Food Culture and Spirit of Hospitality in Armenia

by Anna Poghosyan

Before talking about the “food culture” in Armenia, I  think it’s very important to mention the warm hospitality of Armenian people and the custom of hosting guests. Perhaps it might even surprise and deeply affect you but this custom goes far back into our history. There is even a proverb that says: “guest in a house- three days he’s a guest, on the forth- he’s a younger brother”. Hospitality is one of the brightest features of the culture of the peoples of the Caucasus. Guest is always offered the best of what there is in the house, the attention of the hosts is concentrated solely on him/her; he/she is surrounded by the cordial atmosphere.

As a visitor, some of the common features you would find when traveling the regions of Armenia would be a smile on people’s faces, sincere will to go out of their way to help newcomers, radiating genuine happiness upon meeting a person and more. In the capital people mostly are busy with their work and problems, so the hospitality spirit of the regions is absent in the hectic life of the city residents. In the villages things are different- it shouldn’t surprise anyone, if right upon entering a house in the village- for just asking anything- you will get an invitation to share the dinner with the family living there.

Most Armenians live in a joint family so often you will find the in-laws, uncles, cousins and others staying together. Saying, “Welcome” (Bari Galust) to a guest is integral to hospitality culture in Armenia and you can expect every member of the family present to greet you. The womenfolk form the backbone of traditional hospitality. Apart from taking full care of all their family members, they never ever let a guest go away hungry or thirsty from their home.

The food culture is just as colorful and sincere. As soon as the guest arrives, the women of the house would bring the visitor some coffee and then ask for any preferences for food. Armenians sometimes joke about this tradition, saying that if upon entering the house you are not offered a cup of coffee then it means that you are not awaited guest in this house. So, drinking coffee is an important part of the culture for hosting guests. Coffee is served with sweets prepared with honey, nuts and raisins.

As Armenians historically were used to work in the field and grape-yards, in our traditional cuisine we use more corn based ingredients, raisins, and some spices. Some of my favorite dishes include “Harisa”- a dish of boiled, cracked, or coarsely grounded wheat with meat or chicken. Its consistency varies between a porridge and a dumpling; “Spas” soup- made from yogurt, hulled wheat and herbs (usually cilantro); “Aveluk”, made from lentils, walnuts, and wild mountain sorrel (which gives the soup its name). “Kiufta soup” is another soup made with yogurt and flavored by large balls of strained boiled meat (kiufta); “Katnov” is a milk-based rice soup with cinnamon and sugar, and “Ghapama”, a traditional eastern Armenian food, often served during new years and Christmas. It is pumpkin stuffed with rice, dried fruit, and raisins. Meals in Armenians often start with a spread of appetizers and usually accompanied with red wine or tan- yogurt mixed with water and salt.

Hope that no hungry person read this because it can make one really nervous to be hungry and read about so many delicious dishes at the same time!

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