Armenian Food

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Sunflower Seeds: Eat! Spit! Be Happy!

There’s no doubt about it, sunflower seeds, semushka, are the favorite snack in Armenia. Elderly ladies sell them on every street corner. They measure the seeds in small crystal shot glasses and deliver them to your hand, wrapped in funnels made of old newspapers. A typical Armenian gathering is everyone sitting around the kitchen table, nimbly cracking and eating semushka. We included a sidebar story in our book about the Armenian love for sunflower seeds, and we explained how those little black seed hulls have become somewhat of an obstacle to downtown Yerevan’s modernization.

I didn’t think anyone else in the world could match Armenians in sunflower seed consumption, but I recently learned that they might have some competition: the Assyrians. Having a bad history day, I had to ask Irina, “Who exactly were the Assyrians?”She replied, “They fought against Urartu, Armenia’s forebearers. We beat them, ran them off.” Hmmmm. Is that really what happened? I wondered. Just to be sure, I consulted the Wikipedia online database: “Assyrian people (also known as Aramaeans, Chaldeans and/or Syriacs) are an ethnic group inhabiting today, parts of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon.” I read on that the Assyrians have no homeland of their own, and like Armenians and other Christians, they suffered greatly during and after World War I.

Michael Abdalla wrote about the Assyrian love for sunflower seeds in his report, “The Evolution of Assyrian Traditional Culinary Practices.”

Assyrians are particularly fond of various roasted products. Those containing oil yield the pleasant nut flavor after roasting. Seeds are washed, sun-dried and boiled for a long time in salted water with some ash added. On occasion, they are roasted in heated sand. This writer does not have precise information on the amount of seed consumption (watermelon, pumpkin, or sunflower) in an average Assyrian family. Suffice it to say that it is substantial, and seeds provide a rich source of mineral substances, oil, and protein.

Attention must be paid to the technique and tempo of getting “flesh” out of the seeds with only the tongue, but without use of the hands. Even now that they are in diaspora, Assyrians cannot give up this delicacy. In places such as Sodertalje [Sweden], some of the Swedish students, following the example of their Assyrian friends, bring seeds to school in their pockets, and eat them during breaks.

It is said that when sunflower seeds packed in small plastic bags began to appear in Swedish shops in the 1970s, Assyrian emigrants would buy up all the stock. Until that time, bird breeders had been the principal buyers of seeds. When Assyrians later discovered that the seeds they purchased also contained sand, they continued to buy the product and sifted the sand [out] at home.

Irina sometimes feels the call of the semushka, and we get a big sack of seeds (from the grocery, not the birdfeed store). Sunflower seeds are widely sold in the US, but they are nowhere near as popular as they are in Armenia. And, leave it to my inventive countrymen, there are now American versions of sunflower seeds flavored with hot jalapeño peppers and salsa, barbecue sauce, ranch-style buttermilk dressing, and nacho cheese. I believe Armenians would recoil in horror at the sight of sunflower seeds tainted with such artificial additives.

I considered how life is full of strange coincidences when I saw the name of the number one marketer of sunflower seeds in the US. Their bags are embellished with the amazing motto: ‘EAT! SPIT! BE HAPPY!” I can attest that Armenians do this regularly, but maybe not in that exact order.


Read about sunflower seeds and other Armenian munchies in the new book ARMENIAN FOOD: FACT, FICTION & FOLKLORE by Irina Petrosian and David Underwood, ISBN 1411698659.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Green Peppers, Diarrhea, and My Vengeance

International travelers always face the risk of gastrointestinal distress when eating strange new foods or drinking the waters of foreign lands. Americans who visit Mexico call it “Montezuma’s Revenge.” Visitors to Armenia have yet to come up with a specific name for this inconvenient and often embarassing malady. Armenians call it loots.

My first loots affliction came during a visit to Armenia’s famous mineral water resort, Jermuk. I suspected the water I had drunk from a street fountain by Yerevan’s main bus station. Then I wondered if it might have been the kebab I dined on in a café-in-a-cavern next to Jermuk’s big gorge-spanning bridge. Or perhaps it was the iron-rich volcanic fountains of Jermuk itself that I had drank from in the Hall of Waters. I don’t know. Whatever the cause, I was soon trapped in my hotel room’s lavatory, my head between my ankles in cramped misery. Irina was pounding on the bathroom door, and I wish I had a 10-dram note for each time she called out, “ARE YOU FINISHED?” No, I wasn’t finished, heaven help me.

