Armenia, land of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, has existed under different names since antiquity and is referred to in the Bible as the land of Mountain Ararat where Noah’s Ark is believed to have landed after the deluge.
The powerful Hittite Empire of the second millennium B.C and the Kingdom of Urartu, around 900 – 700 B C preceded the Armenian Kingdom.
Because of it strategic location in the line of trade routes between the Black- and Caspian Seas, Armenian kings had to fight both eastern and western armies.
At the beginning of the fourth century, Armenia became the first nation to accept Christianity as the national religion, an event that further increased the tumultuous history.
Yet throughout the centuries, Armenians have maintained their national characteristics down to the present. Food and its preparation are the cornerstones of Armenian culture. Mothers always spend considerable time to train their daughters in cooking, and in particular their own way of cooking, of which all are very proud.
Armenians were settled in, what is today, eastern Turkey, western Iran. At the time Turks were nomads eating steak tartare, yoghurt and skewered chunks of meat.
In 65 B C, Tigrane’s Empire extended from Tyre(today in Syria) to Tblisi and north (today in Georgia) in the north, from Trebizond, on the Black Sea, down to Cilicia in the west, and almost to Ekbatan in the south (today in Iran).
It was huge empire covering all of today’s Georgia, at least one quarter of today’s Turkey, 50 per cent of Iraq and 25 per cent of Iran.
Farming requires knowledge, perseverance, and hard work to produce foods that are nutritious and flavourful. Armenian cooking skill was also noted in Persia.
The reason of success of Armenians developing recipes and agricultural products is simply the fact that while Byzantines, Turks, and Persians enriched themselves by invading other countries and plundering their wealth, Armenian farmers were busy with agriculture and commerce.
Even Byzantine royal kitchens employed Armenian cooks. In fact, many of the effective and successful Byzantine emperors of the Macedonian dynasty were fully or partially Armenian.
While Armenian house wives were busy creating flavourful recipes and training their daughters in the art, Syrian, Egyptian and Palestinian cooks invented dessert recipes that are still popular today i.e baklava, ice cream, and many others too numerous to mention here.
The lands of Cilicia are fertile and yield all kinds of grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts and olive oil.
The Turks never entirely outgrew their origins as marauding war band. Invading new territories was the only path they knew to economic growth and riches.
This they accomplished Jannisaries, who they forcibly recruited from Christian families using scimitars. They then converted them to their religion and trained them to become Jannisaries, who became formidable, fearless, and cruel soldiers.
The Mediterranean Sea provided plenty of fish. The northeast of the kingdom was famous for its cattle, and sheep.
Olive oil came from olive groves in Cilicia, and butter from the highlands around Kars (today in eastern Turkey very close to the Armenian border).
Armenian cuisine can be considered the “mother cuisine” in the region and even before today’s jurisdictions and nations existed.
The kings had cultural relations with Byzantium, and later on with Persia and western countries, especially during the first and second Crusades. The Armenian cuisine, and many of the recipes were copied and poorly by others, who came much later, including Turks, Arabs, Persians, and others.
Turkish historians claim the specialties of Turkish cuisine to have been invented by housewives. In fact almost all Armenian recipes been poorly copied by inadequately trained cooks at home. Even in the kitchen of the Ottoman Sultans, Armenian cooks reigned supreme. These immense kitchens were used for the preparation of thousands of m meals daily, as well as delicacies for the Sultan.
Even today, honest Turkish women freely admit that they try to cook as Armenians do, but rarely succeed.
The main techniques of Armenian cuisine are stuffing, frothing, pureeing, pan-frying, bbq, and sautéing.
Lamb, eggplant, yoghurt, lavash bread, nuts and cracked wheat are popular, although many other ingredients including spices are employed.
Mostly herbs flavour dishes. Bread and cracked wheat are much more popular than rice.
Vine leaves are stuffed with rice with onions, pine nuts, dill and other flavouring ingredients , or with ground lamb.
Cabbage leaves can also be stuffed with rice and lamb.
In addition, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, green and red peppers, mussels and everything imaginable are stuffed with ingenious compositions.
Olive oil dominates in dishes of Cilicia, whereas in the northeast, butter is more popular.
Practically every dish requires lengthy and complicated preparations and often housewives devote considerable time daily to shopping (freshness is valued for a variety of reasons), peeling, chopping, stuffing, and cooking.
The ingenuity of specialties lies in the fact that in teh summer, anything stuffed is prepared with olive oil and can be eaten at ambient temperatures, and in winter, with meat that requires reheating.
Soups play an important role, as do appetizers served on platters for everyone to partake.
Salads are eaten along with the main course, and desserts, of which there are hundreds at the end of a meal.
In general, though, families finish their meals with seasonal fruits. Elaborate desserts such as baklava, yoghurt cake, farina cake, fritters, ladyfingers, flour helva etc are served on special occasions and during religious celebrations.
For beverages most people drink water, diluted yoghurt, wine, beer and spirits, especially brandy. Soviet leaders always drunk Armenian brandy at home and during official receptions. Churchill was also a great fan of Armenian brandy and the Soviet leadership used to ship annually one case of the best brandy for his enjoyment.
Today, Armenians, who live in Armenia, and can afford it, drink more than anything, vodka, mostly due to the soviet occupation of the country. There are more Armenians all over the world than there are Armenians living in the country. Mostly live and work in Russia, followed by the U S A, and there are still considerable populations of Armenians in Turkey, some of whom had to convert to Islam to survive. Pork was never popular with Armenians, but now it is, because of the Russian influence.
Meals finish mostly with strong and specially brewed coffee served in small, specially designed cups that contain approximately four to five tablespoons of liquid which can be bitter, sweet, and very sweet.
|Writer – Hrayr Berberoglu – E-mail – Read his books?
Professor B offers seminars to companies and interested parties on any category of wine, chocolates, chocolates and wine, olive oils, vinegars and dressings, at a reasonable cost.