Armenian food is ranked as one of the best and most delicious among cuisines of other nations. Armenian dishes stand out due to their unique and unforgettable taste.
The Armenian food, especially home-made ones, will give you unforgettable impression about Armenia in general. Armenians are very skilled at home cooking. Just like anywhere else in the world, the best food in Armenia can be found at home kitchens of ordinary folks. To get introduced to Armenian cuisine and its unique features, just keep on reading!
Armenian Food And National Cuisine
National food of each country reflects certain features of its historical and geographical characteristics . By saying Armenian cuisine, we mean all the traditional dishes, as well as Armenian people’s (including the Armenian diaspora) cooking techniques.
If you are a tourist in Armenia, you will probably not have many opportunities to enjoy some dishes at home. But whenever there is an invitation to such a dinner, don’t miss your chance and take the opportunity to taste the national Armenian food by all means!
You will surely find a table groaning under simultaneously served courses. You are not expected to refuse to taste everything these hospitable people will offer you, otherwise it would be considered as an offensive step. Also, that would mean you are doubtful of the cook’s culinary skills!
Here we are briefly introducing you to the Armenian food, its main characteristics, some historically developed viewpoints and 5 typically Armenian dishes that would definitely interest you.
Armenian Food: General Review
Armenian national cuisine has developed over thousand years with multi-ethnic recipes. The glory and fame of Armenian national cuisine extends far beyond the borders of the country.
In order to enjoy the full variety, it will take you some knowledge of Armenian food. It is notable that Armenian food is “seasonal”, as Armenians use the freshest fruits, vegetables, meats, herbs and spices available at that time.
You may have heard about Armenian incredibly fresh and tasty fruits and vegetables that have an astonishing variety. Here we are presenting you the huge variety (not a full one, of course) of the most favorite and popular Armenian fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices.
We can say the list is almost endless for various regions of Armenia, as each of them has its own unique variety and special type:
Armenian Cuisine History
It is crucial to have knowledge about historical background of the Armenian national cuisine in order to understand the culinary attraction of Armenia.
Armenian traditional cuisine is as ancient as its history. The development of cattle breeding and agriculture in ancient Armenian highlands led to the variety of traditional Armenian dishes. This brought to the nowadays abundance of meat, sour-milk products, cheeses on a traditional Armenian table.
Armenians traditionally have been cooking their national food on fire. The underground ovens, called “tonirs”, were used for baking bread, fish, poultry, vegetables and soups. Later, ”tonirs” were borrowed by all regions of the Caucasus, becoming an integral part of their national cuisine as well.
Unique Characteristics of Armenian Food
Armenian cuisine is similar to those of neighboring countries with many features but it differs from them a lot, too. For example, Armenians value the natural taste of food, while Georgians, cook by using a lot of ingredients to achieve a complex variety of tastes.
We have picked up certain characteristics of Armenian national cuisine that distinguish it from other regional cuisines.
Armenian Food Characteristic #1: Ingredients
As a main feature of Armenian cuisine, we can highlight its ingredients. Most common ones are lavash (typical Armenian flat bread), lamb, eggplant, plain yoghurt, and a few more.
Armenians also use “burghul” (known as cracked wheat) in preference to rice and maize that are popular among neighboring Caucasian countries.
In most of Armenian homes, also restaurants and cafes, you can also try chechil cheese, string cheese, cottage cheese, strained yoghurd, curd.
Armenian Food Characteristic #2: Fruits, nuts and pickled vegetables
In Armenia, you will witness an intensive use of a lot of fruits and nuts in preparing dishes. Those include both fresh and dried fruits such as apricots, quince, fresh apples, pomegranate seeds. Walnuts, almonds, pistachios, pine nuts are also of primary use.
The use of stuffed items, fresh herbs, pickles and other pickled vegetables in foods is very intensive in Armenian cuisine.
When cooking, for example, ”tolma” or vegetable baking, in addition to grape leaves, Armenians also use cabbage leaves, Swiss chard leaves, eggplants, squash, tomatoes, peppers, onions, potatoes, various meats, fish, apples, quince, even cantaloupe.
Armenian Food Characteristic #3: Spices and Greens
Another feature of Armenian national cuisine is the use of great number of spices and greengrocery in the process of dish preparation. Armenian cooks traditionally use around 300 types of wild-growing greens and flowers, which are used for stuffing items, seasonings or as basic dishes.
