Armenian food is at the very heart of life in Armenia, one of the oldest countries in the world. Bordering Europe and Asia, this little-known destination’s geographic location, history, neighbours and cultural heritage all influence its deep flavours and traditional dishes. Visiting Armenia? Here’s the perfect beginner’s guide to Armenian dishes.
1. Armenian food sizzles straight off the barbecue
Armenia is world-famous for its Armenian barbecue. Sizzling khorovats, or skewers of meat, are seasoned and marinated before being barbecued over a gentle flame. These are then placed in a clay oven or cooked on a revolving vertical spit.
Khorovats are commonly made with pork, lamb or chicken and a simple mix of fresh herbs and spices. Deceptively simple, barbecued khorovats pack a lot of flavour and can be enjoyed on the hop as a tasty fast food option. Or, of course, over a long, leisurely lunch with salads, dips and baskets of lavash (see below).
2. Huge variety of fresh fruit and vegetables
Armenia’s climate, geography and rich, volcanic soil lends itself to agriculture. Think mountain pastures, orchards and vineyards – and the freshest produce this side of the Caucasus Mountains.
A visit to an Armenian shuka (market) will reveal stalls crammed with an astonishing variety of fruits, berries, and vegetables. Make sure to sample some traditional preserves and local honey, while a glass of fresh pomegranate juice is an absolute must!
Although Armenia produces a range of delicious fruit (for example, cherries, apples, grapes, figs, pomegranates and pears), it is most famous for the humble apricot. It is said that Armenia’s golden apricot captures the soft rays of the Armenian sun, so it bursts with flavour, aroma and a history harking back to biblical times.
In winter, one of the most popular Armenian dishes is Ghapama. The word ‘ghapama’ literally means ‘cooked in a covered pot’. But the name refers to a slow-roasted pumpkin that has been scooped out and stuffed to the brim with rice and dried fruit. The result is an aromatic, sweet and moreish seasonal dish of epic proportions.
3. Bread baked the same way for centuries
Armenian cuisine is one of the oldest in Europe and certainly the oldest in the South Caucasus. This means the locals can trace their recipes back for centuries, and nowhere is this truer than with Armenian bread.
These are just three of our favourites:
- Lavash: It’s difficult to describe lavash, possibly because it differs from region to region. In these parts, however, the locals bake lavash on the wall of a tonir (a traditional Armenian oven). This flatbread is perfect for mopping up dips and sauces, but also to wrap sizzling khorovats or as a ubiquitous side for most Armenian food.
- Gata: Armenia’s bread-like cake (or cake-like bread), is an exotic, sweet and syrupy tea-time treat. Similar to brioche, it is the perfect accompaniment to a strong cup of Armenian coffee, and you’ll find yourself craving a slice long after you leave.
- Lahmajoun: A traditional Armenian flatbread, Lahmajoun is topped with spiced meat, crushed tomatoes and a handful of fresh herbs. Think of it as an ‘Armenian pizza’ – and it’s fast food at its finest.
4. Dolma, kyufta and manti and are all delicious Armenian staples
Armenia’s strong Mediterranean influences mean that visitors to this land-locked gem of a country could still recognise a number of Armenian dishes. Look out for:
- Dolma: Pronounced ‘tolma’ in Armenia, dolma refers to tender vine or cabbage leaves filled with minced pork or beef, onion, rice and vegetables.
- Kyufta: Many Middle Eastern countries have their own version of the classic kofta, and Armenia is no different. The locals roll the mince, spices and onion into a tapered ‘spinning top’ shape before cooking them in a light broth – with a dash of pomegranate molasses.
- Manti: Similar to Polish pierogi, these dainty dumplings are filled with meat and baked until crisp. Served with spicy tomato or red pepper sauce and topped with a dollop of garlicky yoghurt, comfort food does not get better than this!
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5. Fresh fish at Lake Sevan
Located high in the mountains, Lake Sevan’s navy waters are an incredible source of fresh fish. In fact, Sevan trout is world-famous and visitors flock to the banks of the lake to enjoy Ishkhan while soaking up the region’s beautiful views.
Ishkhan means ‘prince’ in Armenian, but in Armenian food terms, it refers to trout cooked in a variety of different ways. The locals may pan-fry, bake in parchment or stuff it with almonds and apricots. It really is fit for royalty.
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6. Armenia is home to the world’s oldest winery
According to ancient legend, Noah was the first to plant grapevines in the Ararat valley, deep in the shadow of Mount Ararat.
Moreover, archaeologists discovered the world’s oldest winery in the Armenian village of Areni. They unearthed fermentation vessels, cups, vines and seeds, as recently as 2017, indicating that wine was produced in the region 6000 years ago.
Today, visitors can taste deep, deliciously luscious Armenian wine in a number of wineries (including Areni winery). And for something different? Try pomegranate, apricot or blackberry wine.
Armenia, where every ‘guest is a gift from God’
There is an old Armenian saying which states that ‘a guest is a gift from God’. So not only is Armenian food made with love, heart and heritage – but visitors can expect a warm welcome and generous hospitality. Armenia is a foodie’s dream, one you’ll want to visit again and again.
Are you a fan of traditional Armenian food and popular dishes? Let us know your favourite Armenian dishes in the comments below…