Traditional Armenian cuisine has much in common with Turkish, Persian or Arab cooking, all of whose empires at one time made subjects of the Armenians. It has much less in common with the cooking of Russia, which also ruled Armenia but whose cuisine reached the country relatively recently and is unknown in diaspora communities elsewhere in the world.
Russia’s culinary legacy can be seen on the shelves of any mainstream supermarket and on most restaurant menus, as well as in some forms of street food.
The quality of Armenia’s fruit and vegetables is notable, partly because Armenians grow what the climate favours, partly because the produce has not travelled from another continent, and partly because flavour is considered more important than size or appearance. Apricots, native to Armenia, are probably the most famous produce, but throughout the growing season you’ll find market sellers and the ubiquitous roadside vendors piling their stalls with various other fresh produce.
The main meal is eaten in the evening. Bread will certainly be provided, usually lavash, but some restaurants, particularly in Yerevan, will also include a selection of regular leavened breads in the same basket. The meal usually begins with a selection of salads which can incorporate both raw and cooked vegetables, peas, beans, herbs, fruits, nuts, bulghur, eggs and meat.
In season romaine lettuce is used but in winter cabbage is substituted. The main course is usually based on meat or fish. Fish is obviously less common than in countries which are not landlocked but common whitefish (sig) from Lake Sevan is sometimes available and also trout (ishkhan) from Armenia’s rivers. Trout and sturgeon are available from the Armash fishponds and other fishfarms.
Lamb (gar), mutton (vochkhar) and beef (tavar) are all popular and a huge variety of meat stews are cooked in domestic homes with ingredients from quinces (ms’sov serkevil) and apricots (ms’sov tsiran) to artichokes (ms’sov gangar) and leeks (ms’sov bras).
These fascinating, delicious and often celebratory dishes are usually served with a rice pilaff (brndzov plav) or bulghur pilaff (dzavari plav), but the chance of finding one on a restaurant menu is practically zero. You will, however, find lots of barbecues (khorovats) using lamb, pork (khoz), beef, chicken or, occasionally, veal (hort), of which pork and chicken are usually the safest options.
Armenia is justly renowned for its brandy, its coffee and its spring water. Other drinks, such as some of the herbal teas – particularly the thyme (oorts) tea – are well worth trying, and the modernisation of the wine industry has led to a noticeable up-tick in the quality of local wines.