Sandwiched between Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Iran, Armenia sometimes gets left off the tourist circuit, but it shouldn’t be. This history-rich country should be visited for the beautiful mountains, historic religious sites and the fantastic food that keeps our mouths watering time after time, like this Armenian barbecue:
If that looked delicious to you and you’re traveling to Armenia, here’s how to tantalize your tastebuds:
Khorovats | Armenian barbecue is enjoyed all over Armenian and the Armenian diaspora as the Armenian dad in Australia (above) demonstrates. When the weather is nice, Armenians set up their charcoal grills and lay out the rotating skewers.
If you aren’t enjoying this dish at a gathering, you could also pick it up from a street vendor as a quick snack. If you visit Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, you’ll find massive numbers of barbecues on Proshian Street. In Armenia, many people prefer pork, but you’ll also find lamb, beef and chicken khorovats.
ShutterstockLule Kebab |
Lule kebabs are a fantastic comfort food guaranteed to satiate your munchies and fill in any hollow cracks and corners. They are made all over the Middle East and the Levant with different meats, vegetables and spice variations. In Armenia, ground meat is mixed into patties along with pepper, parsley and other herbs. After drying out for a bit in the fridge, the lule kebabs are cooked over charcoal. Made from lamb, beef and even chicken, you’ll find lule kebabs everywhere from street stalls to family gatherings.
Lavash | Flour, water and salt are the only ingredients needed for Armenia’s ubiquitous unleavened bread. You’ll find lavash served soft as an accompaniment to meats, vegetables, cheeses and butter. You’ll find it crispy and dry crumbled in soups, munched on like a cracker or rehydrated with a few brushes of water.
Lavash is so delicious and popular that it has spread throughout the cuisines of the region, so might have tried it on other visits to the Middle East. Traditional lavash is baked in a tonir – a clay kitchen oven similar to the Indian tandoor. The lavash is rolled thin so that the oven’s heat cooks it almost instantly. Eat it soon after if you need it to hold meats, spreads and veggies.
Khash is a ritual soup served to a party before dawn along with vodka toasts and dried lavash. Armenians won’t eat khash in months which contain the letter r, and the meal requires a lot of vodka for breakfast, so you’ve got to choose your moment carefully.
Khash is a soup made from boiled cow feet and the preparation takes all night long. Once the gelatinous feet have thickened the boiling water and the meat has separated from the bones it’s time to serve. You can douse your bowl with salt, garlic, lemon or vinegar. They’ll be hot peppers, radishes, greens and cheese served on the side. Many people abstain from eating the night before and eat the soup only with their fingers.
If you like homemade jerky, you’ll enjoy basturma. This dried, seasoned meat takes more than a month to prepare and is the kind of appetizer or snack that you eat way too much of because it’s so tasty.
Basturma is beef tenderloin that gets soaked in a brine for days, dried out with cheese cloth, hung from hooks and air-dried and then soaked in a traditional chaimen spice blend for two weeks. Once the meat is infused with garlic, cumin, fenugreek, paprika and all-spice, it is cut into strips and served. If you can stand the wait, homemade basturma is delicious. You can also pick it up in markets, or try it out in restaurants if the recipe is too daunting.
Manti | Almost every culture has a dumpling recipe and Armenia’s manti dumplings are the perfect solution when you need a hearty snack or meal. Manti are boiled or baked instead of steamed and are served with sour cream, garlic and a clear soup.
Armenians living in the eastern part of the country are more likely to make khinkali instead. These bigger dumplings are cooked with juicy raw meat, coriander and onions. When you eat the khinkali, you suck the juice out first and then discard the top of the dumpling where the dough comes together.
If you are onboard with phyllo dough, spinach and feta cheese, the yummy little byorek pies are for you. These savory pastries can be shaped in triangles or like miniature pies and are very similar to the Greek spanakopita. You can pick these little hand foods up on the street, or enjoy them as an appetizer. Some cooks also make byorek like a giant lasagna and simply cut out squares when they want a bite.
Bozbash | Bozbash is a hearty stew made from lamb or mutton with plenty of fresh vegetables thrown into the broth. First you stew the lamb until it’s mostly cooked and then you fry the meat and the bones before depositing them back in the broth. Big peas, eggplant, pepper, onion and tomato paste round out the meal.
Shudzhukh is for days when you’re craving something super sweet. These long sticks of crystalized grape juice contain walnuts suspended in the candy-like juice. They are addictive. If you need a quick burst of energy for a hike or a long morning of sight-seeing, these treats are perfect for on-the-go snacking.
If you don’t like grape juice, or walnuts, you’ll find other sweets made from candied peaches, apricots, plums and cherries. Try the bastegh – fruit leather made from fresh Armenian plums. If you want fresh fruit, the apricot is considered Armenia’s most delicious locally grown specialty.
Harissa | Armenian harissa has nothing to do with the North African and Middle Eastern spice blend. Instead, harissa is a kind of savory porridge of boiled wheat berries with bits of chicken or other meat. You’ll find harissa turning up on your plate all over the place as a versatile and trusty side for meat and vegetable-based meals. It’s soft, comforting taste and texture is a great companion for bold meals.
Tolma or dolma are stuffed grape leaves similar to the leaves served in Greece, Turkey, Georgia and the Middle East. Time consuming to make, tolma are frequently served for festive occasions. Inside your tolma you’ll find rice, meat and spices. You could also enjoy ones stuffed with rice, apples, quinces or other vegetarian fillings. When there’s no meat involved, tolmas are typically served cold. Yogurt sauce and garlic are good accompaniments.
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