My second time of troubles was after I ate a piping-hot, deep-fried ponchik, Armenia’s version of a Krusty Kreme doughnut. I bought it from a street vendor, and it looked and tasted great. I don’t know what kind of oil was used to cook that fried fritter, but it must have been spiked with some good old Soviet-era motor lubricant, or else some of that awful, indigestible, invented-in-the-West Olestra stuff. Thank heaven it occurred on a day of full water service and I was able to flush the toilet at 15-minute intervals.

Armenians have lots of folk remedies for diarrhea, and many were given to me as I thrashed and grimaced in my sorry state. The common remedy is pomegranate juice, and soon my lips were stained red from drinking so much of it. But to no avail. My insides continued making rude noises, and no one dared come between me and the bathroom.

Next, a strong solution of boiled mint leaves was prescribed, but it, too, failed to settle my internal eruptions. In desperation, I put myself on a diet of plain boiled rice, and this did provide some relief. But my digestion flared up again in the worst way after my very next meal of Armenian food.

Finally, a trip to the apteka, the pharmacy, yielded a packet of Immodium, and my ponchik-induced diarrhea came to a halt. Unfortunately, my entire digestive system shut down for about three days after taking the medicine. I began to fear I had gone too far in the other direction, and that I’d have to get more ponchikis to resume my normal bodily functions. But, at last, my intestinal tract regained its equilibrium, and I was able to enjoy Armenia’s delicious cuisine once again without fear of the consequences.

“Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord,” and it was really not my intention to make revenge upon my Armenian friends and family when I treated them to some American food. In my luggage I had packed a big jar of McCormick’s Chili Powder, a couple of boxes of instant Potatoes Au Gratin, and, for dessert, two whip-and-chill Cheesecake mixes.

The kitchen was filled with curious Armenian spectators as they watched this foreigner cooking a huge caldron of Indiana-style chili. Unlike our American neighbors to the South and West, Midwesterners like me include macaroni and kidney beans in our chili. Such would be considered blasphemy by Texans and other chili purists. But I knew my Armenian guests wouldn’t protest my recipe. In fact, they eagerly lined up with bowls in hand when the chili was ready, and the big pot was emptied within a half hour. The second course, Potatoes Au Gratin and Ham, was also downed as fast as it could be served.

I thought the dinner had been a great success, and I was quite proud of my efforts as an unofficial ambassador of American cookery. Then I began to notice them going back and forth to the house, some faster than others. “David-jan, es inch du beretsir mer glukh?” meaning “David, what did you do to us with that concoction? We didn’t do anything bad to you. Why were you so cruel to us?” I learned that all who had partaken were lined up at the bathrooms. Young and old, all were laid low with the trots. Perhaps I should have warned them not to eat two or three bowls of chili one after the other, as many of them had done. Maybe I should have spaced out the servings over a few days, and not done a full-blown American dinner all at once. Who knows?

A wise person learns from his or her mistakes. Here are a few guidelines and some insider tips for those who may find themselves in, well, an uncomfortable situation:

1. Train yourself in the lexicological intricacies of diarrhea. The term for diarrhea in Armenian is loots, but never use it as a verb. Turned into a verb, lootsel, the word means to solve a problem or a math question. “I got into loots” means “I have diarrhea.” Note: you do not have it; you got into it, which intensifies the drama.

Another colloquial expression is tsrel. But it probably shouldn’t be used in polite company. It is considered gross and rude. In Armenian slang, cowards and fraidy cats are called tsran because, well, you know what can happen when a person is suddenly frightened and needs to change clothes.

2. Don’t use Pepto Bismol in public. It is not sold in Armenia, but it is well known as the “pinky tablets.” Artasahmansti, foreigners, have gained a wimpy, sissy reputation for always “washing their food down” with the pink bismuth tablets, for not being able to digest food naturally. If you must take medication, do so discretely, not at the dinner table.

3. If you are stricken with diarrhea while visiting an Armenian home and you are offered any home remedies, ask for preserves made of panda, Armenia’s small, wild pears. They are quite delicious, and they really can fortify one’s constitution. Armenian women keep panda preserves on hand for “tightening the stomach.”