There are also various types of fragrant spices that are very popular while making dishes, for example: black pepper, mint, pepper, basil, coriander, fenugreek, tarragon, thyme, onion and garlic. For sweet dishes, cinnamon, cardamom, saffron, vanilla and clove are mostly in use.
On the other hand, despite the use of spices, the flavor of Armenian food mostly relies on the freshness and quality of the ingredients but not on spices.
Armenian Food Characteristic #4: Complicated Cooking Techniques
Cooking techniques of Armenians are very complicated indeed. The most difficult dishes to cook are mainly of meat, fish and vegetables. Those usually require stuffing, whipping, puree making. It takes a lot of effort to make delicious foods with above-mentioned ingredients.
Armenians love dishes made of chopped meat, as well as all the possible varieties of stuffed dishes.
A seriously time-consuming activity is the thermal processing of dishes. The same dish, for example, meat, can be subject to roasting, boiling, cooking in “tonirs” (typical Armenian underground ovens) which makes it melt in one’s mouth.
Armenian Food Characteristic #5: No Fats in Armenian Cuisine
What is unique about the Armenian cuisine, is that it practically does not use fats since the vast majority of Armenian food is cooked in drawn butter, used also for soups, roasting of meats, poultry, fish and vegetables, as well as sweet dishes.
Less frequently, vegetable oil is used in Armenian cuisine for preparing certain vegetable dishes or fish.
All the above-mentioned features make Armenian dishes unique, original and delicious – a real treat for any gourmet.
Typical Armenian Cuisine Dishes
Last but not least, we would like to shortly represent some typically Armenian dishes. We have picked up five Armenian dishes. Go through them and find your favorite one!
Armenian dish #1: Harissa
Harissa can be interpreted as thick chicken porridge. It is made of wheat and sodden fibered fat-meat, usually chicken.
Harissa has originated from the Ararat valley. According to the tradition, meat is substituted with certain herbs, for religious people during the Lent (religious fasting).
The cooking process is extremely long and takes a lot of effort. But it makes up the essential part of the harissa tradition, because time spent on preparation process is part of its cherished value.
Armenian Dish #2: Tolma
Tolma or dolma is a dish, made of vegetables stuffed with meat. Those vegetables include grape leaves, tomato, pepper, eggplant and cabbage. Tolma is generally served warm, often with yoghurt sauce with garlic.
Besides the traditional tolma dish, Armenians also have its vegan type, known as Pasus (Lenten) Tolma.
It is made with red beans, garbanzo beans, lentils, cracked wheat, tomato paste, onion and many spices and flavorings wrapped into cabbage leaves (either fresh or pickled ones).
Armenian Dish #3: Khash
Khash is a national dish, which is basically boiled cow or sheep feet. The name ”khash” originated from the Armenian verb ”khashel”, literally meaning “to boil”. The dish was originally called ”khashoy”, and can be found mentioned by a number of medieval Armenian authors (Grigor Magistros, 11th century).
When making khash, no salt or spices are allowed to add. The dish is always served hot with a variety of other foods or dishes: green and yellow peppers, cheese, pickles, radishes and fresh greens. You can also add salt or garlic to it after it’s been served.
Dried lavash is usually crumbled into the substance of khash. The meal is almost always accompanied by vodka or/and mineral water.
Armenian Dish #4: Ghapama
Ghapama is an Armenian dish usually prepared during holiday season. It is made of pumpkin. After removing its guts, Armenians stuff it with boiled rice and dried fruits: apple, apricot, plums, chopped almonds, cornel, as well as prunes and raisins. The pumpkin is baked in the oven until it becomes soft (traditionally baked in “tonir”).
After cutting and serving the stuffed pumpkin, it is common to pour honey or milk on ghapama, mixing in ground cinnamon or sugar.
You may have heard an Armenian folk song about this meal, which is usually sung during the baking and serving process. It is known as “Hey Jan Ghapama”, recently more popularized by a famous Armenian singer Harout Pamboukjian.
Armenian Dish #5: Gata
Gata is an Armenian pastry or sweet bread. It is made of sweet multilayered dough.
Actually, there are many varieties of gata. Each Armenian region or town, traditionally, has its own specific ways of baking gata.
Gata comes in various sizes, shapes, it may be decorated or left unadorned. Centuries ago gata was baked in “tonirs”, but nowadays, it is mostly baked in ordinary ovens, both during traditional holidays or celebrations and throughout the year.
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