Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My dinner at Omar Khayyam's



It was the summer of 1967; my 18th birthday was on the horizon.

Every year our family vacationed at the Van Hotel, an Armenian hotel in Asbury Park, at the Jersey shore. This summer would be different; instead, our family would be celebrating my parent’s 25th anniversary by visiting relatives in California.

Not only would we get to see CA for the first
time, but we were about to meet many of my father’s relations who moved out West in the 1930’s and 40's, and meet their children who were native Californians. We traveled from San Francisco to Fresno, to LA. What a time it was!

While visiting Dad’s cousins, Alice and Hrant Atikian, in San Francisco, they arranged for us to meet their dear friend, George Mardikian, who just happened to own the then-famous Omar Khayyam restaurant.

Alice called ahead to make sure they had lamb shanks on the menu that night. It’s a good thing she did; there were only four portions left. She asked that they be reserved for our party of eight. I thought, that was odd - 4 portions for eight people?

Boy, those must be gigantic lamb shanks! It turned out the lamb shanks were for the adults; the kids were “stuck” eating succulent morsels of shish kebab with all of the trimmings! Quite delicious, as I recall.

To highlight the meal, the staff and Mr. Mardikian presented me with a birthday treat - a delectable piece of paklava with a birthday candle - while singing the traditional song. In

addition, I received an autographed copy of Mr. Mardikian’s autobiography, Song of America, while my sister received an autographed copy of his cookbook, Dinner at Omar Khayyam’s.

I mentioned this cookbook to my thoughtful husband in passing. He knows how much I love cookbooks,so he searched on-line, found a hard-covered version from 1944, and surprised me with it recently. The book is tattered, age-stained,and smells musty, but it’s a treasure to me - and yes, it’s autographed, too!

Armenian Chicken Soup

If George Mardikian were alive today, I’m sure he would permit me to share this recipe from his cookbook, Dinner at Omar Khayyam’s. It’s a traditional Armenian chicken soup recipe, Havabour, which he referred to as “Wedding Soup."

Mr. Mardikian mentioned in this cookbook that Wedding Soup was served at ceremonial dinners, such as weddings, and that, as the wedding party arrived, the soup ingredients were mixed together and served at once.

Armenian Chicken Soup
Yield: about 8 cups

Ingredients:
½ gallon (8cups) chicken broth
1 cup fine vermicelli
3 eggs, raw
Juice of 2 lemons
Salt and pepper

Directions:
1. Cook vermicelli in broth.
2. Beat eggs thoroughly, adding lemon juice while beating.
3. Gradually add some of the chicken broth to the egg-lemon mixture, pouring slowly so that the egg will not curdle. (This is called “tempering.”)
4. Combine this with the remaining soup.
5. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.


15 comments:

  1. Great story. I'd heard of the restaurant but never knew anything about it.

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  2. Delicious!!!!!!!!

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  3. We have something very similar in our kitchen (Turkish) and i always cook when my son is getting sick (somehow it always helps)
    Thank you for all these delicous recipes, i was searching for a while and it seems i finally found.
    Rgdss

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  4. I have a lamb shank recipe from my mother which she always said was from this famous restaurant. Now that I am compiling favorite recipes for my children and see Mr. Mardikian's cookbook, I see that it could be true. Thanks for sharing this story!

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  5. I ate there in 1973, as an eighth grade trip to San Francisco. Our principal, George Fatel was a good friend of Mr. Mardikian and arranged for us to eat there. We had lamb kabobs with rose petal jam! I will always remember it.

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  7. George Mardikian was a friend of my parents. They were commercial, professional photographers, and took the pictures in Song of America. My mother used to make a lamb shank recipe (it was too strong for me!) it was called Kazu kaza (sp ?).
    I remember Mr. Mardikian always calling the young (us) the ladies princesses, the rose petal jelly/ jam, lavash, shish kebab, and paklava, and his wonderful warmth and welcoming. He and his lovely wife even attended my wedding in 1974 in Marin County, CA, a few miles north of San Francisco.

