I felt I needed to experience Armenia first hand before I picked a name for this blog. After three weeks and many, many meals, I decided nothing represents the Armenian experience better than the national mania known as lavash. It’s a simple flatbread made from wheat flour and water, rolled into large ovals and baked by slapping it onto the sides of a clay oven, much like Indian naan is made. For Armenians it’s nothing short of manna from heaven. Cultures around the world have similar breads, from naan to chapatis and tortillas. It’s the dough that binds us together, if you will.
Lavash is eaten at every meal and is used for everything from scooping up soup to shoving gartofil (potatoes) onto a fork. All foods can be wrapped in it, much like a burrito, only slightly smaller. The large ovals are cut up with scissors into manageable squares and piled into a bread bowl. It’s sprinkled with water to keep it soft. At the table the diners grab a handful and stack it on the table next to their plate where it is readily accessible throughout the meal.
One morning my host mother, Loosik, filled large rectangles of lavash with fried potatoes, rolled it up burrito-style, then rolled them in egg and bread crumbs and fried them. Carb and fat overload aside, they were really, really good. I quickly learned the Armenian word for “delicious” — hamove.
We arrived at the height of harvest season in the fertile Ararat valley, so fresh fruits and vegetables make up the bulk of our meals. Every meal includes a large plate of ripe tomatoes and cucumbers, and there is frequently eggplant, peppers, cabbage, beets and okra, as well as watermelon, grapes, apples, peaches, plums and other melons for dessert and between meal snacks.
Armenians are the most hospitable people on the planet — a guest barely has time to take off their shoes and put on guest slippers before the coffeetable is laden with plates overflowing with the fruits of the earth, like a still life with knives and forks. Coffee, tea, cake, ice cream and candy round out the groaning tableau. Fortunately we learned that guests are not expected to eat everything — it’s enough to have been offered and sampled a few of the offerings.
I do of course do other things besides eat. Last weekend my host family took fellow PC trainee Cathy and me to the beautiful and ancient Khor Virap, the sacred site where Grigor Luisavorich (St. Gregory the Illuminator) was imprisoned for 13 years before curing King Trdat III of a disease. This caused the conversion of the king and Armenia into the first officially Christian nation in the world in the year 301.
The church is still in use — my host brother got married there just last year. Nice choice of venue!