You gaze across the dozens of plates that line the never-ending dining room table. To your left, lies the savoury garlic and herb marinations of beef kafta. Beside that, hover the spicy whiffs of sujuk sausage, grape leaf-wrapped sarma, and warm, fluffy lavash. To your right, sit three plates, each piled high with food right off the barbecue. The first features shish taouk or chicken on skewers. Next to it is simply taouk, chicken-no sticks. And finally, there’s rice pilaf topped with nuts, raisins, and you guessed it, chicken.
Image: Anush Bichakhchyan, Rent Yerevan
… yells your uncle at the head of the table. Everyone gathered around repeats his words to let it be sweet, as the knives and forks go to work.
What you just pictured is the typical Armenian family meal – a spicy, garlicky Palaeolithic-inspired diet with hints of vegetables, nuts, and rice.
Sometimes, I imagine that had I not been Armenian, if I’d appreciate the flavours and pallets that make up these foods and ethnic foods in general?
I shudder at the thought.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with the Western or “white people” diet. They’ve given the world things like roasted turkey, stuffing, grilled cheese, mac and cheese, fries, cheese fries, poutine, and best of all, pot roasts.
Aside: I consume an unhealthy amount of pot roasts
But sometimes it’s nice to eat meals with more than one spice in it or to try things that may look and sound gross only to find out they’re freakin’ amazing.
Case in point, here are 3 foods I’ve only ever eaten at an Armenian household and for sure won’t ever find on the shelves of my local Sobey’s:
- Sounds slimy and disgusting and looks like they have as much meat as an actual chicken finger
Image: Aaron’s Small Time Grilling
VERDICT: Actually really good, especially with lemon!
- A bird that looks so cute, I feel guilty it’s been adopted into our diets
Left Image: Red Ted Art; Right Image: the skint foodie
VERDICT: Very tasty, even better with lemon (you’ll understand that lemon is a reoccurring theme for Armenians). But seriously, I’m so sorry birdie 😥
- Without a doubt, the weirdest one served on our table at least to me. But my Dad always said it’s a delicacy
Image: Brie Encounter
VERDICT: Nothing much to it. Even though it’s cool to say you’ve eaten brain, it really only tastes like a chewier hummus
Now I don’t expect you to rush to the nearest place that sells veal brains. I do want to share with my followers that it’s great to get out and try new foods. Even in a society dominated by McDonald’s, Subway, and Panera, and where the idea of exotic foods is Popeyes “ghost pepper wings,” I’m here to say that another world of flavour exists beyond the closest realm.
The beauty of cities like Toronto, New York or even Montreal is they’ve got pockets of areas that cherishes different ethnic communities and the tastes of their cultures. On one Sunday afternoon, when midterms are over, or you’ve booked the weekend off work; I recommend visiting these areas and walking around the tiny shops of mouth-watering foods.
I’ll probably be there.
I thought I’d get the ball rolling and suggest some of my favourite digs to get Armenian foods in the GTA:
#3: Paramount Fine Foods
Address: Many locations
Price Range: $$ on Yelp (11-$30)
My Rating: 4 / 5 shish taouks
#2: Arz Fine Foods
Address: 1909 Lawrence Avenue East, Scarborough, ON. M1R 2Y6. (see map)
Price Range: $$ on Yelp (11-$30)
My Rating: 4.5 / shish taouks
#1: My Medzmama (Grandma)’s Kitchen
Nothing beats home-cooked meals… and if I didn’t rank this first, I’d hear it from her.
Price Range: Cliché warning… Priceless
My Rating: 5/5 shish taouks