Let’s talk about weird Armenian food for a second! Finding new foods is always exciting, especially when you happen to be abroad. Yes, Armenia is known for its rich traditions, beautiful scenery, and ancient history. But it’s our food that sometimes totally baffles visitors!
Examples of weird Armenian food:
- Zhingyalov hats
- Crayfish kebab
- Pasuts tolma
Yummy yet strange, these 10 weird Armenian foods might be rejected by your brain but will most likely be highly appreciated by your taste buds. Some of the dishes involve new textures and flavors you may have never tasted before. Can they shock you? Most likely! Will you love them, though? Let’s see!
Meet Qyalla, also known as a baked head of cow (yes, you read it right)! It is a traditional Armenian dish, mostly popular in the Shirak region. Qyalla, coming from the word meaning “head” in the local dialect, originally was considered a dish for the poor. The reason behind this is simply because while the rich ate the tasty parts of the cow, the poor could only afford the head and the legs.
The cow head is separated from the horns and is cooked for 8 whole hours. We believe that each part of Qyalla has a different taste, with overall 7 different meat types on the head. They say everything on the cow’s head is edible, even the eyes, mouth, and tongue. They always serve the baked cow head with vodka and lemons. So, the mix of flavors is real here!
As some Qyalla chefs tell, the age of the cow is a factor in whether it will be delicious or not. It is also important whether you cook it in a wooden oven or a gas oven. An Armenian wooden oven called toneer is another exotic peculiarity of Armenian cuisine. It is a deep round hall in the ground with stone walls. Armenians cook lavash and meat dishes or dry fruit in toneer, and of course this weird Qyalla.
You can find Qyalla in almost every restaurant in Gyumri, the birthplace of this bizarre Armenian dish. You may consider Qyalla a case of weird Armenian food but nowadays we see it as a delicacy in Armenia. And I think it is totally worth a shot. If you happen to be visiting Gyumri, you can try traditional Gyumrva Qyalla at Gwoog Gastro House.
By the way, if you want to try it, definitely check out my separate post about how to get to Gyumri with a train to organize your trip to Gyumri.
Kyufta: weird Armenian meat balls
Here is another strange Armenian dish – Kyufta. What’s weird about it is the way we prepare it and the mix of ingredients that go into it.
At the first glance, it’s just a boiled meatball. But you got to look deeper into its past and its preparation method in order to fully appreciate how odd this dish is. Firstly, the base of this Armenian meatball — ground beef, is tossed and beaten by hand or with a kitchen hammer for a significant amount of time. You must be pretty violent and thorough with it to make sure it turns into a very smooth substance. It’s a pretty good dish to make when you are stressed and want to project your negativity onto something. 🙂
Second, they add vodka or cognac (Armenian brandy) and milk (per your preference) into it. When I first heard about it, I wasn’t quite sure how my digestive system was ever able to handle this combination. I loved this dish my whole life and only learned about the details of its recipe recently. But hey, I survived, and never had any tummy issues after eating it. So, trust your taste buds here.
Third, the way we serve it. Ladies and gentlemen, forget about any kind of diet you’re following! This weird Armenian meatball is typically served with huge blocks of butter on top, and it melts in front of your eyes.
As weird as Kyufta is, it’s absolutely delicious, and very widely available across all regions of Armenia these days. So, definitely give it a try when you’re around.
For some, it may seem gross, I know! But since you ended up on this page longing to learn more about weird Armenian food, you gotta brace yourself. 🙂
Qarachik is the name of a a chicken stomach dish that’s quite common in Armenia. The meat of chicken stomach is rather hard, so you boil for a good hour or so, to make it somewhat softer. Trust me, a good Armenian cook can make it in a way that Qarachik will be melting in your mouth.
There are many ways for eating Qarachik – it’s often served along with rice or vegetables, and even pasta. Italians, please don’t hate me! What I know for sure is that it goes well with a veggie mix of onion, garlic, pepper, and carrot. The variety of sauces in which it can be cooked is also wide – it is best in tomato sauce, in my opinion. But I’ve also seen people cook Qarachik with sour cream sauce, or with soya sauce, which makes it even softer.
You may be surprised but Qarachik is a low-calorie food. In 100 grams of Qarachik there are only 130-170 kcals. So, if you want to enjoy weird Armenian food without going too heavy on calories, this is the best way to go. 🙂 But who am I kidding! You can’t realistically maintain any diet while visiting Armenia. Temptations are everywhere.