4. Remember that water from public fountains and meat purchased from street vendors can cause loots. But don’t believe all the stories you may hear about digestion-wrecking Armenian foods. For example, once we were invited to a friend’s house in Yerevan for dinner. Irina was in the kitchen with the other women, helping prepare the evening meal. I heard lots of laughter, and it went on and on. When Irina sat next to me at the dinner table, she whispered, “See that bright green pepper? Don’t you dare touch it. Don’t shame me.” She later explained why.

Our hostess had been telling the gals in the kitchen that she once worked as an administrator at the Erebuni Hotel in Yerevan, during Soviet times. She said that the word tsitsak (long green peppers) was a code name for diarrhea among the hotel staff. The cleaning personnel hated tsitsak. They blamed it for the extra cleaning and linen laundry they had to do after foreign guests ate their fill of the spicy peppers.

I was somewhat skeptical about this story, having eaten my share of spicy chili peppers with no regrets. So, at a later date I tried the tasty, hot green tsitsak. Nothing happened to me. I suspect that the true source of the hotel guests’ miseries and embarassment was the meat they were eating along with the fresh peppers. Nonetheless, brave souls who wish to test the tsitsak might consider doing so in isolation, like I did.

5. No matter what, no matter what anyone tells you, carry some toilet paper or paper tissues with you. While Yerevan’s public toilets are slowly improving, especially in the downtown area, you will still have to buy a cup of coffee to gain access to a café bathroom. Better yet are the city’s major landmarks. At the Cascades, a cleaning lady immediately follows to tidy up after you’ve used the restrooms. The same is true at the Tashir Trade Center, though you’ll have to pay the restroom matron 50 drams up front for the meager ration of four or five sheets of toilet tissue. So don’t give away all your small change.


If you’d like to learn more about tsitsak, panda, and traditional food remedies in Hayastan, read our book, ARMENIAN FOOD: FACT, FICTION & FOLKLORE, ISBN 1411698659, by Irina Petrosian and David Underwood.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Stale Bread, Hard Éclairs, and Whispering Monik

Armenia is a post-Soviet country. Even after 15 years, it still bears the marks, blemishes, and scars of the Soviet Union. I wish it was a Got-Over-It-Soviet country, but that’s still not the case. In the everyday stuff of life, you will find the infections of Sovietikus (or Sovetitis) still stubbornly clinging. It’s easy to see when you’re shopping for food.

We visited many food shops in Armenia while we were researching our book. They’re Hayastan’s most flourishing businesses. After all, everyone has to eat! But the competition between them is fierce.

Some of the larger food stores are switching to more of a self-service, supermarket-style format, but many shops still require close contact with a saleswoman, usually on station behind the store counter. And each store clerk has her own techniques for moving the merchandise. I call one common ploy the “Strategy of Stale Bread.”

Suppose you are shopping at the bakery counter. You’re looking for some nice, fresh-baked matnakash bread to take home to your family. The saleswoman leans close and whispers, “Don’t take those loaves. These over here are better. They’re not stale.”

The scene is repeated at the pastry counter: “Don’t buy those Napoleons. They’re old,” says the store clerk. “These Éclairs are fresh, delivered just this morning.”

And so, the customer is very happy because she received some insider information, a special favor, and didn’t get stuck with the couple-of-days-old bread or rock-hard Napoleons. But think about it. What’s really going on here is that the saleswoman is creating a network of loyal customers. They’ll keep on buying from her because she gives them access to the best quality products.

This sales strategy works. In Yerevan, I saw a small food shop in my neighborhood that was filled with a long line of customers. There was hardly any room for another person to get past the front doors. Why didn’t some of the shoppers go to the other neighborhood store? After all, it’s larger, it’s close nearby, and it has virtually the same products in stock. Plus, they could get waited on without the hassle of standing in queue. The answer: Because Monik, the store clerk, knows them, and she will point out the very best of the store’s wares.

The first sign of change in this bastion of post-Soviet culture will arrive when some bold shopper has the gumption to ask Monik, “Well, then why do you keep this other bread in your shop if it’s stale? After all, someone is going to buy it. You can’t warn everybody. Know what? Maybe I shouldn’t be spending my drams in a store that keeps stale bread on its shelves and then tries to pass it off on unsuspecting customers.”

The Stale Bread Strategy is a direct descendent of food service during the Soviet times. Back then, you had to create a personal connection with a salesperson in order to obtain any quality food. Additional money had to be offered, too, if you wanted to stay in the shopkeeper’s good graces. There was no other way.

