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My big Armenian meal




Spire Magazine No. 19 (December)

2006 Anfisa Galkina

You have to go to a restaurant with the right people. Only then is it possible to get the most gourmet experience from the meal. To be honest, I have been to the Armenian cafe-restaurant BAYAZET more than once and every time I experienced stress when I came into contact with its long menu full of incomprehensible names. In such a situation, even the intuition of a hardened gourmet obviously fails, because far from all the dishes I ordered looked, so to speak, authentic.

Convinced that the national cuisine needed a proper interpretation, I agreed with the best possible translator - Georgy Isahakyan, artistic director of the Perm Opera and Ballet Theatre. I confess that the need to understand the intricacies of Armenian cuisine was partly just an excuse. Such a pleasant company, like George and his wife Svetlana, gives a gourmet touch to any feast. Georgy Isahakyan is one of those people with whom both tea in the kitchen and champagne at the buffet table are consumed with true gourmandism. After all, as Eastern wisdom says, the best seasoning for dishes is a good conversationalist. So, we go down to the basement on Sibirskaya. It is quite spacious here, in addition to the common room, there are also offices. In a small shop - drinks and jams brought from Armenia. Some of this we have to try. When we place an order, Isahakyan keeps saying: "It's a must." The "obligatory program" includes kamatz - matsun, tabouleh, spas-tanapur, blgur, aveluk, bozbash and tzhvzhik. They also tried to order kufta, but there was no meat kyufta ... Finally, they ordered khashlama. Well, at least something relatively familiar! Heroically repeating all the hard-to-wear words, I ask Isahakyan a question that has been tormenting me for a long time:

- How do Armenians pronounce such clusters of consonant sounds?

- Easily!Isahakyan answers.It turns out that after each of the consonants there is a small, small vowel sound, which is not indicated on the letter.So the notorious surnameMkrtchyan in reality sounds like "Mykyrytychyan".In general, there are two times more sounds in the Armenian language than in Russian.

Having learned that we were to start the meal with squeezed yogurt with pomegranate and walnuts, I timidly asked for pita bread and realized with indescribable satisfaction that I had done the right thing. Not only kamatz - matsun (this is the name of this “yogurt”), but also salads, such as aveluk or taboule, are wrapped in thin pita bread during meals. It turns out burum - a sort of Armenian "burrito". Armenian lavash, it would seem, is a flatbread, unleavened dough ... But it turns out that this is such a specially invented flatbread that any dish becomes a meal with it.
After a thorough sampling, it turned out that kamats-matsun was not yogurt at all. By origin, perhaps, it is a related dish, but in taste ... The Armenian relative differs from curdled milk in its fine texture, without any lumps, and exquisite taste with a slight sourness. Acts as an aperitif - tested.
Aveluk is fried sorrel. More precisely, fried sorrel, which my companion did not have time to remind about. In general, our menu included a lot of mountainous things, which is not surprising, given that all of Armenia is mountains, with the exception of a single valley. Describing the taste of aveluk... it's better not to try. One thing I can say - I recommend. Armenians are very fond of crushed wheat. In any feast there is wheat porridge - blgur, which we also tried, and many dishes in which wheat groats are present as an ingredient. For example, tabbouleh salad is simply a salad of tomatoes and cucumbers. But with wheat. It is not surprising that Armenians love this simple cereal so much: in a country where there is little fertile land, it is not easy to grow it. The most fertile Armenian land was considered Karabakh - Artsakh in Armenian. The word "Artsakh" for Armenians sounds like a kind of password, like a designation of a dream of a peaceful life and that the people would return to their historical lands. The word BAYAZET is from the same series:

