TINA ATTASHIAN–STAFF WRITER
Culture is defined by characteristics such as language, music, fashion, religion, art, and foods. They are all components that distinguish one culture from the other. This semester the university offered its students an opportunity to take an Armenian cooking class which in turn helps them learn the distinctions about the Armenian heritage.
A student at California State University, Fresno, David Esajian, reinforces the idea of delicacies being an important part of the Armenian culture when he states, “Part of being Armenian is eating the food, so when I had the opportunity to take the Armenian Cooking class I did.” I rarely get the chance to make the traditional Armenian dishes which are regularly seen on our dinner table.
Therefore, when I saw that a course in Armenian cooking was being offered this semester I jumped at the chance to refresh my knowledge in the recipes my mother once taught me. The class began at 5:10 p.m. on Friday, September 29 and as I entered the Family and Food Science building I heard the familiar sounds of Armenian music coming from the other end of the hallway I followed the melody until I found myself in the assigned room.
Professor Barlow Der Mugrdechian greeted me with a friendly “parev” as I took a seat at one of the tables. As I waited for the class to begin I enjoyed listening to the music, conversed with classmates, and examined the room. In the center of the room was a long table which ended up being our (the students) work table for the two days we went to class.
Professor Der Mugrdechian began class discussing the origin of Armenian foods, then he introduced his mother, our cooking coordinator, Mrs. Norma Der Mugrdechian. She continued his introduction with a discussion on grape vines which led us into our first project of the evening, Yalanchi. We gathered around the long table and all got to work. My classmate, Candrea Balekian stated, “I’ve eaten Yalanchi so often and my family always eats it. I’ve always wanted to make it.” After completing our first task we prepared the Cheese Borag, which was put into the oven as we make a Turkey and Cheese Valley Wrap and a Fruit Valley Wrap. To complete the cooking session that night we made Kurabia, which became a creative project as we all could make the cookies any shape we wanted.
The evening came to an end when we were able to eat the food we prepared and David Emerzian, a sophomore at CSUF, commented, “The Turkey and Cheese Valley Wrap was the best. We should have made more.” Professor Der Mugrdechian finished class by saying, “Bring your appetites with you tomorrow we are going to eat plenty of food.” In response to this comment David Esajian said,”I’ve never eaten that much Armenian food in two days in my whole life-it was great.”
The next morning began with Professor Der Mugrdechian introducing our special guest Knar Guekguezian who showed us how to make Damascus Sweets. Then, throughout the rest of the day our dedicated cooking coordinator guided us through the making of a variety of dishes. Tabouli, Kadaif, Lahmajoon, Bulghur, Pilaf, Chorag, Bourma, Dolma, Harpoot Kufta, and Vospov Kufta.
Talking to students in class I wasn’t the only one who had fun making the food. However, everyone had their preference. Manuel Momjian, a freshman at CSUF, said “Sprinkling the walnut mixture and rolling the Bourma with the rod was the most fun. I did it fast and the pastry didn’t rip.” Making the Harpoot Kufta was one of my favorites. Shaping a hollow ball without tearing it looks easier than it really is. But I took the challenge and in the end accomplished making perfect balls stuffed with meat filling which made me happy.
After spending time preparing and making the various dishes, eating time usually created a silence in the room. At one point Mrs. Der Mugrdechian commented, “The food must be really good since it is so quiet.” She was right, the food was rewarding to the days hard work the food was delicious. Conversing with my classmates I found that their statements about the class were filled with confidence and enthusiasm to cook again, and appreciation for not only the work that goes into Armenian food, but an appreciation to an experience that connected them to their Armenian culture.
Garo Nakashian, a junior at CSUF, stated, “It was fun making the food, I’m actually going to make Bourma with my mom tomorrow.” Then David Emerzian said, “After spending the weekend cooking Armenian food I now realize and appreciate all the hard work it takes to prepare Armenian food. Also I’m happy I took the class because it gave me another link to my Armenian heritage and I feel my Yalanchi is as good as anyone else’s.”
Through delicacies and styles of cooking we are in part essentially what we eat. Learning and teaching others how to cook is important in that it is a way of passing traditions and heritage to one another from generation to generation in a collaborative effort in maintaining the existence of a culture.