It will be a bright new day in Armenia when you can ask, “Hahts tarma?” and the saleswoman will actually smile and answer, “Our bread is always fresh.” But, if she winks and whispers like she’s revealing some great gastronomic secret to you, well … as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Before signing off, here’s a quiz question for you:

Americans say: “Easy as apple pie.”

Russians say: “Easy as a steamed turnip. (Prosche parenoi repi.)”

What food do Armenians invoke when they want to express that something is easy to do?

Post a comment here if you know. But it’s not fair to look in my book for the answer. Well … if you can’t wait for the answer in my next blog, then go ahead and sneak a peek.

Irina Petrosian

ARMENIAN FOOD: FACT, FICTION & FOLKLORE, ISBN 1411698659, a culinary journey across the land called Hayastan, by Irina Petrosian and David Underwood.
“Food is the portal to Armenia’s past and present-day culture.”

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Number Twerve by the Flashtoon Team

How hard is it for an Armenian guy to get something to eat in America? A group of animators, the Flashtoon Team, has shown us. Hayk Manukyan, Tigran Tashyan, and Daniel Militonian made this hilarious cartoon, posted at this address:

You need the Flash plug-in for your browser, and be sure to turn up the sound. It's funny!


Food is the portal to the past and present-day culture of Armenia. Authors Irina Petrosian and David Underwood take readers on a culinary tour of the land called Hayastan in their new book ARMENIAN FOOD: FACT, FICTION & FOLKLORE, ISBN 1411698659.

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Monday, June 12, 2006

Peeled Narinj Peaches, Lost Zeal, and Doctor Seuss

Blog by David Underwood

When you’ve lived somewhere and begin to miss it, it’s the little things that come to mind. After living in Armenia for most of 2005 while Irina and I researched and wrote our book, it’s no surprise that I am sometimes unexpectedly returned to Hayastan by my memories. It happened recently when I saw peaches for sale at my local supermarket. The phrase “vitamina” echoed through my thoughts, thanks to Yeva, my big-hearted Armenian mother-in-law.

It was August, and Armenia’s peach harvest had begun. The bazaar stands had big, beautiful peaches stacked up waist-high. The best are the rosy Narinj variety, and sometimes they’re as big as softballs. And take my word for it, they are absolutely out-of-this-world delicious.

Yeva bought several kilos of peaches after haggling with the fruit seller to lower the price by a few drams. After we returned home, she put them in a big bowl. I observed her peeling them one after the other, as if she was peeling potatoes. I had no idea what her intentions were for those juicy Narinj.

She smiled at me and declared, “Vitamina!” with a strong stress on the second syllable. “ViTAmina!” It’s the highest praise for food, meaning it’s full of vitamins and great for your health. She brought the piled-high bowl of fruit right up to my face. “Eat, Davit-jan. Vitamina!

Peaches are one of my favorite fruits, but I had all ready eaten a bigger-than-usual lunch, so I had to respectfully decline at that moment. I went outside, and just a short time later, here came Mom-jan beckoning again with the bowl full of Narinj.

Che, che, Mom-jan, I am full,” I told her. She grinned, shook her head at my Armenian-like stubborness, and slowly went back into the house.

After I returned indoors to work on the book, the scene repeated yet again. Here comes Yeva, her bowl in both hands. “Eat, Davit-jan, eat.” I began to feel like I was in the famous Dr. Seuss children’s story, Green Eggs and Ham.

I will not eat them here.
I will not eat them there.
I will not eat them anywhere!

I truly like peaches, I really do, but I was just too full to eat at the time. I didn’t have any room left, as we say in English. Never discouraged, Yeva brought a saucer, placed it next to my laptop computer, and deposited three pieces of the juicy Narinj, each hunk bigger than my hand. And after awhile, the heavenly peachy aroma did its work, and I ate the luscious peaches. This pleased Yeva to no end. She was all smiles in her eventual triumph.

Dear Yeva is getting on in years, and she admitted that she no longer has the “hahves,” the zeal, for cooking that she did when she was raising her own family. An American would say, “After all these years, I got tired of cooking,” but that’s not the Armenian way. She said, “My zeal was lost.” It’s a particular pattern of the Armenian language that’s very noticeable, almost a linguistic dodge of sorts, a grammatical disconnection from direct responsibility. “Blame the zeal that left, not me,” one might say.