Khash: Armenian’s love-it or hate-it dish
Khash is a very good example of a pretty weird Armenian food. I have devoted a whole separate post to traditional Armenian khash, so check it out if you want more details on its history and traditions around it. The name of the dish is derived from the Armenian verb that means “to boil”. And it suits its name because according to some traditional recipes beef broth is supposed to be cooked for up to 48 hours. Add to that a day or two for which the chunks of meat must be kept in cold water before the actual cooking starts. Apparently, that helps the meat to get rid of the bad smell. Gosh, I feel sick just typing this…
Anyway… The time it takes to make Khash is not the weirdest thing about this “soup”. In fact, in some ways, it stops being a regular soup by the time it is ready to be consumed. Here is what I mean by that. When you’re served Khash, firstly, you need to season the soup with salt and garlic to your liking. Then cover it with a soft lavash. Third, crumble dried lavash into the soup until there is no more visible broth left on the plate. People who call themselves “True Khash eaters” eat it without a spoon, using (again) lavash and hands instead.
The use of lavash with Khash is quite excessive! You can also see people who cover their heads with lavash or a piece of cloth while eating khash. Although, nowadays, this is done more for fun, rather than as a serious tradition.
Now, let’s talk about the ingredients of this weird Armenian dish. Here you’ll find beef in all its forms, from legs to tail, salt, garlic, and … nothing else! Seriously, the traditional recipe consists of only these minimalistic ingredients but even that takes you a lifetime to eat.
As weird as it may seem to a visitor, this dish is actually very common in Armenia. We consider khash our traditional winter soup. Many families or groups of friends even have the tradition of starting off the khash season with the first snow. Some believe that khash should be eaten during all the months that contain the letter “r” in their name.
So, if you happen to be around anytime between September and April, and you want to tickle your taste buds with some weird Armenian food, make sure to try khash. You can also make a bet with your friends who can finish khash faster. It’s a challenge!
Well, you love your yogurt, don’t you? But have you tried eating it cooked? How about adding some bread to it? And water, and … wait for it… some herbs and onion caramelized in butter! Not weirded out yet? Let’s throw in some lentils and flour into it now! This is Qalagosh – one of the weirdest Armenian dishes you’ll ever taste. If you want to see how it’s made, check out this episode from the Heghine’s cooking show below:
In essence, this ancient yogurt soup coming from the times of the Kingdom of Vaspurakan, is an Armenian staple, especially in rural areas. It’s a very filling breakfast dish. It’s said that Qalagosh is hard to digest, that’s why it’s preferable to eat the dish in the morning. But you can order it at many Armenian restaurants at any time of the day. Note, that most people eat Qalagosh using their hands with the help of lavash bread inside the soup. Try it!
Interesting fact! Another name for Qalagosh is Vanakhash: Van-a-khash, since this is a dish that Armenians of Van city (an ancient Armenian city, currently part of Turkey) used to make, and “khash” just means “boiled”.
Btw, if you paid attention, you might have noticed it’s vegetarian. If this is up your alley, check out my selection of vegetarian Armenian dishes.
Spas – another strange yoghurt soup
Yes, we Armenians clearly have something for boiled dairy. 🙂 Armenian spas or tanapur is a yogurt soup. I know you might not appreciate the idea of boiling yoghurt, but this is a list of weird Armenian foods, and I gotta bring up the best for your attention.
Spas is made of a special Armenian type of yogurt called “matzoon”. This fermented milk product is popular also in Georgia and it is called “matsoni” there.
The trick for making spas is is that you have to stir it non-stop until it starts boiling. You add wheat or rice to your boiling matzoon water, and at the end you need to add some spices like cilantro (an herb from the fresh leaves of the coriander plant).
If you are not a fan of heavy food, you can try this light and (arguably) tasty soup and still have a feel of what Armenian cuisine is like. As weird as its ingredients may sound, Spas is actually a pretty healthy dish in the context of what all we Armenians love to eat. 🙂
Ghapama – is pumpkin a dessert or a main course in Armenia?
What comes to people’s minds when they hear of pumpkins, is the celebration of Halloween. Yet in Armenia, we associate pumpkins with the traditional dish Ghapama. It’s a baked pumpkin stuffed with rice, pistachio, pecans, prunes, honey, a bunch of dried fruits and honey. It’s always a spooky season in Armenia because we love this weird dish, which has lived up to become a national food in the country.
What makes Ghapama so weird among other Armenian foods is the fact that we eat it both as a dessert and as a main dish. Although it is sweet, it is also very filling due to a bunch of ingredients in it that are very calory rich.
