The Lost Table: Armenian Food

Searching hopelessly one night for what turned out to be a defunct traditional Armenian restaurant, we inquired with the locals in Yerevan regarding where we could find good traditional Armenian food. “There,” all fingers pointed in the direction of one of the handful of local kebab joints.

Kebab Vendor - Yerevan, Armenia
No shortage of kebabs in Yerevan, Armenia

We declare – man cannot live on kebabs alone! And anyway, could grilled minced meat wrapped in lavash (flat bread) really represent the breadth of the Armenian table?

Don’t mention Yerevan’s better and more accessible restaurants, Caucasus Tavern and Mimino. As good as they are, they are just as much Georgian as they are Armenian, if not more.

Dolmas (Stuffed Vegetables) - Yerevan, Armenia
Dolma of all varieties – Yerevan, Armenia.

For the low down, go to Nury’s Deli and have a chat with the owner. Although we weren’t expecting to get a lesson in traditional Armenian food, the owner, an Armenian-Syrian, is on a mission to help Armenians re-discover their traditional cuisine before Sovietization eliminated much of its balance and variety. He explained that although meat has always been important, traditional Armenian cuisine featured more vegetables, spices – and even fruit – for more balance.

Unfortunately for us, our moment of clarity arrived on our last night in Yerevan. Next time, fewer kebabs and more visits to Nury’s Deli.

In the interest of full disclosure, we did manage to find a couple of Armenian restaurants in Yerevan listed at the tourist office. However, they obviously targeted visitors and tour groups, offering “traditional” music and non-traditional prices. If the only Armenian restaurants in town are geared to tourists, are they really representative of the cuisine? This isn’t our eating style anyhow, so we gave them a pass. Let us know if we missed out on something special.

For unfinished bits from across Yerevan’s colorful markets, check out our Yerevan Photo Essay.

Yerevan Travel Tips: Armenian Restaurants

  • Nury’s Deli and Restaurant: 62 Teryan Street. Lebanese and traditional Armenian dishes. Talk with the owner to get your own lesson on Armenian cuisine.
  • Mimino: 7 Alek Manukian Street. On our last evening in Yerevan, our friend,Yeranuhi, and her husband took us to Mimino’s where we enjoyed roasted eggplant with garlic filling and pomegranate seeds, roasted vegetables and Greek-style dolmas (meat wrapped with grape leaves).
  • Caucasus Tavern: 82 Hanrapetutyan Street. Large selection of salads, soups, shashlik (barbecue), and breads from Georgia and Armenia. The roasted eggplant dip was Audrey’s favorite.
  • New Delhi: 29 Tumanyan Street. Although not Armenian food, it’s the best Indian food we’ve had since Hanoi.
  • Street food: The underpass in front of GUM shopping area (Tigran Mets Street) had the best selection of kebab wrapped in lavash (flat bread). Find the woman in this picture for some of the best kebabs in Yerevan.
  • If you have a high-speed connection, stick around for the photo slideshow below.

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Comments

  1. Sevan says

    Good observations about Armenian food in Armenia. I lived in Armenia for two years and felt the same. Restaurants seemed to fall in a few categoties: 1) kebabs and khorovatz (bbq) 2) an Armenian/Soviet take on pizza or other western delights 3) Georgian 4) and “traditional” Armenian food for the tourist. In short, unfortunately, since Armenia lacks a restaurant culture, the only real place to experience Armenian food is in a private home. Even there, though, the table is corrupted by Russia…

  2. says

    Sevan: Thanks. We enjoyed reading your comment and we’re glad to hear that our observations (based on limited exposure) resonate. Eventually and hopefully, more authentic Armenian restaurants will begin to open so we can all appreciate what traditional Armenian cuisine really has to offer!

  3. L. Kupelian says

    Dear Friends:
    I am looking for a recipe of “Manana”, the food given to Israelites when they roamed the desert. Any luck I get one??
    L.

  4. Cheryl says

    seems that they don’t have cuisine at all. kababs ofcourse is not armenian food,it’s turkish,everybody knows it oO. dolma,I saw it on Your photos attached in this article,is NOT armenian dish too,it’s Azerbaijani,so i just can’t imagine something they can actually call their own,and I don’t want to offence somebody,but they don’t have something really their, including land,they ocuupied,food they are calling their,music,arts and etc.Hope one day,they’ll stop to lie,and just sit and think out something they really can call theirs.

