If you want to know what it feels like to be a goose on its way to becoming fois gras, I can’t think of any better place to go than Armenia. Right now, I am so stuffed full of great food, I feel like I should be spread on some dark rye bread and downed with a nice reisling … but let’s let the photos do the talking.
Actually, it’s impossible to feel bad about how much you’re eating in Armenia, because the food is so deliciously fresh and unadulterated….and because every Armenian is going to tell you with earnest conviction that whatever you’re eating is “really good for your heart,” no matter what you’re shoving in your face.
“Eating local” is an understatement here. Everything you’re imbibing is probably five minutes out of the garden or orchard or barn, and you’re literally going to break somebody’s heart if you don’t accept a third helping. And why would you want to do that? You’ll probably never eat this good again.
I could (usually) resist the cakes and sweets – but only because I was taking in about 45 pounds of fructose a day in the form of a glorious cornucopia of peaches, plums, apples, grapes, figs, melon, pomegranates and dried fruits of every sort.
Unfortunately, apricots were not in season– which caused terrific sorrow in my hosts as the superiority of Armenian apricots is a matter of national pride here. (They wouldn’t even let me take photos of the substandard remainders of the harvest.)
Dairy also figures prominently in every meal and is lusciously fresh and homemade– whether it’s butter, cheese, regular yogurt or squeezed yogurt (hugged yogurt, I liked to call it), which looks exactly like a big heaping helping of sour cream and tastes amazing, even if my lactose intolerance caused me to skirt that bowl every time.
I can’t leave off talking about food without discussing Armenia’s legendary, proprietary barbecue – which is nothing like the slathered, ketchupy sides of beef you see in the American South. Instead, the meat is marinated in a lot of fresh herbs, plopped on a firewood grill and grilled to perfection, which makes it (you guessed it)… really good for your heart!
Oriental coffee is thick as syrup and will be served to you (whether you’re overcaffeinated or not) every place you stop, with a big heaping bowl of fruit and some version of cake. But when the Armenians get down to it, meal-wise, they’re going to be serving lahvosh (watching them make it is amazing!)
And cheese. And tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and pickles. And meat or fish with a generous handful of purple basil, dill, oregano and cilantro to sprinkle on top. And potatoes. And cabbage slaw. And olives.
Armenians love food… they love to grow it (every house has a grapevine draped over the entrance and at least a few fruit trees surrounding the terrace)… they love to cook it and they love to eat it, surrounded by friends and family. Perhaps it has to do with the terrible starvation and privation Armenians suffered during the genocide of 1915, but the one thing I can tell you for sure – this culture is all about food. And Heifer is all about helping them to grow and raise more of it. (And I’ll all about deeply, profoundly appreciating it.)
As they say in Armenia, “Anushlini!” – Let anything you eat be sweet to you!