Monday, October 25, 2010

Armenia aims to preserve as well as serve its native cuisine

We started this blog with one major goal: to preserve the recipes we remember and love.

Since then, we've heard from many Armenians in America and around the world who feel the same urge to record the culinary traditions of our parents and grandparents before it's too late.

Now comes news that the same sense of urgency is just as strong in the homeland -- and an exciting effort is now underway.

The National Competitiveness Foundation of Armenia has launched its ambitious Cuisine Revival Project, which aims to reverse decades of neglect and foreign influence in the nation's commercial kitchens.

The foundation's announcement said the project "aims to foster the revival of lost recipes and the creation of new dishes based on Armenian ingredients and traditions."

"We want to make Armenia a culinary tourism destination," foundation CEO Pegor Papazian said in a press release.

Unfortunately, many younger cooks are untrained in Armenian food. Chef Setrak Mamulyan noted in the same release that "we are facing the danger of losing some of our dishes with the passing away of the older generation."

The revival effort, which involves many of the country's top chefs and restaurateurs, was launched in six villages in the Syunik province. Local residents were surveyed about each village's traditional cuisine, and recipes carried back to the national's capital for testing and development by professional chefs.

As the project grows, villagers through the country will be called on. Researchers are also scouring old manuscripts and other historical sources not only for recipes but for evidence of the unique roots of Armenian cuisine.

The results will ultimately be shared with the world through a Web site and cookbook.

"It's like mining for gold," Papazian said. "We want to bring out the full hidden potential of Armenian cuisine thorugh a process that starts with research but also involves substantial creativity and teamwork."

6 comments:

  1. That's awesome. I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for more info on this. Please keep us posted if you hear anything more.

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  2. You'll have to head into "old Armenia" too in order to get some of the old, old recipes. Our family was from Marash, not in what is now Armenia. That being said, this is a fantastic endeavor. I've been striving to learn everything I can from my mom before what she knows is lost.

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  3. There are two things that are going to make this difficult (thought still worthwhile): 1) the lack of access to native plants, fruits, and other ingredients that only grow in Western Armenia, and 2) the Turkish influence, which is hard to unravel due to the scarcity of documentation.

    I really hope they succeed, though. I wish we could start a similar project here in the Diaspora, before all the people who were born in Western Armenia are gone.

    Does anyone know, do any universities offer programs in culinary anthropology or whatever major is relevant to this kind of research?

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  4. I wonder if any Armenian universities (thinking of Haigazian in Lebanon) would offer such a thing if approached. It's a great idea to pursue, Ara.

    I was in Yerevan a few years back and resident there was asking me if food tasted authentic because he had no clue and he'd lived in Armenia all his life. In some ways, the Diaspora has more of a handle on the authentic cuisine because it hasn't been influenced by Russia's occupation.

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  5. An amazing resource is a series of books published by Hamazkayin in the early 80's (in Armenian). Each book lists recipes from a particular region of Armenia (Aintab, Dyarbakir, Taron, etc.). While the recipes are "raw" (in the sense that they were not reviewed by a historian or food expert), they offer an interesting insight into regional differences. Also listed are local herbs and plants that were used in the cuisine, some of which are not available outside of Armenia. In my own experience, an old relative by marriage used to make an Ourfatsi cookie recipe. The original recipe, which her mother used to make in Ourfa, used a spice mix called "seven spices". The spices all had names in the local Ourfatsi dialect. That recipe is almost impossible to reproduce today.

    In Armenia itself, you will probably find local recipes in the villages, as well as, possibly, in the colonies made up of Western Armenians who returned to Armenia during the Nerkaght, that are authentic and uninfluenced by outside cuisines.

    Because Armenia has always been a crossroad between cultures, it will be very difficult to figure out what is local and what was imported. Another difficulty is the fact that most of the people who lived in Armenia before the Genocide are now either dead or close to death. Time is running out if we want to preserve our culinary heritage.

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