  5. says

    @Cheryl: Based on our discussion and taste test at Nury’s Deli in Yerevan and sampling at other Armenian restaurants, I think it’s fair to say that Armenian cuisine exists. The question is: how distinct is it relative to the other cuisines in the Caucasus and across the Middle East. That’s perhaps a little more difficult to say.
    Regarding land, occupation, and war, I will say here what I’ve said in other comments, we have both Azerbaijani and Armenian friends and it’s sad for us to think of the two countries fighting.

  6. anna says

    @Cheryl I think its very uneducated to say that Kebab is Turkish or Dolma is Azebaijani…clearly, there are foods that are ubiquitous to the Mediterranean, Eastern European and Middle eastern culinary heritages. Many Lebanese and Syrians would take serious offense to saying Kebab is Turkish…and Greeks would be able to argue that Azeris didn’t even have an alphabet when THEY were eating Dolmadas…before making sweeping generalizations about foods belonging to this or that culture, you should look at the food of the region and understand that not everything fits in exactly ONE category. Its like saying Chicken Soup belongs to one culture or another…its simply not true.

    @Danielle unfortunately, Yerevan does not have a restaurant culture at all similar to what we have in the US…in fact, if you ask most Armenians why they don’t go out to eat traditional Armenian foods, it would simply be “Why would I go out and pay for something my Grandma can make at home for a quarter of the price?” There are, however, foods unique to Armenia that you would find in the home or in villages, for example Xash (cow’s foot soup), Xashlama (meat with potatoes, peppers, and tomatoes), Harrisa (turkey or chicken meat cooked with wheats), Jengalov Hac (bread made with greens and pomegranates inside), Kananci (greens cooked down and then scrambled with eggs), as well as various compotes (fruit with sugars that end up making a juice) and tetoos (pickles). It is true that there is a heavy Middle Eastern and Russian influence in our foods…but that is also true for Georgian foods….that doesn’t make it any less legitimately good…or any less legitimately Armenian.

  7. says

    @anna: Thank you for a terrific comment, lots of perspective.

    First off, you touched on a fascinating point. People around the world are passionate about their country’s food and often times, they assert that features of their cuisine originated with what is now their culture. In reality, there is very little “original” out there; there’s been a lot of mixing over the millennia. I also think people tend to think that if their mothers made it, then it originated in their country. So the little Mediterranean geography lesson you give is only the beginning. The chicken soup example is perfect. Which raises the question: who invented it (that’s for another post).

    The traditional Armenian foods you list sound great. We’ve had xashlama and I believe we’ve had harrisa. Jengalov hac sounds really terrific and fascinating — we are big fans of the pomegranate. I wish we’d had a taste of them while in Armenia. Next time — as we’ve traveled, we’ve definitely become more savvy at seeking out food. As for the influence on foods, the thing that surprised us in Armenia was that when our Armenian friends there would take us out for Armenian food, it ended up being something more like Georgian food — not the food you just described. I think that’s why it was so enlightening (and uplifting) to talk to the man who owned Nury’s deli because he hoped to focus on those elements of the Armenian table that were uniquely Armenian.

    I’m certain Armenian food is very good. Next time we go searching for it, we are going to seek out some grandmas.

  8. James Mulvaney says

    I regret to say that there is no longer a Nury’s Cafe on #62 Teryan. Now there’s a place that serves “gingyalov c hats” A specialty of the conflict region that is like a very thin khachapuri with taragon and other greens instead of cheese. The gingyalov is good but it’s a shame Nury’s is gone, I was looking frward to being educated.

  9. says

    @James: Sad to hear that about Nury’s, but not surprised. Restaurants are the quickest of all businesses to come and go. The khachapuri-like bread sounds something like what is served in Svaneti in the mountains of Georgia. It wasn’t thin or flatbread, but the Svans were big on scallion-like things and herbs (and also meat) in their khachapuri (kubdari).

    Thanks for the update. If you find anything more about restaurants serving old Armenian specialties in Yerevan, we’d be glad to hear about it. Happy hunting.

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