Armenia in general is a harsh, cold and mountainous land. Russia, the Ukraine and Georgia are to the North, Azerbajian on the East, Iran, Syria and Iraq on the South and Turkey on the West. Armenia has been occupied and divided by Russia, Greece, Turkey and Persia and thus has a cuisine which is complicated by name and ingredients. The fact that Armenia was the first Christian nation on earth and completely surrounded by Moslems and nomadic tribes affected the diet of it's people not only as related to farming methods but also as to religious belief. An agrarian civilization spanning 2600 years, Armenia was the crossroads of the world between East and West, "The silk road". It's food reflects that fact by similarities in recipes from Europe to India.

The meat staple of the country was lamb and to a lesser extent chicken and beef. No pork was used in the Armenian diet due to biblical belief that only animals that chewed their cud were to be eaten. Seafood was mainly lake or river fish and sturgeon and it's caviar. No salt water ports border modern Armenia.

Vegetables such as squash, onions, tomatoes, garlic, cabbage, okra, green beans, peppers, cucumbers and eggplant were used quite extensively during the summer growing season. Armenians love vegetables and were very adept at roasting them. Eggplant, peppers, squash, garlic and onions were among their favorites. During the cold winter months the staples were dried fruits, dry preserved olives, nuts, beans, rice and wheat. Meat was preserved like a confit. Lamb was cooked in it's own fat and preserved without refrigeration beneath a thick layer of solidified fat. Called kavourma, the homemaker would reach into a crock of preserved lamb and remove a portion enough for a meal. The meat was so well cooked that it fell off the bone. The fat surface layer was replaced until another portion was needed.

Of the fruits, the grape was used in a variety of recipes from candy, wine, brandy and syrup, to dried items such as fruit leathers, and raisins. Honey was, and still is a major cash commodity; with the Bitlis area of Armenia the center of honey production.

The Armenian winters were so cold that farmers would dig up the grape vines and bury them, to prevent their freezing, to be replanted in the spring. The summers were long and warm and thus the harvests were plentiful.

The Armenians were skilled as vintners and viticulturists and that is evident by the phenomenal success of immigrant Armenian farm families who settled the fertile San Joaquin Valley of Central California. Other exotic fruits were also used such as quince, pomegranate, figs, persimmons, citrus and of course the ancient olive. The olives were cured with the salt curing process and after curing were preserved in olive oil and lemon juice. The salt cured olives were very black and wrinkled and had a bitter taste that grew on you. Other olives compared to them seemed to have no taste at all.

The Armenian families who fled Turkey due to the severe oppression by the Turks during the late 19th century and the early 20th century, brought with them to this country and other countries throughout the world, not only their own cookery, but that of the Turks. This explains the obviously Turkish names for many of the dishes adopted by the Armenians. Similarities of dishes also include the Greeks, Syrians, Jews, Iraqis and Iranians. Some similarities are also evident in the cooking of North Africa and of Eastern Europe. The spices used in the Middle East are generally common from one country to the next, but the main spices and herbs used in Armenian cooking are garlic, basil, rosemary, parsley, onion, mint, allspice, paprika, cumin, sesame seeds, lemons and olive oil. Another spice frequently used in Armenian cooking was called chaimen. This was a blend of spices composed mainly of cumin, allspice, fenugreek, black pepper and paprika. Salt in Armenia was scarce and thus expensive, so lemon juice was a healthful substitute. The absence of salt and thus iodine was evident in the number of women with goiters, a thyroid deficiency. Quantities of spices used from cook to cook and village to village varied so widely, that some recipes using the identical ingredients sometimes did not even resemble each other. Armenian cookbooks are rare, and most recipes have been and are still handed down from parent to child and relative to relative. These recipes are forever changing in the translation because of the ingredients available, and the country in which Armenian immigrants have come to call home. Within the last 50 years Armenian dishes, especially rice pilaf has become a gourmet dish in the world's finest restaurants and almost a common dish in the diets of many Americans. Skewered meats on the backyard barbecue [Shish Kebab] is becoming as popular as the hamburger.

The recipes in this book are favorites of the author and were part of the every day fare enjoyed while he was growing up outside of Fresno, California. Some of the recipes are Americanized versions which take into consideration the health aspects of modern cooking. There are of course hundreds more Armenian recipes, but due to space, complexity and food technology that has made them obsolete they were omitted. Many of the recipes in this book will hopefully become a favorite of your family to enjoy and savor, and many will serve only as a trip back in time when food preparation was an event that took hours and even days and weeks.

As previously mentioned, lamb was the main meat course in Armenian cooking, but was often scarce and expensive, therefore it was often stretched or extended with wheat (sounds a little like hamburger helper). This wheat was cooked, dried and then cracked or milled in different degrees of coarseness and is called bulghour. Although many Armenian wheat dishes called for bulghour, there are quite a few that call for the whole kernel [Zezads].

