Armenia is a small landlocked southern Caucasian country. Yet most inhabitants crave fish, particularly the trout from Lake Sevan. After beef, chicken and pork, fish is the most popular protein source. Possibly this craving has ancestral roots; During the period between 10 – 12th centuries, the empire extended from the Caucasus mountains to the east Mediterranean what is today Turkey.
Armenians are responsible for inventing many of the dishes that pass nowadays as Turkish or Greek.
Demand for fish, particularly lake trout is high as once the largest lake in the region (Lake Sevan) teemed with this delicacy. Unfortunately through lack of government control, greedy fishermen managed to fish Lake Sevan trout to extinction. Today, farm-raised trout are released into the lake, and licenses are issued. The fee for each fish caught is US $ 25.00; you can buy the same trout in Yerevan or Gyumri, the second largest city, for a fraction. During Soviet times Armenia used to produce 80 000 tones of farmed fish, now the quantity is less than half of what it was, but quality is better. The objective of total farmed-fish production in Armenia is approximately 40 000 tons.
If you like fresh fish prepared skillfully on location, head to Gyumri and ask for directions to Cherkezi Dzor Fish Farm.
A few entrepreneurs decided a decade ago to buy a piece of land with a continuous fresh cold water supply, and started a fish farm realizing the potential demand. Today, the company owns and operates seven fish farms throughout Armenia and sells fresh lake-, river-, brook- and Sevan Lake trout, and sturgeon originating in Russian rivers. The fish are fed specially formulated Dutch feed in an attempt to obtain the best possible flavour and texture. The cold water ( 14 C constant throughout the year) helps in attaining the firm texture.
Cherkezi Dzor Fish Farm in Gyumri sells fresh fish to take out, or cooks your selection in their authentic “tonir “oven, similar to an Indian tandoori.
In fact, Armenians claim to have invented the oven to cook their famous flat bread (lavash) that lasts up to four months in a dry, well-ventilated place.
The fish farm is located in a lovely valley, green and particularly fragrant in May due to blooming apple and pear trees on the grounds.
There are small cabanas throughout the small valley and a main building.
After selecting your fish or sitting down, you order a few appetizers (mixed salad with surimi, trout caviar, smoked fillet of trout, smoked sturgeon, a cheese platter, aromatic herbs, and of course a variety of breads. Armenians eat a lot of bread) while the fish is being prepared.
Armenians, although archeologists claim that they invented wine, prefer vodka, attributable to 70 years of close association with the U. S. S. R. and Russians who used to visit Armenia in the thousands. Some claim that Armenians tolerate more vodka than even Russians.
I have seen people drink half a liter of vodka at lunch, walk straight, and even drive flawlessly. How they can do it, is a mystery to me, and no doubt to many others.
The lake trout tastes best poached the Armenian way, which is half steamed and half boiled, although many tourists and locals like it BBQ’ed. Regardless, the freshness of the fish and texture are unequaled if it is properly cooked.
Cherkezi Dzor is possibly the best rustic restaurant with consistently good food in and service the region, if not in Armenia.
Many people drive from Yerevan, the capital 126 km. away, just to enjoy skillfully prepared fresh trout or baked sturgeon, and enjoy the setting.
The management is particularly interested in running a fine country restaurant with competent, friendly service, and consistently well-prepared food from what I could see they have been quite successful.
If you happen to be visiting Armenia, try to take the short drive to Gyumri and experience Cherkezi Dzor.
You may be experiencing the most enchanting meal of your life!