Another example, “Trashs ekela,” would translate into English as “I didn’t shave today,” but literally it means something like “My whiskers visited me.” In other words, “Blame the whiskers, not me.”

The phrase “I am hungry” goes as “Sovats em,” literally “Hungry am [I].” See what I mean? Unlike English, the pronoun “I” just isn’t there, isn’t used much. But that’s a food for thought for those who like “reading” society through the language in which people converse.

My dear mother-in-law may admit that her “hahves,” her zeal for cooking, has left her, but, in her heart, she still felt the need to serve and provide, especially for her visiting American son-in-law.

Until next time,

David Underwood

Read more about Narinj peaches and the reasons why Armenians are so obsessed with vitamina in Armenian Food: Fact, Fiction, & Folklore.

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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Gretaaaa…. Jan, Where Oh Where Can You Be?

Our search for stories about Armenian food eventually took us to the Matenadaran, Yerevan’s national repository of ancient manuscripts. We weren’t particularly keen on searching through such rare tomes on our own. After all, the books, manuscripts, and miniatures at the Matenadaran are priceless, historic treasures of Armenian history. We were determined to locate a specialist whose academic interests also included food culture, someone to guide us in our research.

“Do you know anyone who can assist us in finding references to cuisine in the ancient Armenian texts?” we asked.

First person: “What? OK. Go straight, then turn right. There is a man there. He may know. He knows everything,” was the reply, accompanied with raised eyebrows.

Second person: “About food? Oh, yes, we had a researcher named Greta. She was interested in ancient Armenian recipes. She even published something about her findings from ancient manuscripts.”

Now we got excited. “How can we contact her?” we inquired.

“She is gone, went to Los Angeles.” He pointed with his hand, imitating the flight of an airplane.

“Do you know her address in Los?” we asked.

“Go to the Ethnography Institute on Charents Street, and ask for Rhipsik. She used to be Greta’s friend. She will know all about her.”

Third person, at the Ethnography Institute: “Rhipsik’s isn’t here right now. You could check with Nelli, who’s her friend. Nelli’s the one who can tell you where to find Rhipsik.”

Unfortunately for us, Nelli was also out of town. But we got a lead on an acquaintance of Nelli, who might know when she would be back.

At this point, we threw up our hands and wearily quit our Sherlock Holmes efforts. Discouraged but still determined, we retreated by metro and marshrutka back to our apartment. The next day, we would have to do our own careful searching in the library catalogs.

So, Dear Greta in Los Angeles, wherever you are, we heard that you made some very interesting findings about the food culture of ancient Armenia. If you ever read our blog or book, please contact us. We still want to review your research findings. Friends or friends-of-friends of Greta need not reply. By the way, the folks from the Matenadaran asked us to pass on their warm greetings, if we ever find you.


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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Sexy Sarik & Khorovats Barbecue

Armenians love barbecue, called khorovats in Armenian. That's one reason the "Meat and Fish" section is one of the biggest chapters in our book, and rightfully so. If you want to see an Armenian's eyes light up with joy, have a big barbecue party on a beautiful sunny day. And that's exactly what we did.

Roadside khorovats stands are as common in Armenia as McDonalds restaurants are in the US. And, no, there are no McDonalds in Armenia. If you visit Armenia's beautiful Lake Sevan, it seems there is a khorovats vendor along each and every mile of the lakeside highway. An Armenian barbecue is usually made with big, thick cuts of pork, and is cooked over the hot coals from a hardwood fire.

So, we invited our friends and family for a big khorovats picnic, a full day of fun in the sun with lots of good eats. Our chef-of-honor was Sarik Simonian, a self-proclaimed champion khorovats and kebab maker from Yerevan. Sarik means "Little Mountain", but he's the big guy when it comes to barbecue. If you ever fly to Armenia, you'll probably pass Sarik's home on your way out of the main Zvartnots airport. As you can see from our photos, Sarik is strikingly handsome. If he were a Hollywood actor, he could be the Armenian Yul Brynner, or Patrick Stewart, or maybe Telly Savalas.

We decided to make good use of Sarik's culinary skills. While David introduced the younger members of our party to the art of throwing frisbees (see David's posting below), Sarik fired up the mangal (grill). We attempted to learn some of Sarik's secrets for making delicious Armenian barbecue. It was a great interview, and we included his khorovats knowledge in our book. Sarik clearly validated his reputation as a master of the grill.