In Armenia we believe that we get the most delicious fruit. Why wouldn’t we incorporate them in our regular meals, right? In Armenia, drying a wide range of fruits in the summer season is a widespread practice. And then we use these fruits, among other things, in Ghapama when the pumpkin season starts.
In Armenian households, you can smell Ghapama on the New Year’s Eve, during Christmas or Easter celebrations. But also, during non-religious celebrations and ceremonies, like weddings and other major gatherings. So, it’s well positioned in the hearts and minds of all Armenians as something sweet and weird that you just must eat from time to time.
Zhingyalov hats – raw herbs in a pocket
No meat, no fish, no honey! Zhingyalov hats is an Armenian heaven for vegetarians. This is a flatbread with greens and herbs and is very widespread in Artsakh and Syunik regions of Armenia.
There are a few things that make Zhingyalov hats a case of weird Armenian food. Firstly, it contains about 25 different herbs (some will say a higher number) grown in the mountains. I am sure you don’t eat or hear about these herbs every day. A few of them are chervil, chickweed, shepherd’s-purses and other rare 22 herbs.
Secondly, the herbs in the Zhingyalov hats are uncooked, they are neither boiled nor fried. This is something that gives a very unusual taste to the dish. Those who make Zhingyalov hats usually say that you gotta try it to learn which group you belong to – a lover or a hater of this dish. There is nothing in the middle, apparently.
If you happen to visit Yerevan and wish to try Zhingyalov hats, search for Zhingyalov Hats Restaurant, which specializes in making this dish. They have the best vegetable and herbs mix I’ve ever tried. The taste is rich and unique in its weirdness.
Crayfish Kebab: the weirdest meal on a skewer you’ll try in Armenia
Here is another weird Armenian dish you should try – kebab from crayfish. Yes, you read it right. If you can imagine yourself eating this dish, then good for you because it is a must-try dish while visiting lake Sevan. By the way, I have a whole post about a trip from Yerevan to Sevan Lake, so check it out.
The method of preparation is not too dissimilar from the more familiar minced meat kebab on a stick, but you will need a lot of crayfish tails, and I mean A LOT. Crayfish tails are obviously the main ingredient we use to make this kebab. And it melts in your mouth with a sweet taste of lemon and other abundantly used seasonings.
This kebab is already well-known in Armenia among both locals and foreigners who have tasted it. In Armenia, we even have tours dedicated to trying this kebab. I highly recommend eating crayfish kebab while visiting the Sevan region. Today, Armenians actively bread crayfish in Lake Sevan because the dish is gaining popularity, as incomes rise in Armenia. So, it’s worth a try.
Pasuts tolma: the vegetarian tolma
Tolma (Dolma) is a popular and traditional dish in Armenia, and it has a lot of variations. It’s so built into our culture, that we even have culture-wars with our neighbors about who appropriated it from whom. Read my Armenian vs Turkish food post to learn more about it. So, one of those tolma variations is Pasuts tolma, and let me tell you – it’s a pretty strange one.
To fully grasp the difference between pasuts tolma and regular tolma, try imagining a vegan burrito filled with beans, various peas, rice, and lots of spices. But instead of a tortilla, wrap it in pickled cabbage leaves. Feeling weirded out? I hear you. 🙂
Pasuts tolma is so iconic, it has actually divided Armenians into two camps: people who love pasuts tolma and those who hate it. I’ve heard arguments that this dish cannot be classified as tolma, because it has nothing to do with the traditional tolma – no meat, no wine leaves. The debate is still open. 🙂
It is hard to imagine its taste, and it is harder to explain it as it can taste differently when served hot and when served cold. It can serve as a main course, as well as a cold snack. It’s like you have 2 different dishes in one — another weird feature of this dish.
As it is much bigger than a regular tolma, the size of a decent burrito, you can easily get full after having just one serving. So, give this weird Armenian dish a try, you might like it!
Final thoughts on weird Armenian food
Yes, our culinary scene offers a wide range of yummy foods that everyone would love to eat. See my must-try Armenian food list to learn more. However, Armenian cuisine also boasts some massively popular foods that are in some way unusual and weird for international foodies. And let’s admit it, it’s trying out those weird, yet delicious dishes that help us truly appreciate the uniqueness of each culture when we travel.
So, go out of the “safe” zone, try the strangest Armenian dishes out there, don’t hold back. And when you try these weird Armenian foods, don’t forget to take pictures and share them with me on Twitter/Instagram with #ArmeniaTravelTips.
Featured image credits: Photo by Florence Gyumri on Instagram (edited)
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