    I am trying to find some of recipes. My storage unit flooded and lost all cook books, Song of America, along with everything else. etc. I will look for the books online.

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    1. How fortunate that your family knew Mr. Mardikian so well! I hope by now you have found copies of his books online.

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  8. Robert Ara ArcdhigianOctober 30, 2014 at 3:49 PM

    My Dad worked in his Kitchen. Mardikian was the special Chef for General Eisenhower, eh!

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  9. My Grandfather, Kerop Chakerian, was the manager at that time. Also, I have a copy of Mr Mardikian's cookbook.

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    1. Very interesting, Stepan! Your grandfather was most-likely there the night we went!

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  10. It must have been back in 1965 my girl friend had mentioned to me about her curiosity with Turkish cooking. As a young Turkish foreign student at San Francico State College at the time, I had no knowledge
    of a Turkish restaurant in the City. I remembered that somebody had mentioned about Omar Khayyam Restaurant at down town San Francisco and had mentioned about the excellent food but expensive
    prices. I thought that it must be a Persian restaurant. I asked my date if she would be interested going to a Persian restaurant as the Turks and the Persians have got many similar food. At the weekend, Saturday night, I got a permission from a restaurant that I had been working as dish washer and janitor. I put my weekly pay of USD 90.- in my pocket thinking that it should be enough amount for the bill. I put on my only suit on and we got on my Vespa and went to the restaurant. At the door I was asked if I had a reservation made. I said no but told that this is a very important night for us and would very much appreciate if they would serve us. They took us in. We sat at a table. I asked for the menue immediately and when I saw the prices, I realised that wewere at wrong restaurant with my budget. As I was about tell the waiter that we had to leave I heard that he was talking with his fellow waiter in Turkish. I asked him if he were Turkish and he said yes. I told him that I was from Turkey also. All of a second some other waiters got around us and we began chatting in Turkish. I found out that they were all Armenian young peope that recently emigrated from Turkey. I told them that my budget would hardly make it for the bill. They told me that I should not worry about.

    A few minutes later a huge man appeared next to our table and asked me in pure Turkish if I were the man from Turkey.
    That was the time I first met George Mardikian. He asked us if he could join us at our tabe for a short while. We gladly accepted. The waiters began rushing around us and began placing some plates and glasses. And soon the melon appeared with a bottle of Raki and some white cheese. George told us that he was so home sick for sitting with some one from the old country and have some Raki, melons and cheese. He sat with us for a while and left the table but before leaving in he told me that he was so pleased to meet with me and that he would always wish to see me at his restaurant with a condition that I would join him sipping some Raki with him. He also added that that nights check was all taken care and when ever I wish to eat there, I will not be charged at all.
    This was how generous George was. Later we got together at some church meetings and argued about the Armeian problem at the Ottoman times. I was amazed how the young Amenian people had the one sided opinion only. They had never listened the Turkish side. They grew up anti Turkish stories. If the young Armenian and Turkish youth would ever come together, they would solve this problem in no time.
    Ugur Aricioglu
    Istanbul
    aricio@gmail.com

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  11. I went to Omar Khayyam's in 1965, I had just moved to San Francisco (from Boston) I was 18 at the time and was living with a really good friend who like me was of Armenian (from Russia) descent. at the time our parents from Boston were arriving and what better place to go Omar Khayyam's!

    We all got dressed up and it happend that our parents knew George Mardikian (the founder of Omar Khayyam's) when we arrived we we ordered : Dolmas as a starter, for the main entreè Lamb Shanks and for dessert Paklava. The best!

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  12. George was a family friend of ours as well. I have wonderful memories of his name his restaurant regularly. I still cook from his cookbook for all these years later.

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  13. George was a family friend of ours as well. I have wonderful memories of his name his restaurant regularly. I still cook from his cookbook for all these years later.

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