Armenian cuisine with its rich flavors and mouthwatering dishes will not leave indifferent even to the most rigorous gourmets. While visiting Armenia it is a must-do to taste national dishes, since they bear the country’s history, customs and traditions. Armenian cuisine is as ancient as its history with over 2000 years old culinary traditions. For Armenians the cuisine is directly associated with hospitality, since the table gathers family members, friends and relatives all together. Since ancient times, bread and salt were used as a gesture of hospitality as royal festivals started with the ceremony of sharing bread and salt. The host and the guest cut the bread crosswise which symbolized their friendship. This tradition is still used in some ceremonies up to this day.
Armenian cuisine is full of many delicious and fragrant dishes for both meat and vegetables lovers. The abundance of meat on Armenian cuisine is the result of the most ancient development of cattle breeding in Armenian uplands. Armenian cuisine is also remarkable for the great number of edible plants. More than 300 species of plants are used as basic dishes or as seasonings. The variety of fresh and organic fruits and vegetables available at any stop will surely please anyone visiting Armenia. Another feature of the national cuisine is the extensive use of spices which make the dishes even more aromatic.
Armenian cooking techniques are rather complicated with a lot of cooking secrets passing down from one generation to the next. These unique cooking methods and recipes are what make the dishes melt in your mouth.
Here are some of the best dishes one should try when visiting Armenia.
It’s hard to imagine Armenian cuisine without lavash. This pure Armenian traditional bread was inscribed on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2014 and is of significant cultural importance for the Armenian people.
Lavash is a thin-layered delicious bread baked in an underground oven called “tonir”. Its preparation is a rather complicated process which requires a lot of effort and special skills. This used to be an exclusively female occupation. Women worked in groups and accompanied the preparation process with prayers and special songs about its delicious taste. Armenians also have a tradition of placing lavash on the newlyweds’ shoulders as a symbol of fertility and prosperity. Due to the long shelf life lavash saved a lot of Armenian soldiers from starvation during wars.
Khorovats, commonly known as Armenian barbeque, is one of the most delicious Armenian dishes. More than twenty types of khorovats can be found here which have their special preparation techniques. Khorovats is made with pork, lamb, beef, chicken, trout, sterlet and other types of meat and fish. Before cooking it, the meat is marinated in different sauces which gives it even more unique tastes and flavors. Khorovats which is always served with traditional Armenian lavash is the inseparable part of Armenian holidays and events.
Another traditional dish of Armenian cuisine is the famous Dolma, also called Tolma. Although it can be found in the cuisines of many countries of Middle East, it is undoubtedly of Armenian origin. The word dolma comes from the Urartian (early Armenian Kingdom) word “toli” meaning “grape leaves” and it is stated that the most ancient type of it is made with grape leaves.
Armenians have more than 50 types of dolma made with different types of meat and vegetables rolled in grape, cabbage, quince and blueberry leaves. The classical one is made from minced meat wrapped in grape leaves. There is also a Dolma Festival in Armenia where one can get to know almost all the types of it. The festival is accompanied with Armenian national songs and dances.
Khash is a traditional Armenian soup made from beef legs and sometimes from other parts of it such as the brain and stomach. As a tradition, Armenians eat khash early in the morning before breakfast adding chopped garlic, greens and dry lavash in it. This tradition comes from pagan times. It is said that only the poor used to eat khash since the rich who bought the animal, took the meat and threw the legs away. The poor took the legs, cooked them and ate early in the morning so that no one could see them. Although khash is spread in many neighboring countries, it is again of Armenian origin and comes from the word “khashel” which means to boil.
Though khash has a long preparation process, it is still very popular in Armenia.
The traditional Harissa is another famous Armenian dish made with meat (chicken or lamb) and cracked wheat. It requires a long cooking process which is the main key to its tastiness. The roots of its preparation go back to the 1915 when the Turkish government tried to kill the Armenian nation. A small village named “Musa Ler” fought for 40 days without food and survived eating only Harissa. This traditional food has its varieties and besides meat it can be made from edible plants. It also used to be one of the inseparable parts of the New Year’s table. However, it differed from the ones made during the whole year since the housewives didn’t mix it so that the coming year brought peace.
