About Armenian Food: where friendships are… salty?

Sayings stab the truth right in the eye – with just a few simple words they gracefully reveal local culture.

For example, when an Armenian is in the company of good friends they say “We have bread and salt among us.”

Why?

Bread is an Armenian staple. The most popular flatbread is lavash, while the most popular leavened bread is Pideh. Comparing friendship to bread shows how both are basic sustenance to Armenians.

Salt is an essential part of all diets because it is required for basic body function.

“Without sodium, which the body cannot manufacture, the body would be unable to transport nutrients or oxygen, transmit nerve impulses, or move muscles, including the heart.” – Kurlansky, Salt

On top of this, getting sea salt was historically challenging in landlocked Armenia.  Thus, comparing a friendship to salt is a high honor in Armenia.

Ok. Let’s talk Armenian food.

Armenians are known for lush markets filled with endless supplies of dried fruits, vegetables, olives, nuts, spices, and meats (check out the wonderful photos at Uncornered Market). Traditional meals include a healthy balance of fruit, vegetables, and meats, however tourists often don’t stray beyond the popular meat kabob (big mistake!).

Most meals are served with bulgar/bulghur. This grain tastes like a cross between potatoes and rice. If you haven’t tried it, pick some up at the store. It is wonderful and easy to cook.

Bulgar is also a component of the national dish, keshkegh. Keshkegh  is bulgar pilaf with lamb or chicken simmered in a broth with cinnamon and pepper.

Roast vegetables such as eggplant, onion, and garlic are prevalent as well. Meals are often accompanied by yogurt sauce (or even yogurt drink) and cheeses.

Many desserts feature honey. Cakes are soaked in honey overnight and pastries are layered with honey (like baklava). Lighter desserts often include fruit. The Armenian national fruit is the pomegranate, a personal favorite. Over the last few years, pomegranates have become available in most markets during the winter months. Pomegranates taste a lot like cranberry juice. Grapes are grown in Armenia as well and are used in cooking and in wine making.

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Comments

  1. Here, to inspire you, is some incredible music from Armenia and surrounding regions.

    When I discovered Armenian music, I thought it blew everything else in the region away. The haunting, ethereal sound of the duduk, a double reed flute invented perhaps 3000 years ago… thrilling dances and songs. But a few days ago one of my friends turned me on to Georgia. The main instrument there is the human voice. Complex polyphony, usually in three parts but sometimes more, it predates medieval motets by several hundred years. I thought it was derived from Byzantine church music but there’s evidence it came before even that. (The musical scale is unique; there’s a perfect fifth, but some extra notes in the middle.) The styles vary by region though I can’t recognize the difference. There’s much more than church music: work songs, songs (called table songs) sung at ceremonial dinners, etc. Go a bit north and you’re in Chechen territory, where electrifying ballads testify to the martial patriotism of the fierce Chechen people. I put all of this together in a music player, threw in some Azerbaijani stuff too, and called it Caucasian. There are a surprising number of musical groups and ensembles devoted to Georgian and Armenian music; some have toured the US, others are village bands. Most of the songs on my player were recorded on location, some in small villages which, especially in Chechenya and Ossetia, the recorder had to hire bodyguards to visit. Have a listen.

    http://music.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=music.popupplayer&sindex=-1.0&shuffle=false&amix=false&pmix=false&plid=1215239&profid=61062139&friendid=61062139&sseed=0&ptype=3&stime=0&ap=1&rpeat=false

  2. Grammie Sue aka Mom aka susan says:

    Great write-up, Sash. I checked out Brian’s music selection…I LOVE the Havun, Havun by Gevorg Dabagian and Havoun, Havoun by Sharakan – just my cup of tea….
    There are some others I like – for example: Ciganskaia Zrezda (Gipsy – , but the two above are my favorites.

    • You might be the first person to listen to my music players! Thank you! Both the songs you picked are Armenian, and I think they are versions of the same song, but Gevorg Dabagian is a world-famous classical flute player and the Sharakan is an ensemble devoted to preserving centuries-old music.

      • Grammie Sue aka Mom aka susan says:

        Brian: Yes, I noticed that they are the same song…Between the two, I prefer the flute with Gevorg..it’s much more earthy. My mother had an Armenian lady friend when we were growing up…I was always fascinated by this colorful presence in our kitchen when I’d come home from school….Listening to their conversations, I would be mentally engrossed by the off-beat thought process …just like the music: off-key….Being 50% of Hungarian descent, there is a sympatico probably going back thousands of years. What is your cultural heritage? susan

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