Armenian cuisine and cooks enjoy an excellent reputation amongst connoisseurs of refined food anywhere. During the Ottoman Empire, the chefs in the imperial kitchens of the serial in Topkapi were Armenians.
Armenia was once a huge empire stretching from the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea to the Caucasus Mountains and Armenians developed a highly sophisticated cuisine. Tigranes the Great in the first century B C ruled a landmass stretching from the Caspian Sea to the Holy Land, encompassing one third of today’s Iran, almost of all Syria, and northern Iraq.
Armenians early contemporaries – the Hitites, the Chaledeans, Phoenicians, Phrygians, Lydians and Medes vanished long ago, but Armenia are still exists, albeit in a very small portion of the land they once ruled. This is mostly due to the geography of the empire, the evolution of history, and the uncanny ability and desire among the Armenian nobility to fight one another politically and physically. Even today Armenian political life is as violent as ever before, albeit less bloody.
For a nation wide spread, the bounty of nature and availability of exotic food inspired Armenian cooks to invent recipes that were well beyond culinary practices of the time.
They used lamb extensively, chicken, a range of vegetables, cereals of all sorts, fresh and dried fruits, and seafood from the Mediterranean- and Caspian Seas. Nuts also figured prominently in their recipes.
has always been a time consuming proposition. Vegetables were painstakingly hollowed and stuffed with all sorts of suitable mixtures (mostly rice, meat, onions, spices, herbs, and chopped tomatoes), grapes leaves wrapped around mixtures of sautéed onions, rice, pine nuts, currants, tomatoes, salt and pepper and cooked in olive oil. Alternately, ground lamb was partially cooked with rice and appropriately flavoured seasoned then wrapped in grape leaves to be cooked until done.
The number of recipes in the Aremenian cuisine exceeds many hundreds, particularly after the Genocide of 1915 by Ottoman rulers. Thousands fled the country thus called home for millennia, and more than a million perished on the way to the Syrian desert, and those who arrived alive were killed in the most inhumane ways imaginable.
In Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Cyprus, Palestine, Egypt, Greece, Australia, France, the U S A, Canada and Argentina, Armenian housewives had to incorporate local ingredients into their cooking. Many new recipes had to be created to make use of ingredients the authentic recipes never called for.
Meanwhile, Armenia proper, or what was left of it in the Caucasus Mountains under Russian rule forced Armenians to make use of foodstuffs they never favoured, such as port and beef. Today, in modern Armenia, skewered and grilled meat means pork, stuffed grapes leaves consist of ground beef and little else. Cold stuffed grape leaves contain little else than sautéed onions, rice, salt and pepper. Pine nuts and currants are no longer mixed since they cannot afford to import them. Instead of olive oil, corn and soybean oil are used. Soviets had no use for lamb, their economists considered this source of protein less productive than pigs and cattle.
During the 70 years of Soviet rule, Armenians living in the motherland forcibly had to change their eating habits, and recipes developed over centuries were forgotten. They are but memories. Today, the cuisine in Armenia consists of leftover of Soviet dishes like borscht, roast pork, thick soups, cold cuts, crude stews, sour cream, and fresh fruit for dessert.
The precious desserts of Armenian cuisine origin and ingenuity have been forgotten. No more fruit compotes, blanc mange sprinkled with pistachio nuts and pomegranates seeds, stuffed mussels, whole wheat cooked in milk simmered for hours with nuts and raisins to create a sinfully rich, unforgettable thick pudding, delicious sweet or plain breads, and fruits cooked in lamb stews.
Armenians had a reasonably comfortable life compared to others within the Soviet Socialist Union of Republics. There was industry, agriculture was advanced and brandy enjoyed a huge popularity in the rest of the union.
In short, Armenia was the “California” of the U S S R.
When the Soviet Empire disintegrated and Armenians were more or less forced to vote for separation, overnight, all the “affluence” became history.
There was no electricity or gasoline, plants had to close, industrial production came to an abrupt halt.
Armenia’s costly war with Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabagh (Mountainous Karabagh) also contributed largely to the economic misery the nation had to endure and still does to a large extent.
Seventy years of Soviet cultural and economic dominance devastated the culinary legacy of a nation. The ingenuity of recipes has given way to practicality, and to fill the stomach any way possible and as inexpensively as possible.
Only now, 15 years after secession from the USSR one can buy bananas, kiwis, pineapple, coffee, tea and other imported foodstuffs in the capital Yerevan. Elsewhere in the country people still at lavash, the thin traditional bread of Armenians, and flat leavened bread, seasonal vegetables, fruits and meat cooked in the least expensive way possible. The legacy of 70 years of Soviet dominance over the culinary delights of Armenian cuisine has had devastating effects.
Meanwhile, happily Armenians in Diaspora everywhere have maintained and in some celebrated cases even refined traditional recipes.