By Michael Kazarian
As an assignment for Armenian Studies 120T-Armenian Cooking
Most people in the world, who have been exposed to an Armenian community or are themselves Armenian, know that food is a very central part of the Armenian culture and tradition. My family is typical of the ìtraditionalî Armenian family whose home life revolves around foodóthe preparation of food, and the family coming together to share a meal.
On a daily basis I eat the delicious ethnic foods of my heritage. Many of the common dishes consumed by Armenians everyday are not known to exist by people outside the Armenian community. Armenians like any nationality or ethnic group, whose recipes date back thousands of years, depend on their religious holidays and season of the year to perpetuate their culture through food. Perhaps the reason traditional recipes evolved is because centuries ago man did not have the ability to ship fruits and vegetables around the world, therefore, certain foods could only be made seasonally.
Rojeeg is an Armenian dessert that is made in the fall season. This is because Rojeeg is make with walnuts and grape juice and the walnuts come into season around October. The Muscat grape is used for making Rojeeg. Muscats come into season in mid September and are still good by the time walnuts are ready to harvest. The reason why Muscat juice is preferred in the making of Rojeeg is because the Muscat is very sweet with a high sugar content. The preparation and making of Rojeeg is a very long and tedious process. First, the grapes are juiced and the syrup is made in a large barrel or vat. Second, the walnuts are carefully shelled. Special care is taken not to break the walnut meat. Once the walnuts are shelled, a long string with needle on one end is used to string the walnuts, which end up resembling a walnut necklace. Each string of walnuts should be about twelve inches long. At the top of each string a hook is placed so that it may be hung to dry during the dipping process. The dipping process takes a great deal of time because when the walnut strings are completed they are dipped in the juice vat and each dip must dry completely before the walnut necklace can be dipped again. The dipping process is coating the walnuts with the sweet grape juice. This process of dipping and drying is done a number of times, until the walnut necklace looks like a long sausage. Once these sausage-like strings, known as jots(in Armenian) have dried they are rolled in powdered sugar. The traditional way to serve Rojeeg is to cut them up like cucumber rings and set them on the holiday table for a sweet treat. Rojeeg can be found on the table of many Armenian homes during the fall and winter holidays.
There are many “special” holiday foods Armenians prepare and enjoy. During the Easter holiday many dishes are made which are not normally made any other time of the year. Due to the Armenian belief and observation of Lent, many give up eating meat for the forty-day period. One popular food during the period of Lent is vospov kheyma. Kheyma is a dish that consists of ground meat, bulgur and seasoning. During the observation of Lent the ground meat, in this dish, is substituted with lentil beans or vosp, in Armenian. Personally I do not care for vospov kheyma as much as beef kheyma.
Armenians also bring entertaining pastimes into their traditional dishes. Just like the American tradition of boiling and coloring Easter eggs, Armenians also have this tradition. The Easter eggs are called Garmeer havgeed (in Armenian) which means “red eggs”. The eggs have this name because the shells are dyed dark red. The peels of the purple onion are boiled with the eggs resulting in the eggshell turning a dark red color and hard boiling the eggs. Before the eggs are eaten, it is the tradition to have an egg fight. This is not the type of fight that may come to mind, with eggs being thrown at everyone. The way you egg fight is that one person holds his or her egg while the other person tries to break it by hitting it with his egg. In the years past, churches put on egg fights at Easter time and the festivities were enjoyed by all. My grandfather told me stories of people sucking out the egg filling with a needle and injecting it with epoxy, so that no matter what their egg was hit with, it would not crack.
These recipes are only a few of the seasonal and traditional foods that Armenians have and they represent my families personal favorites. The Armenian people are a very old culture and have maintained their sense of family, heritage and traditions through very adverse times in history. I believe much of the Armenian culture is passed down from generation to generation through the traditions associated with food.