There are some must-try Armenian foods that you cannot miss, whether you are a foodie or not. You just cannot overlook trying some of our traditional dishes, because they make a big part of Armenian culture. These foods reflect the influences of both Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines quite well, but at the same time, Armenian food also has a robust Slavic influence. And for sure, this will make you feel like you are in a food-heaven! Also, feel free to check out my posts comparing Lebanese with Armenian food and Armenian with Turkish food.
So, let’s see what the top must-try Armenian dishes are! Indulge in these delicious foods, take pictures, and don’t forget to tweet or Instagram those to me with #ArmeniaTravelTips. For your convenience, I split these must-try foods into two groups – non-vegetarian and vegetarian-friendly. And at the end of the post, there is a sweet treat waiting for you. 😉 So, stick around!
Must try Armenian food (not vegetarian)
One of the most beloved foods in Armenia is ‘khorovatc’, Armenian style barbecue. Usually made from pork or lamb, it can be found in Armenian restaurants with chicken, too. This dish is always present on tables during major events and celebrations. Being one of the most traditional Armenian dishes, its exact recipe is slightly different in each family. But you can be certain, that the combination of local spices and onions used for marinating the meat, will leave your taste buds impressed.
And besides this, you should never ignore the ‘dzkan khorovatc’ or Armenian fish barbecue. Especially, if it is made from Ishkhan, a species of trout found in the biggest lake of Armenia – Lake Sevan. Since this fish is endemic for Lake Sevan, there is no other place in the world where you can have this barbecued fish. So, what else is it then, if not a must-try food while you are in Armenia!?
Our barbecue is so iconic for us, that we even have a Khorovats Festival. It’s a huge Armenian BBQ festival thrown every August in a small village called Akhtala. Check out my post about planning the best time to visit Armenia to learn more about this delicious event.
Raki kyabab (Crayfish kebab)
A visit to Armenia is not complete without you trying a kebab, or as we call it ‘kyabab’. Here, I recommend you broaden your gastronomic horizons, and go beyond the traditional meat or chicken kebab. Try kebab made of crayfish! The crayfish found in Sevan and surrounding rivers is absolutely delicious. So, if you happen to be in the area, you should definitely give a try to this kebab with a twist.
Khash (thick and fatty Armenian broth)
You can hardly find a dish that is more Armenian than khash is. And since it’s so deeply rooted in our traditions, I honestly believe it’s a must try food for any traveler who’s looking to explore our culture. It’s a satiating and tasty broth cooked with beef legs and a tripe, and typically served with a lot of garlic and lavash (Armenian flat bread).
I will probably never understand why we, Armenians, associate it with breakfast. As delicious as it is, such a heavy meal is the last thing you want to start your morning with. I personally think it’s more suitable for dinner. But, hey, who am I to have an opinion on a centuries long culinary tradition?
Ask any Armenian, and they will probably tell you that khash has a ton of health benefits. Moreover, some are likely to go as far as saying that it cures various illnesses. Well, one thing is certain – it cures hangover! Oh, maybe, that’s why it’s associated with breakfast?! 🙂
Where to eat khash in Armenia?
One of the best places to taste authentic khash is Tsirani Garden-Restaurant. Since this restaurant is located outside of Yerevan city center, it will take you about 20 minutes to get there by car. But it’s 100% worth the visit. It’s more of a park than a restaurant to be honest, as it is designed to resemble a village. Here you can find ponds and pathways, a beautiful garden, typical agricultural tools and wine amphorae carefully placed at different spots in the area. Actually, you can have a really nice walk here, after you fill up with delicious khash. So, download one of the Armenian taxi apps I wrote about, and take a short trip to Tsirani.
Harisa (porridge with chicken)
Harisa is one of the traditional Armenian staples. Being a truly national dish, it consists of simple ingredients, and yet, it is very tasty. For centuries this mix of porridge, chicken and ghee helped Armenians survive tough times and challenging historical events. But it’s not a simple recipe to master, because the oats must simmer for several hours to offer that particular taste of harisa!
Be ready to go belly up, because it’s super filling, and a traditional portion of harisa is rather large. If you want to taste one of the best harisas in Armenia, I recommend you check out Yerevan Tavern. They are known for making various traditional dishes of Armenian cuisine really well, but their Harisa is particularly good. There are several locations around the city, but I personally like the one in 5, Amiryan street, so check it out.
Tolma (stuffed vegetables, grape or cabbage leaves)
Here in Armenia we call any vegetable, grape or cabbage leaves ‘tolma’, as long as they come stuffed with something (typically minced meat). The traditional tolma stuffing is made from beef, rice, onions, various herbs, and black pepper. However, there is a vegan version of it too, called ‘pasus tolma’. If you are interested in more Armenian vegan dishes, see my vegan survival guide for Yerevan.
My western friends often say they had seen tolma before. It’s true that similar dishes with grape leaves can be found in Greek, Turkish and Lebanese cuisine. Bulgarians, Romanians, and even Poles have their variations of tolma made with cabbage leaves. But I think it’s needless to say, that Armenian Tolma is my favorite. 🙂
When you get to eat tolma, the one with grape leaves, I strongly recommend you do it the traditional way. Ask for ‘matsun’ with it! It’s a type of fermented milk, similar to sour cream or yoghurt. And, if you are not going to kiss anybody that day, then go a step further, and ask for ‘skhtorov matsun’. That’s what we call the sauce, when we add garlic and salt to matsun. The combination of this sauce with grape leaves tolma is absolutely heavenly! You just can’t miss it.