After observing Sarik's culinary expertise, we got out the digital camera for some photos. We noticed that Sarik had worn his "Long Beach State" tee shirt for the occasion, perhaps a gesture to ingratiate himself to us. As he started removing the delicious chops from the hot shampoors (skewers) with his bare hands, we began shooting. But then it was his turn to ask us some questions:

Sarik & Khorovats 3

"How's this pose?"

Sarik & Khorovats 4

"It would be great for the cover of your book!"

Sarik & Khorovats 1

"Will you send a copy to President Bush?"

Sarik & Khorovats 2

"Do you think American women will see my picture?"

Sarik's khorovats was exquisite, mouth-watering, and unbelievably tasty. To make everyone reading this blog hungry, here's a listing of our picnic-day menu:

Pork Khorovats a la Sarik
Grilled Potatoes
Grilled Eggplant
Lavash Bread

Until the next blog,


Khorovats barbecue, an ancient Armenian king called "The Carnivorous", and lots of other meaty information is in the new book, ARMENIAN FOOD: FACT, FICTION & FOLKLORE, ISBN 1411698659, by Irina Petrosian and David Underwood.

Food is the portal to Armenia’s past and present-day culture. This culinary journey across the land called Hayastan presents the rich history, wondrous legends, and fact-filled stories of Armenian cuisine. In their book, authors Irina Petrosian and David Underwood take readers on a memorable tour of Armenia by way of the kitchen, answering questions such as:

What ancient Armenian fable warned against genetically-altered food?
What little-known Armenian fruit may have helped Noah on the ark?
What was the diet of David of Sassoun, the legendary Armenian Hercules?
What was the influence of the Soviet Union on the food ways of Armenia?
What strange and exotic fruits and herbs are sold in Armenia’s markets?
Why do Armenians go to cemeteries to “feed” the dead?
What role did coffee and lavash bread play in Armenian marriage rituals?

For those curious about one of the world’s most ancient cultures, or who are contemplating a trip to Armenia, the book provides extensive details and little-known information about both ancient and modern Armenia.

Frisbees, Carl Sagan, and Armenia
by David Underwood

Every time I visit Armenia, I include a couple of frisbee throwing-discs in my overstuffed luggage. Frisbees aren't popular in Armenia. I've never seen any for sale in the shops, and none ever being tossed by Armenians. I bring them to share with the Armenian children because it’s a quick and easy-to-learn recreational activity. After a few minutes of hand demonstrations, the Hye kids are snapping the frisbees back and forth like champs.

You can't visit a park in the US without seeing someone hurling frisbees in a game of throw-and-catch. In fact, a huge frisbee golf course is just a block from our home in Bloomington, Indiana. Frisbee zealots have tried unsuccessfully to get it included in the Olympics, but the traditional Greek discus remains the Olympian flying disk of choice.

When I cram my frisbees into my suitcases, I always think of the man who first brought them to Armenia: the late, great astronomer and astrobiologist, Dr. Carl Sagan. Sagan is well remembered for his Cosmos TV series, and his many best-selling books, one of which, Contact, was made into a popular film starring Jodie Foster.

Dr. Carl was one of the few Americans to visit Soviet Armenia in the early 70s when he attended an astrophysics conference at the Byurakan Observatory, located on the southern slopes of Mount Aragats. During the breaks between discussions about supernovas, quasars, and "millions and billions of stars," Sagan amazed the conference attendees when he initiated a frisbee toss-and-catch on the stony grounds next to the futuristic-looking Byurakan Observatory dome. The scene is described in the biography Carl Sagan: A Life by Keay Davidson, and it always comes to mind when I'm preparing for the arduous journey from Bloomington to Yerevan.

I don't know why Armenians have never taken to the frisbee, because they're great at it. And it's an inexpensive, hard-to-wear-out piece of sports equipment. Perhaps it's just resistance to something new. When visiting Armenia's famed mineral water resort at Jermuk, I did some frisbee throws with the son of one of the Ministers of Parliament. The MP gruffly grunted in disapproval, and had only this to say: "What a silly game!" I wish he could see the many groups of young people outside my window right now, all having a great time as they play frisbee golf.

But that's OK. It doesn't matter if Armenia's politicians can't appreciate how much fun it is to throw and catch a frisbee. The children do, and I've seen lots of happy smiles as a result. That makes it worth the risk of bursting my suitcase seams when I shove in the frisbees.

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Sparkle to My Eyes!

