September 2006


Yes busaker em!

Khoravadz TableFrom start to finish, my trip across Armenia was filling.

Food-wise, that is. I cannot recall a trip where food was so consistently fantastic—I was stuffed from Kapan in the south to Vanadzor in the north. On my way from the airport to Kapan (which is 320 kilometers/200 miles from Yerevan; a 6 or 7 hour trip), my driver stopped to buy fresh produce (by my calculation, there are at least three watermelons for each Armenian, all of them for sale along the highway south of Yerevan), and then later on, just beyond the city (or village) of Vayk, we stopped for “Khoravadz.”

Khoravadz is an Armenian style of barbeque cooking—meat and vegetables are cooked over a fire—either in a pit or in a larger grill like contraption—and then served along side tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese, and lavash. Lavash is a flat bread—in many ways similar to tortillas, but much larger and typically thinner. One tears it to the size you want and then put what you want to eat in it, followed by the obvious step of eating it.

BridgeHad I been driving, I never would have noticed the Khoravadz stand that we stopped at. It was at a nondescript point along the road—just before a bridge going over a stream that was missing one of the guardrails. The setting was quite fantastic and quiet. Each table was in its own little hut—something that seems quite traditional across Armenia at its restaurants—you dine in your own little room—and no sooner than we sat down, the food started pouring onto the table: cucumber, tomato, cheese, and bread. It was followed a bit later by the freshly grilled pork and vegetables. The table was overflowing with food—and vodka.

Later in the trip, I had the honor of visiting several different private tables: R’s, his relative’s table, a birthday party for a young man, and then the one at the bed and breakfast in Vanadzor.

The dinner tables in Kapan were lavish and flavorful—it was one of those moments where I was started pondering why food in America (save for Cajun country and true Tex-Mex food) is so bland and boring. America’s greatest culinary contribution to the world is McDonald’s with its Big Mac Sandwich. (I might note, Armenia is the first country I have ever visited that does not have any McDonald’s at all!) Food in Germany is also equally bland and boring: no matter how many different ways you shred or pulverize potatoes, they are bland when being eaten.

I had several different meals in Yerevan—although I often ate from little hole in the wall shops that served up delicious rolls for 100 dram (or 18 Euro Cents). I bought a big bottle of Evian for 200 dram (40 Euro Cents). Two of the evenings I visited Khoravadz stands where I ate lamb-based meals for no more than 3,000 dram, or 5.38€. (Oddly, I noticed that the Yerevan Marriot was serving bowls of cold gazpacho soup for about that price!)

Professional!Once I went north to Vanadzor (120 kilometers / 75 miles; 2 hours), I stayed at the B&B Lori—with our limited ability to communicate, I did establish that I liked Khoravadz. The husband’s eyes lit up: “I am professional,” he exclaimed quite proudly and asked if I would like him to prepare it Sunday evening. Naturally, I said yes.

I ate out twice in Vanadzor at a small café where I had kebabs—one time I had two cokes and one kebab for 1,000 dram; the other time I had one coke and two kebabs for 750 dram. The taxi driver who I hired to take me to two monasteries gave me some plums and other fruits (currants, I think) after I gave him a 1,000 dram tip at the end of the journey.

Pepper in the Flames!Sunday evening, I bought dinner for three: my hosts and myself ate a fabulous home cooked (yet professional) Khoravadz meal. The husband invited me downstairs to the outdoor grill to watch (and take photos) whilst he cooked away. It was an impressive affair, and I think it took about half an hour to prepare everything—from starting the fire, roasting the eggplant and peppers, as well as grilling the meat and tomatoes.

Me at the Khoravadz TableWhen I returned upstairs, the wife had prepared the table—complete with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese, and bread. It was truly a feast for kings.

However, back on the first day, while I was still struggling to get my bearings, I did manage to tell my driver and his friends one joke. I opened up my Armenian-English phrase book at the end of the meal and proudly proclaimed, “Yes busaker em!”

With the bones on my plate, I don’t think they believed me when I said “I am a vegetarian!”

At least the laughter suggested they did not.

Please see my Flickr Khoravadz Set for the complete grilling experience!

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