Where to eat tolma in Armenia?
Without doubt, you can find tolma on the menu in almost every restaurant around Armenia. A particularly interesting place to try tolma at is a restaurant called Dolmama in Yerevan (10, Pushkin street). Tolma is their specialty, and I think it’s not an exaggeration if I say they make the second best tolma after my mom. 🙂 Well, jokes aside. Even Kim Kardashian has dined here with her family, so you know it’s got to be something out of the ordinary.
Must try Armenian food – vegetarian options
Ghapama (pumpkin stuffed with… well… everything)
If you are looking for a unique, authentic Armenian must-try dish, then ghapama is the one for you! If you are observing Lent, this is an excellent option. Read my blog post on what do Armenians eat during Lent to know more on this.
Ghapama comes in a pumpkin! Can something beat that!? It is a traditional Armenian dish served at weddings and other major events, but it’s also available in many restaurants around Armenia.
The pumpkin is being filled with rice, dried fruits, and nuts. The recipe can also include plumes, almonds, raisins, honey or apricots, depending on the chef’s approach. So, given how inconsistent the recipe is, beware of food allergens, and maybe, consult the ingredients with the restaurant staff beforehand. But don’t be discouraged! If you can have it, you absolutely should, because its taste is unforgettable. And I’m sure it’s vegetarian, because I’ve never heard of any kind of meat or chicken being added to it.
Jengyalov Hac (Armenian flatbread with greens)
Jengyalov Hac is one of the signature dishes of Artsakh region, and it is undoubtedly a must-try food for when you are traveling in Armenia or Nagorno-Karabakh. Its recipe is different in spring and autumn. What is different is the combination of herbs and vegetables being added to this traditional flatbread at different times of the year.
Generally, the spring recipe is more modest when it comes to the variety of herbs and greens added to it. You’d typically see it being baked with 10-15 different types of greens during this time of the year. In contrary, in autumn Jengyalov Hac is filled with up to 25 different herbs and some vegetables.
What makes this dish interesting is the chef’s genius for mixing and matching herbs and veggies so that Jengyalov Hac doesn’t end up being too bitter or acidic. As you probably already understood, this dish is vegetarian. Moreover, you can even make it vegan if you ask the chef to leave the butter out of the recipe. To learn more about this dish and where to taste the best version of it check out my list of vegetarian cafes and restaurants in Yerevan.
Gata (the sweet end of my must try Armenian food list)
Who doesn’t love sweet stuff? I certainly do! And that is why, in my books, gata is definitely a must try food when you are in Armenia. Gata is an authentic Armenian dessert, usually made with distinct fillings that vary region to region. And it has everything you might expect from a delicious dessert – it is sweet, moist and filling! That’s because our traditional gata is filled with a tasty sugar, flour, and butter filling known as ‘khoriz’.
Forget the diet, no, really – give up! Especially, if you happen to be visiting Garni or Geghard, where you can buy the most traditional gata from grannies, who sell them fresh on the spot. The thing is these gatas are giant, each serving is basically a gigantic sweet pie. But once you have a bite, it’s super addictive, so you just have to finish it.
By the way Geghard is not only a good place to eat Armenian gata, but it’s also one of the most prominent UNESCO World Heritage sites in Armenia. So, if you are keen to taste delicious Garni gata but your travel companions are on a strict diet, convince them to join you for the sake of seeing an important World Heritage site. In fact, you don’t have to tell them the whole purpose of the trip is actually purely gastronomic! 🙂
My personal tip for tasting Gata in Yerevan
If you have already been to Garni and you missed the chance to buy Gata from local grannies there, or if you just don’t feel like leaving Yerevan but you are dying to taste our delicious Gata, I have an excellent tip for you that I myself discovered quite recently. It’s Gata Tavern! Located in the heart of Yerevan, in Tumanyan 22, this place is known for being the hot-spot for Gata lovers. They make amazing (and more reasonably sized) Gatas in a huge traditional oven and you can have them fresh and warm. Besides, this is an excellent venue for a filling traditional lunch or dinner. I love their Karahunj dish (meatballs in an absolutely heavenly sweet tomato sauce with sour cream and pomegranate seeds – yumm!). Check out their Instagram post below, and book a table upfront if you’re planning to visit after 17:00.
Wrapping up must-try Armenian dishes
That’s it! These were my tips for the best must try Armenian food options. If you want to enjoy most of Armenian food at once, visit Armenia during New Year! Armenian New Year traditions include rich cuisine. I hope you’re going to enjoy your gastronomic adventures in Armenia. You might also like to check out my list of weird Armenian dishes. It’s fun! Don’t forget to share your experiences with me on Twitter or Instagram with #ArmeniaTravelTips. I absolutely love hearing back from my readers, and I’m looking forward to see pictures of your delicious Armenian meals.
Featured image credit: Photo by Benoît Prieur on Wikimedia (CC)
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