Armenia’s Culinary History Hides in a Museum’s Manuscripts
At the Matenadaran, a museum in Armenia’s cash town of Yerevan, is a manuscript written in Middle Armenian, an archaic version of the language utilised nowadays. It’s a small mysterious, but researchers feel it presents the recipe for a cake or sweet bread: The record of components seems to contain sugar, flour, and nuts. An additional manuscript, in all probability even older, has a diagram of a cow and its cuts on one particular of the yellow stained internet pages.
The Matenadaran (known in English as the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Historical Manuscripts) includes in excess of 23,000 of Armenia’s oldest, rarest, and most worthwhile files. Just 10 of these manuscripts relate to food stuff. Several researchers have revealed curiosity in them, with just one noteworthy exception: Sonia Tashjian. Tashjian, a researcher and foremost specialist in Armenian delicacies, is a person of the most devoted visitors to the Matenadaran. Its modest collection of foodstuff manuscripts is supporting her find out how Armenians ate and lived in centuries past. Guided by files like these, she aims to get better an crucial part of the country’s threatened background.
Born in Anjar, a modest village of Armenians in Lebanon, Tashjian moved to Armenia when she was 20. There she commenced a quest to determine Armenian meals and detect its influence. Fueled by her discoveries, she hosted a Tv set display named Grandma’s Delicacies. “Nothing claims as substantially about Armenian identity as its culinary heritage,” she suggests. According to her, food items has become a important integrity component for thousands and thousands of Armenians around the globe.
Armenians have survived recurring annihilation makes an attempt. Byzantines, Persians, and Seljuks all conquered them prior to Ottoman Turks colonized Armenia in the 16th century. Armenians suffered large-scale massacres in the 19th century. Then arrived the genocide of 1915-1917, which claimed additional than a million lives. For Armenians, ancient manuscripts are not just critical. These are the documents that attest to their existence and identification as a people today.
Hundreds of countless numbers of genocide survivors discovered refuge in a variety of parts of the globe, resulting in a diaspora of extra than 7 million Armenians in much more than 100 countries—compared with the 3 million who are living in Armenia. Quite a few witnessed their history and customs becoming threatened to the stage of likely extinction. Cooking their ancestors’ recipes all around the earth has been a way to preserve the flame alive.
“Because gastronomy, contrary to other fields, is a information transferring from 1 technology to another”—or “from mouth to ear,” as Tashjian prefers to say—“it continues to be regular.”
Though cookbooks and recipes are scarce in Armenian museums, Tashjian has located new strategies of unearthing culinary record by way of her operate at Sardarapat Ethnographic Museum. “My primary and irreplaceable source is the notebooks from the genocide survivors,” she states. “Many wrote memoirs just after the 1915 genocide, reminiscing [about] life in their shed birthplaces. There are a good deal of excellent ethnographic themes in those guides, primarily recipes and cooking approaches.”
In addition to the exodus triggered by the genocide, numerous Armenians still left all through the dissolution of the Soviet Union, when their state, a previous Soviet Socialist Republic, gained independence. Each individual diasporic group is portion of what Armenian folks worldwide contact “the Armenian nation,” a collective that transcends geographical borders. “That’s why it is demanding to handle the problem of our gastronomy,” states Arpine Asryan, a staff researcher at the Matenadaran. It also explains why it is really hard to uncover formal publications that target on Armenian cuisine—especially those printed in the Armenian alphabet (produced close to 405 by Mesrop Mashtots).
The initial culinary research of Armenian manuscripts, “Dishes and Feasts in Historic Armenia,” was published at the commencing of the 20th century by Mekhitarists church father Vardan Hatsun. In 2021, Hayk Hambardzumyan, a expert in Armenian literature and head of the Publishing Division at the Matenadaran, wrote about the dishes highlighted in the Armenian epic David of Sassoun. He highlighted dishes these types of as pilaf rice and jazhik, a cottage-like cheese, viewed as to be the food items of the poor in the epic.
In 2014, UNESCO extra Armenian lavash to its Intangible Cultural Heritage record. The flatbread, eaten in the South Caucasus and Western Asia, is aspect of a flatbread-generating tradition in Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkey. In predicaments like these, the manuscripts and ancient recipe textbooks collected by Matenadaran become crucial. “It’s a superior motive to search via the resources and obtain out who experienced or ready that very dish to start with,” states Asryan. “When a person country applies for a individual dish, other people try out to confirm that that dish doesn’t belong to only that region. And at that pretty second, they all refer to the aged cookbooks, manuscripts, and recipes to confirm their position.”
In accordance to Asryan, lots of Syriac Armenians moved to Armenia in the wake of the humanitarian disaster ensuing from Syria’s civil war. Armenians have also appear again from Iran and Lebanon in new years. “Nowadays, our delicacies has numerous versions many thanks to [the return of] Iranian Armenians, for instance, brought oriental aspects, largely the tradition of spices. Armenians develop nationwide dishes in each and every region by adapting to its food items capacity and availability,” she claims. A lot of who returned to Armenia also introduced again family members manuscripts and recipe books that have been held for decades, which also support inform the tale of Armenian delicacies and how it affected several cuisines around the environment. Tashjian’s work is to bring collectively these parts that, nevertheless scattered all over the planet and generally attributed to other cultures, bear Armenian fingerprints.
“I obtain the recipes of our historic fatherland, from western to eastern Armenia regions, passing via Nagorno-Karabakh, previous Cilicia, Polis and close to. But also from Iran and Ga Armenian regions, exactly where the Armenians have lived for hundreds of years,” Tashjian states. She then tries to replicate the dishes as properly as she can and publishes them on web-sites these as Houshamadyan, a digital venture that revives Ottomanian-Armenian culture.
By interviewing genocide survivors, Tashjian can observe down household paperwork that maintain Armenia’s cultural and culinary legacy. For a country compelled to break up across the planet, her occupation, she explains, is to get all the Armenian dishes back again on the desk.
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