this is the name of the historical Armenian region on the territory of modern Turkey ... But it is better not to talk about Turkey with Armenians. The difficult history of the Armenian people is perhaps not the most common topic, but it is impossible to bypass it. Therefore, our meal was slightly pathetic. Drinks came in very handy - red wine "Vernashen" and dogwood vodka "Artsakh". The wines of Armenia are sweet and semi-sweet. Such soils there, such a climate that there is a lot of sugar in the grapes. The varieties are unique, they do not grow in other countries. It is believed that the bouquet of most sweet wines is not as thin as that of dry ones, but Armenian wines are an exception. The taste of Vernashen wine has nothing to do with the average sweet and sour taste that is inherent in ordinary semi-sweet wines. And yet the "highlight" of the feast was dogwood vodka. A few days later, Isahakyan revealed to me a terrible secret: the strength of this drink is 51 degrees. A is not felt. It is drunk easily and without consequences ... Especially - under such a glorious hot appetizer as tzhvzhik. Tzhvzhik is offal fried with vegetables, and the name of the dish, according to George Isahakyan, is of onomatopoeic origin - it imitates the sound of a frying pan. The dish, without exaggeration, is a cult one. Each Armenian family passes down its own recipe for its preparation through generations, and a short film was even shot about it, which is called “Tzhvzhik”. The hero of this film walks around the town and says that he has a piece of liver and he is going to cook tjwjik. Neighbors generously share recipes, and when they try a ready-made dish, they unanimously declare that it was cooked incorrectly, they would do better ... The film is very funny and colorful, all Armenians have known it since childhood. It is difficult to say how the characters of the film would have reacted to the tjvjik from BAYAZET, but we had a delicious meal. Finally, having finished with appetizers, we proceed to soups. There are two of them in our menu: spas-tanapur and bozbash. Spas-tanapur is called so because it is cooked on tana, a fermented milk product like koumiss. This is not okroshka, but hot soup with the same mountain sorrel and other tricky herbs. It is sour and very tasty. And bozbash is a lamb soup, the most classic of the genre. In BAYAZET it is prepared as it should be - with various rare vegetables, among which okra pods stand out.

The presence of lamb in Perm shops and restaurants cannot but please a true Armenian. According to Isahakyan, when he arrived in Perm 15 years ago on assignment, he thought that he would not survive here: how can one live in a city where there is no lamb, eggplant and basil? The top of our meal, as expected, was a hot meat dish - the famous khashlama. The dish is international-Levantine, and each nation has its own recipe for making, and there are several such recipes within one ethnic group. Whatever recipe you prefer, you must remember that the main "trick" of khashlama is cartilage and veins. This dish is prepared not from a banal tenderloin, but from real "shepherd's" meat, and this is its charm. Boiling, all these films and shells give the broth density and viscosity. If khashlama stands in the refrigerator, it turns into a kind of jelly.

In general, Armenian cuisine is very lively, folk, natural. It has a certain primitive charm, juiciness, life inherent in the cuisines of not the richest countries. Only peoples with a difficult history, who remember the difficult years of hunger, are able to use literally all the gifts of nature in such a way. Yes, of course, it's also gourmet - to appreciate the virtuosic decoration of a game dish mixed with fish and berries ... But when cooking goes into design, it loses something very tasty. Something that BAYAZET managed to preserve. We rounded off our real Armenian feast with urts mountain herb tea, and for dessert we tried three types of jam, including a delicious jam made from whole, unripe walnuts. A worthy ending for lunch when it's minus 25 degrees outside... Here is such a "my big Armenian meal". And not everyone has tried it! We have not yet eaten khorovats - Armenian barbecue, as well as hada - khorovats - baked vegetables with butter and garlic. We didn't even try the famous Armenian pie gata... Fortunately, a real Armenian feast can be arranged not only in Perm or on the banks of Sevan. Many good things are said about the Noah's Ark restaurant in Moscow, about Chelyabinsk's Ani... But the best Armenian restaurant, according to Georgy Isahakyan, is located... in Riga. That's geopolitics.

We ended the “Year of Armenia in Russia” with dignity. The year when the Russians remembered that Armenia is the only country in the CIS that sincerely and consistently supports Russia, just as Russia has supported Armenia for 500 years. Without this support, the world's first Christian state would inevitably perish in an Islamic environment. “This is not forgotten,” says Georgy Isahakyan.

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