Ghapama is another famous Armenian dish made from pumpkin stuffed with rice, dried fruits, almonds and honey. Ghapama is considered to be a ritual dish as well since originally it was served during the weddings in order to make the newlywed’s life colorful and sweet. This unique Armenian dish is well known not only for its amazing taste but also its fantastic look.
Khashlama is a traditional Armenian vegetable and lamb stew. Although this tasty dish has a lot of preparation options, the most common one is made from tender lamb or veal. Surprisingly, unlike other Armenian dishes, very little spices are added to it in order to keep the natural taste of the meat. In addition to this, the meat is cooked in its own juice since very little water is used during its preparation.
Kyufta is a juicy and delicate dish made from beat meat boiled in broth. This incredibly tasty dish is so soft that will melt in your mouth. It is usually served with mushrooms. There is also another famous type of kyufta, the so called “Ishli kyufta”, which is in the form of meatballs and is served accompanied with a variety of vegetable sauces.
Khurjin, which means “pouch” is another iconic dish of Armenian cuisine. This dish has got its name due to its appearance: it is finely chopped meat baked with onions, tomatoes and peppers in a bag made of lavash.
Zhingyalov Hats is a traditional dish of Armenians from Artsakh and Syunik. It is an Armenian flatbread stuffed with dozens of finely chopped greens and oiled herbs commonly found in these regions.
Gata is a typical Armenian multi-layered dessert with very soft and delicate flavor. Almost all the provinces and towns have their own variety of gata which differ from each other with their shapes, sizes, recipes and decorations. The most popular among tourists is the gata from Garni made in the form of a large round cake. Gata is also of great cultural importance since it symbolizes the strength of families and decorates every festive table. It is said that in ancient times people used to made symbols in it with forks, among which were crosses in order to protect their families from evil. Gata is also considered to be an important part of a New Year table. The housewives hide a coin inside it and the one who will get the piece with the coin will be the luckiest in the coming year.
Pakhlava is another delicious pastry made of phyllo dough sheets filled with walnuts, syrup or honey. This delicious dessert is popular not only in Armenia but in many other neighboring countries and is usually served with tea.
If you are a real sweet lover, then you will definitely appreciate the famous “sweet sujukh”. This candle-shaped candy is always present at New Year tables. It is made from grape or apricot juice and walnuts. A string of walnuts is dipped into the boiling mixtures of fruit juices and left to dry for 5–6 days.
Although Armenia produces different types of alcoholic beverages, the legendary Brandy and Wine are considered the pride of Armenian cuisine. The climatic conditions of Armenia are ideal for both brandy and wine production since over 100 varieties of grape are grown in the country. The grapes grown here absorb all the sweetness of the Armenian sun, the purity of spring water and the smell of mountain flowers, which makes the Armenian brandy and wine even more special.
If you haven’t already tasted these unique beverages drink them in your first opportunity. Coming to Armenia, it is a must-do to visit the famous wine and brandy factories of the country to get closer to the county’s culture.
Armenian brandy has become one of the most popular brands of the country and is well-known all over the world. It is said that Armenian brandy was the most favorite drink of Winston Churchill. To the question about the secret of his longevity, he answered: “Never be late for dinner, smoke Hawaiian cigar and drink Armenian cognac”. The history of the Armenian Brandy started in the second half of the XIX century when Nerses Tairyan, a famous Armenian trader, founded the first brandy factory in Yerevan. Later, he sold the company to the Russian industrialist Shustov who brought the brandy production to a new level making it famous all over the world. Now the Yerevan Brandy company is located in the same place and is included in the international group of Pernod Ricard.
Armenia is one of the first countries in the world that started producing wine. Our wine making traditions have a history of more than 6000 years. Armenians cultivated grapes since ancient times, the evidence of which are the ancient wineries found in the country. During the excavations held in 2011 in the village of Areni, archaeologists found the oldest winery in the world dating back to 6100 BC. Aside from the oldest winery and wine making instruments, the world’s oldest known leather shoe was found here (5500 years old). Due to the favorable climatic conditions of the country, Armenia produces unique and a great variety of wines which will not leave anyone indifferent. The famous singer Charles Aznavour once said: “The specialty of the Armenian wine is that you feel it, but you can’t describe it in words”. There are many wine festivals held all over the country throughout the whole year, one of which is celebrated in Yerevan in a “street-style” fest.