Probably a year ago if you asked me to point to Yerevan on a world map I would have found it difficult. Yerevan Armenia! And the capital of Georgia! Tbilisi! How do you pronounce that? What a difference a year makes and when we decided to go to take the Russian food trip, this food trip beckoned! And the dates suited our itinerary. Let’s do it I thought! We may not be this way again.
Meeting a new leader and group on our Armenian and Georgian Real Food Tour is always exciting. We were to have two leaders here…one for Armenia and once we got through customs on the border to Georgia we would have a new one. Unfortunately neither worked for the company we booked with – Intrepid but an independent one. This certainly did affect our trip as both leaders and the group did not get to know each other as their time with us was quite limited but it was an enjoyable trip nevertheless.
I did regret not having more knowledge about the Armenian Genocide with an estimated extermination of between 700,000 to 1,000,000 about a hundred ago. How does a country ever overcome such a tragedy? I have spent most of my life living in an area in Sydney where there was a large Armenian population but did not realise that there are only three million Armenians live in their own country of the eleven million who live in other countries. Many live in Russia, in The USA, Argentina and many European countries. We became aware of many companies, schools and buildings in Yerevan had been built with finance from many of these countries. The most common language was both Russian and Armenian. Most of this knowledge was offered by our excellent guide in her perfect English.
And so to the food! Our first night we share a meal at a local restaurant where we tasted our first freshly made lavash. It is a soft, thin, unleavened flatbread that is now on the UNESCO list of the Intangible Cultural of Humanity! The lavash was often filled with salad and cheese (sometimes a salty string cheese) and rolled up and eaten like a sandwich. Lots of fresh herbs included with the salad. Delicious and healthy.
Across from our hotel was a wonderful market. Apart from the mountains of lavash and mounds of cheese we were excited to find stalls of decorated dried fruits and nuts beautifully decorated. And many different spices. Living in Australia we knew we could only admire them and enjoy samples generously offered. They are usually purchased for gifts.
Although I will write a separate blog on breakfasts it was here at our hotel in Yerevan that we enjoyed the best breakfasts on our three week adventure. Not only was the food at the buffet there was such a variety and served beautifully by staff who took pride in their work and presentation.
But back to our tour! Our guide advised us that traffic in Yerevan was always chaotic as there was a very limited underground do most people had to rely on cars for transport. However, another problem our guide revealed to us was that there were a lot of drivers who did not have a legal licence so crossing a road was done with a degree of risk.
We visited a lovely park with wonderful sculptures from artists around the world and an excellent gallery. The gallery called Cafesjian Center which was funded by an American-Armenian a philanthropist. Inside there were five exhibition halls which were accessed by an internal escalator. It was stunning and well worth a visit.
There was an imposing statue we visited which was originally of Stalin but was replaced by one of a woman overnight. This was post communism. The new monument was called Mother Armenia. Time restraints prevented us from a visit to the Museum but our guide told us that during the removal of the monument one soldier died and the comment was that Stalin was still killing from the grave. It was a sombre monument and gave us snippets of the life of the Armenians under Communist rule. Unfortunately given more time I would have appreciated a visit to the Armenian Genocide Memorial and Museum. Yertrvan is a very walkable city however though our next port of call was a tasting of Armenian brandy factory to taste various aged of the classic type. The Ararat variety is considered the pride of many generations and symbol of Armenia. We were privileged to try two varieties which interestingly was served with chocolate. I purchased a bottle and managed to bring it safely home. Still unopened by the way.
Another part of our very busy schedule was a cooking class making an Arnenian dish called tolma which was rice and ground spiced meat wrapped in cabbage or grape leaves. This seems to be a popular dish as we also cooked this in Turkey though it was a vegetarian version
Our free evening and we were recommended an Arnenian restaurant where I was happy to try a local dumpling called khinkali We actually made these little morsels later in Georgia. They were made with a simple unyeasted dough rolled thinly and a filling added with a charming pleated way of enclosing the mixture. And they were delicious! The mixture was a blend of spicy meat and vegetable and then boiled till cooked. Delicious.
We visited several historic sites including well known Geghard Monastry a UNESCO World Heritage site. This was one of the many religious sites we were to visit over the next week. But it was time to make our way to the border between Armenia and Georgia where we would say goodbye to our guide and trade her for a new one. A new language, new currency and new country.