Another staple in the Armenian diet is "Mahdzoon". This is commonly known to Americans as "Yogurt". Mahdzoon or Yogurt is widely used throughout Europe, the Middle East and it's use extends to the Far East. Armenians use their mahdzoon plain, as a beverage, or a cold or hot soup. It is used as well as a topping or garnish for other foods as you would use sour cream or salad dressing. It was not commonly flavored with fruit, but some recipes call for grapes, raisins, and dried fruit and nuts mixed with the mahdzoon.

As a child I was told that Armenian immigrants entering the United States at Ellis Island tried in vain to bring the bacterial "starter" for mahdzoon through immigration. Without this staple of the Armenian diet, the men were getting cranky at mealtime because so many Armenian dishes used mahdzoon as an important ingredient. One enterprising lady decided she would get the starter through customs. She took clean handkerchiefs and dipped them into a bowl of mahdzoon and then hung them out to dry. After they were dried, she folded them neatly and stacked them with the rest of her linens. She passed through customs without a hitch. She later dipped the handkerchiefs in warm milk, releasing the bacteria that forms the mahdzoon, and immigrant Armenian men were fit to live with again. Now, since the 1960's, yogurt is a staple in the American diet as well, and can be found in almost every supermarket. It seems to have lost something in the translation, so try making some from scratch. It has long been known to alleviate and even cure some stomach problems such as ulcers.

Armenian cookery is quite often time consuming; but, with the advent of modern utensils such as food processors and packaged foods such as fillo dough, these recipes are now relatively simple to prepare.

Most of the ingredients for Armenian cooking are available from your larger supermarkets, or any Middle Eastern, Greek, Syrian or Armenian market. So let's get started.............and good [and healthful] dining.

Map of Present day Armenia

Armenia's location in relation to it's neighbors

Eastern Anatolia, part of Ancient Armenia.




Elazμg, a city near the village of Harput, founded in the 19th century, lies on a plain in the shadow of a mountain crowned with the ancient city of Harput's citadel, an important Seljuk and Ottoman cultural and academic center. The destruction of several earthquakes and the relatively recent construction of Elazμg has led to most of Harput's population deserting it for the modern city. Several Seljuk mosques remain, however which are worth visiting. The Keban and Karakaya dams on the Fμrat river have created huge artificial lakes, dramatically altering the surrounding environment. Twenty-five kilometers south of Elazμg, the lovely and tranquil Hazar lake invites relaxation. My paternal ancestors (Bagdasarian) are from this area of Armenia {Now Turkey}

A believeable theory based on historical, geographical and biblical fact.

HosapHosap Castle on the outskirts of Van

Mt. Ararat as seen from the mountain valleys nearBitlis

The lively city of Bitlis, an important center of tobacco production, stands in the middle of a green oasis. The city's architecture uses the local dark stone, and the masonry monuments include the Serefhan Medrese, the 12th-century Ulu Mosque, the Seljuk Gφkmeydanμ Mosque, and the Ottoman Serefiye Mosque. Bitlis Ski center is close to the town's center. My maternal ancestors (Boghosian) are fom this area of Armenia {Now Turkey}.

Lake Hazar near the village of Harput and a ski area outside the village of Bitlis

Lake Van now part of Eastern Turkey, nestled at the foot of Mt. Ararat. As seen from the village of Van.

Lake Van, the largest lake in Turkey and at an altitude of 1720 meters, is ringed by beautiful mountains: Mount Sόphan (4058 meters) on the northwest side and the Ihtiyar Sahap Mountains to the south. You can circle the lake, visiting several ancient Urartian sites as well as others that represent the legacy of the various peoples who have inhabited the area. Some of the Islands in Lake Van have monasteries and churches built on them; no doubt the remote location offered seclusion to the resident religious communities. Forty-one kilometers southwest of Van, Akdamar Island ( a half-hour sail from shore) is the most important of these. On the island stands the 10th- century Church of the Holy Cross, now a museum, whose stone outer walls are richly carved with Old-Testament scenes and figures. After sightseeing, swimmers and picnickers can enjoy themselves around the Island's almond groves. If you have time, visit Carpanak Island to enjoy its landscape and to wander around the 12th-century church, which has now been converted into a museum. Cavustepe, 35 km from Van on the Hakkari road, is an important Urartian citadel. Excavated in 1970, today you can see temples, a palace, a sacrificial altar and inscriptions. On the pastoral, winding road to Hakkari, the Zernek Dam Lake offers itself as a resting spot on the way to Hosap, 60 km from Van, where a 17th century fairy-tale castle rises above a small hill. Although the inside is badly damaged, the exterior walls, crenellations and turrets are well preserved. Among the interesting geographical features around Lake Van, the Muradiye Waterfalls, 88 km north of Van, with a peaceful tea garden and restaurants, and Gahnispi-Beyaz Cesme Falls, 60 km south of Van, are worth visiting.



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