A Culinary Journey Through Traditional Armenian Cuisine

27/05/2024

If you love trying something different, Armenian cuisine has plenty to offer the curious traveller. From traditional types of bread to delectable pork BBQ, there’s lots of diversity when it comes to Armenian food. Agriculture is big in Armenia, with cattle, sheep, chicken and pigs being farmed commercially. This means there’s plenty of meat in the Armenian diet, but conditions are also exceptional for growing many nuts, fruits and vegetables.

As we’ll discover in this article, traditional Armenian cuisine is still very popular today. The people of Armenia have certain ways of doing things, and you can learn all about them right here!

Khorovats being grilled in a traditional clay oven.
Khorovats being grilled in a traditional clay oven.

Khorovats

Pork BBQ is one of many traditional feasts you’ll come across in Armenia. However, it’s a bit different to the BBQ you might have experienced at home. Armenians use big cuts of meat rather than ground beef or sausages. The cooking method is also unique, with the meat being cooked on hot coals.

To make khorovats, the idea is to wrap the pork (or other meat) in lavash, a traditional type of Armenian bread. Usually, khorovats is served with fresh local produce, such as barbecued tomato, eggplants and peppers.

Lavash

Lavash, as we just mentioned, is a traditional type of Armenian bread that you’ll find on almost every table in the land. It’s an extremely popular side dish that can be served with many different meals. For example, it can be eaten with pork, lamb, beef or chicken in traditional khorovats.

Lavash is a thin bread, making it ideal for ‘wraps’ such as khorovats. It is traditionally baked in an underground oven. Once dried, it can stay edible for a long time, making it a terrific option for self-sufficient locals.

Traditional lavash bread making.
Traditional lavash bread making.

Arishta

Armenia’s traditional pasta is known as Arishta. In some ways, it’s a lot like fettuccine, but it has a much richer flavour due to the presence of browned butter in the recipe. This is added when browning the pasta in a dry frying pan.

Like most types of pasta, it can be eaten with almost anything. Traditionally, Armenians love serving Arishta with gravy of yoghurt, clarified butter and garlic. However, today, you’ll likely find any number of different Arishta dishes, depending on the region and availability of other produce.

Tolma

When you visit Armenia, another popular dish you’ll find is tolma, also known as ‘dolma’. Tolma is a stuffed vegetable dish that also includes meat. Minced meat is mixed with rice and a variety of herbs for flavouring. Then, the meat and rice mixture is wrapped in either cabbage or grape leaves. While traditional tolma would be made with meat, you can now find vegetarian options if meat isn’t your thing.

Tolma can be enjoyed either hot or cold, depending on your preference. Traditionally, it is served cold, but many people cook it, resulting in what can best be described as a tantalisingly flavoured spring roll.

The Armenian dolma (tolma) is typically made with a filling of rice and minced meat inside a leaf wrapping.
The Armenian dolma (tolma) is typically made with a filling of rice and minced meat inside a leaf wrapping.

Gata

Gata is a must-try when you travel Armenia, especially if you enjoy sweet bread. Gata is Armenia’s traditional pastry, somewhat similar to coffee cake. Because gata is so widespread throughout Armenia, you’ll likely find several variations depending on where you go. Different regions have slightly different recipes and ways to enjoy gata.

Previously baked in underground ovens like lavash, gata is generally made in standard ovens. While it’s a big part of the annual Candlemas feast, people eat gata all year round. Many Armenians like serving gata with khoriz, which is a flour, sugar and butter filling. However, be careful when eating traditional gata. Some people bake a coin into the dough, which is said to bring fortune to those who eat the piece with the coin inside. Just make sure your good fortune doesn’t turn into a cracked tooth!

Khash

If you’re visiting Armenia in the colder months, you’ll probably want to try a delicious soup to warm up in the mornings. Local Armenians have eaten khash for generations, with some even claiming that it’s a cure for hangovers. Khash is a soup traditionally made using cow legs, but it is also often made with other cow or sheep parts. One of the most popular ways to serve khash is with garlic and lavash.

As for its hangover-curing capabilities, Armenians claim that it is great for eating while drinking wine, but it’s just as good with a vodka chaser to get rid of that morning-after fuzziness. We’ll leave that for you to find out, but you can find khash throughout the Caucasus, even in Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Ready to explore the best of Armenian cuisine?

Crooked Compass takes you off the beaten track to explore some of the world’s most fascinating regions. Armenia, and indeed the entire Caucasus Mountains, is an area rich in culture and history. If you’d like to find out more, check out our comprehensive Caucasus tour. If you want to immerse yourself in Armenian cuisine, try our Flavours of the South Caucasus foodie tour. To discover life-changing experiences, contact the team at Crooked Compass today.