The book is born. Sparkle to my eyes!

After almost 3 years of work, our book is published. Since no Armenian is nearby here in the hills of southern Indiana to give me a traditional achkaluis (an expression literally meaning light or sparkle to your eyes, uttered on hearing good news), I am telling myself achkaluis!

Hours of writing, rewriting, struggling with photographs, talking, waiting, asking, reasking, checking and rechecking. OK, enough of exaggerating our painstaking efforts ... after all that, my co-author husband and I can finally see the book listed on, and we can see the first few hits as readers start to buy it.

If ever gets updated again, you'll be able to search select pages of the book. But don't hold your breath waiting for them. I'm told it may take months. SIGH! There is a preview that actually works online at that includes the table of contents, our introduction, the tzhvzhik (liver-and-onions) chapter, and, finally, the book's index.

The book is ARMENIAN FOOD: FACT, FICTION & FOLKLORE, ISBN 1411698659, and it's about the culture and cuisine of Hayastan, as Armenians call their country. Our book tells the story of Armenian culture, its history, its folklore, its myths and legends, and, of course, its delicious food. If you're interested in Armenia or international cuisine, please check it out. No, it's not a cookbook, but, yes, it's got a few recipes in it. We reluctantly put those in because readers of the first edition, published in Armenia, kept asking us to do so. We had no intention of producing a cookbook because there are already so many good Armenian cookbooks in print. In fact, they're so numerous that we included a 2-page-long index listing of as many as we could identify.

So why are we doing a blog? Are we such blowhards that we can't stop writing about the subject? Well, maybe so. The path was so blissful that even the idea of reaching our destination is sacrilegious. Actually, we want to have a good forum for our readers, and blogs are great for that. Since the book just went on sale, we're hungry for feedback, good or bad, but hopefully not too flamingly bad. And, as happens in so many big projects that span years of effort, we've got lots of material that is interesting and entertaining, but just didn't make the cut when we wrote our book. Plus, it's a chance for us to tell the story about the making of ARMENIAN FOOD: FACT, FICTION & FOLKLORE, how we wrote it, where we went, and how we survived it all! It's kind of a free bonus for those who bought our book and, hopefully, an alluring device for those who are considering it. And even if you don't buy it, maybe you'll find our blog interesting and, hopefully, amusing. Laugh all you want. We don't mind. After writing this book, we can take anything in good stride.

We had many strange adventures, made some remarkable discoveries, and suffered a disappointment or two as we researched and wrote the book. And we met lots of wonderful people in Armenia, and quite a few colorful characters, too.

Our homebase while we were creating the book was Vanadzor, my original hometown, located in the northern, mountainous Lori province of Armenia. I had lived in Moscow for many years, and in Yerevan, Armenia's capital city, after that. Then I lived in the United States for awhile. So, going back to Vanadzor was a true homecoming for me. And during our almost-a-year in Armenia, we travelled all over the country collecting information for the book.

David, my husband and co-author, liked staying in Armenia, even though he sometimes yearned to hear spoken English now and then. He will also be posting to this blog. David is from the hilly woodlands of south-central Indiana, and even though he's travelled across most of the US, visiting Armenia and later living in Armenia was a profound experience for him. One of his life-long dreams was to visit and see the Soviet Union. He never suspected he would one day fulfill his curiosity, even though the USSR had ceased to exist by the time that he finally made his visits. David's also a skilled computer engineer, and my family was rather surprised when he set up a small computer network on our work table at home, dubbed "The Book Factory".

Ronnie, our then-three-year-old son, had been staying with my family for awhile before we arrived. There he was learning to speak Armenian, eating good, healthy Armenian food, and generally becoming a little Hayastantsi! He, too, helped us with the book project. More about that later.

Sarik Simonian comes to mind as one of the most colorful characters out of many that we met when we were working on our book. He was one of those Armenian men who does not have a formal education but, as Armenians say, "Everything comes out of his hands." He's extremely skillful, a great guy, and a terrific friend.

Sarik is a master of the grill, a champion of the barbecue, and we included some of his barbecue secrets and know-how in our book.

You can read about our photo-and-khorovats session with Sarik in our next blog post. Don't miss "Sexy Sarik and Armenian Khorovats Barbecue".

Irina Petrosian

P.S. Here's a review of the first, published-in-Armenia edition of ARMENIAN FOOD: FACT, FICTION & FOLKLORE, from the leading online news site,


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