. In some kinds of cheese, various sweet grasses and seeds that give original flavor and aroma are added.
The Ararat Valley is rich in juicy fragrant fruit such as apricots, peaches, pomegranates, cornelian cherry, pears, plums, grapes, fig, quince and etc. Dried fruit, candied fruits, compotes, juices and jam are made of them. As a desert, in the Armenian cookery dried peaches stuffed with crushed nuts with sugar are very popular. Honey 16-layer baklava melts in the mouth.
For Armenian cuisine, however, as well as for other national cuisines of Transcaucasia, it is typical to select not only tasty, but also extremely healthy products, which in a combination with clean mountain air have glorified the Caucasus as the land of long-livers. Come to any Armenian region, and any Armenian of an average age will tell you that his grandmother (or grandfather) is fit as a fiddle, feels good, and is still active and hot-tempered. Most likely, sound health, cheerfulness and vigorousness result from the quality of food. Healthy food actually helps to be strong, and why not to remember a Latin saying about “a sound mind in a sound body “.
Armenian Cuisine: National Dishes/Foods
Harisa – Harisa is one of the most beloved dishes of Armenian cuisine. It is made of cracked wheat and chicken meat, mutton or beef. They are cooked in water and are mixed until they turn into a porridge-like substance.
In the old times harisa was a ceremonial and a holiday dish that was usually being served in the morning after being cooked all night. There is a legend regarding harisa, which has it that after being released from the pit of Khor Virap Monastery Grigor Lusavorich (Gregory the Illuminator) arrived in Vagharshapat and for 60 days preached about Christianity to the local pagans. In order to give food to the poor he ordered to bring much oil and sheep after which the sheep were stabbed and cooked in large pots with cracked wheat. Then Gregory the Illuminator ordered the strong-armed men to mix the meat in the pots, and there goes the name – harisa comes from “hareq sa,” which is translated “mix this” into English.
Tandoor barbecue – Armenians love meat very much and barbecue is one of the most widespread foods among them. While many people will say barbecue is not an Armenian dish, there is one undisputable thing – tandoor barbecue has Armenian origins and it perhaps is the tastiest of all types of barbecues. Armenians usually make barbecue from pork or chicken. Be it a wedding or a birthday party barbecue is always expected and almost entirely consumed. Armenians love eating barbecue with hands, so if you are for eating barbecue with a fork and a knife expect to have some surprised looks at you.
Khash – Khash is a soup made of cow feet to which garlic, greens and salt are added. Khash is believed to be a food for the poor and is also thought to have a ceremonial meaning. The naming is thought to come from the Armenian word “khashel” which translated into English means “to scald.”
Khash is usually consumed very early in the morning, and it is either served before the breakfast or comes to replace the breakfast. It is served with garlic, salt and radish and is eaten with lavash and various greens.
Two things to note about khash:
1. Khash is a dish to be consumed with vodka (NOT brandy).
2. Khash does not like toasts, as it should be consumed only when warm, while toasts take much time.
Spas – Spas is an Armenian soup made of matsun (like yoghurt) and cracked wheat. The soup might contain onions as well.
Tolma – Delicious, appetizing, delightful… This is how Armenian tolma could be described. This Armenian dish is considered to be one of the pearls of traditional Armenian cuisine. It is usually made of grape or cabbage leaves. Among other must ingredients are ground meat (beef), onion, rice and various spices (savory, basilic). After all the ingredients are mixed together, they are stuffed into the grape or cabbage leaves and then folded.
The word “tolma” comes from Urartian word “toli,” which means “grape vine.”
Pasuts tolma – Pasuts tolma is another Armenian food, which is made of seven different grains – chickpea, bean, lentil, cracked wheat, pea, rice and maize. All the grains should be boiled.
This tolma is called “pasuts” because the Christian New Year features the fast days, which end on Easter day (“pasuts tolma” means “fast day tolma”). It should be said that the seven grains symbolize God’s divine number (“7”), which is associated with Divine perfection and completion.
Qyalagosh – Qyalagosh is another Easter food, which is made of lavash (thin flat bread), lentil and dried buttermilk.