Traditional Armenian Food was the Highlight of the Caucasus Region
During my time in the Caucasus region, on top of the views and the friendly people, it is the traditional Armenian food that tends to remain in my mind.
Spending so much time there, I learned that traditional Armenian food was remarkably different than the Armenian foods I had grown up enjoying. Here, the language, the culture, and the dishes were labeled ‘Eastern’, while the ones I knew in the Diaspora were ‘Western’. Instead of seeing it as a roadblock, I saw it as a way to learn even more and with that same line of thinking, to expose myself to even more traditional Armenian foods.
Some of my new favorite traditional Armenian food include jingalov hats, basoots dolma, and walnut muhraba. Each one completely shocked me with its unique flavor, and the fact that all three were vegan-by-default in a very meat-centric region.
Jingalov hats, which translates roughly to “forest bread”, is said to have over 40 herbs in it during the spring and fall. More modest estimates bring the number down to around 20, but take one bite into this flavorful greens-packed traditional Armenian food, and you will be so blown away from the different tastes, it won’t matter how many are actually in there. Sometimes called a “recipe-less” dish, jingalov hats have spring onions, dill, and nettle in it as the star ingredients, mixed with some oil, salt, pepper, and put into a flat bread, which is then cooked on a saj pan, keeping it crispy on the outside and full of moisture on the inside. The result is delicious traditional Armenian food and when you get it fresh in Artsakh with the mandatory glass of red wine, it is unforgettable.
Armenian Basoots Dolma
While dolma is a more common traditional Armenian food, I first tried the basoots version in Armenia. The name means “Lenten” and is therefore vegan keeping in line with the traditions of Lent. The dish is essentially pickled cabbage that is stuffed with grains, lentils, beans, tomato paste and spices and boiled until tender. It is hearty, nutritious, and absolutely unique in its resulting flavor, especially as a result of the pickled cabbage. The Kovkas restaurant in Yerevan has some of the best tasting basoots dolma I have personally ever tried!
Last but not least is walnut muhraba, the sweetest of the traditional Armenian foods on my list and the only one I have not yet made myself, and after learning more about the intensive process, may be content on just buying it from Gumi Shuga in downtown Yerevan. It is essentially walnuts that are picked when they are still green, which are then soaked, dipped, marinated/pickled in a clove and cinnamon—and many other ingredient—infusion, multiple times, until they are deeply blackened and crunchy while still packed with moisture on the inside. One bite into these small but powerful treats is enough to make you want to buy as many jars as possible to take with you anywhere you go.
While there are many other local Armenian foods and dishes that I have tried and loved, these three, in terms of their unique flavors and lasting effects, have become my top dishes to indulge in when in Armenia!