Fresh vegetables at a market in Yerevan / Photo: Nane Khachatryan
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Eight years ago, when I decided to become vegetarian, it was a complete tragedy for my family and some friends. Even I myself wasn't sure how to live in Armenia as a vegetarian. But even though the whole gastronomic publicity about Armenia is built on meat (barbecues, fish, etc.), Armenian cuisine is rich on delicious vegan and vegetarian dishes. Even the New Year’s dishes in Armenia traditionally were only vegetarian, and meat became part of it only from the mid-19th century.
Armenia is not a difficult country for vegetarians, actually! It makes a significant difference, of course, whether you stay with locals and eat homemade food, or you eat outside in restaurants and cafés. And although, as far as I know, there aren’t any specialized vegan or vegetarian restaurants in Armenia, still almost every place will have at least some vegan/vegetarian options.
Fried aveluk (wild sorrel) / Photo: Gayane Tonoyan
Local people, especially outside Yerevan, are likely not to know what vegan or vegetarian means and what is the difference between the two. And often, chicken or fish don’t constitute for meat here, so you’ll have to make it clear you don’t eat any meat at all. The easiest way is to simply say that you want Lenten meal (‘pasayin outelik’ in Armenian).
From June to October, there are so many cheap and tasty fruits and vegetables available in Armenia that I rarely even cook anything. And the Great Lent (normally in March and April) is the time when restaurants, cafés and bakeries in Yerevan offer additional vegan/vegetarian menu.
Now apart from these general remarks, let me list a few dishes which I absolutely adore and which are very specific for Armenia!
Tasty seasonal fruits & vegetables are cheap in Armenia / Photo: Nane Khachatryan
Dishes made of various herbs and plants collected in the mountains and meadows are very popular among Armenians. They can be eaten fresh, cooked or fried, with garlic and sour yogurt, also fried with eggs; they can be pickled and even dried for winter. Sorrel (‘aveluk’), astrodaucus (‘mandak’), сhaerophyllum (‘shushan’), nettle (‘yeghinj’), mallow (‘pipert’), sickleweed (‘sibekh’), Solomon’s seal ('sindrik'), asparagus (‘tsnebek’) are only some of the popular edible herbs that can be found in the markets and vegetable shops around Yerevan.
Make sure to also try zhengyalov hats – a flat bread stuffed with over 20 different herbs, specialty of Artsakh. ‘Zhengyal’ is the mix of the various herbs and plants, and ‘hats’ is bread in Armenia. Depending on the time of the year, the number of herbs used in it can grow up to 30, making April and May the best months for this bread. There are specialized venues in Yerevan, which only serve this unique bread, such as the Zhengyalov Hats restaurant, but you can find them in other restaurants and cafés, too.
Freshly baked 'zhengyalov hats' / Photo: Nane Khachatryan
Vegetable soups with pumpkin, carrot, tomato, or mushrooms can be found in almost every cafeteria or restaurant in Yerevan, and you can also buy cheap vegetables in small shops and cook them yourself. But let me recommend some very special soups. The first and the most popular one is ‘spas’ (for vegetarians), prepared from sour yogurt and wheat. You can find everywhere around Armenia. Another must-try is the aveluk soup (vegan) – you can find it in most restaurants and cafés, which serve traditional Armenian dishes. The other two soups are vegan, too, and they are truly unique: cornel soup (‘hon’ in Armenian) and rose hip soup (‘masour’ in Armenian). In Yerevan, I’ve seen these soups served only at Ilik art-café, but you may also try them in the villages of the southern Armenia and Artsakh.
Cornel soup served at Ilik art-café / Photo: Maria Mkhitaryan
GRAINS & BEANS
Forget about soy beans and soya products, because Armenia offers a wide variety of grains and beans. Bulgur, emmer (‘hachar’) and wheat (‘tsoren’) are very popular here. You can try emmer pilaf with mushrooms and onions. Another common crop is the buckwheat (‘grechka’ in Russian, but widely used by Armenians, too) – it’s cheap, and easy to cook. And if you prefer raw food, you can simply leave buckwheat in water for a few hours and eat it with fresh vegetables. Different types of beans, peas and lentils are also very popular and are widely used in soups and salads. Make sure to try the red bean soup, the best one is served at Twelve Tables tea room & restaurant. Another delicious dish is the ‘pasouts tolma’ (Lenten dolma) – a mix of beans and grains wrapped in vine or cabbage leaves (usually, a good variety is available at “Smak” cafeteria).
ARABIC & WESTERN ARMENIAN CUISINE
Syrian and Lebanese-Armenian restaurants and food-shops, such as Lagonid Bistro-Café, or Anteb restaurant, are among my very favorite places to eat in Yerevan They have a wide variety of vegan and vegetarian dishes, many of them are quite cheap, and the food is delicious. In addition to hummus, mutabbal, muhammara, falafel and fattoush, try za’atar – plain, with tomatoes, cheese, yogurt or other options (check out Zatar Pizza, they have one of the best za'atar in Yerevan).
Special za'atar with yogurt / Photo: Courtesy of Za'atar Pizza
And finally, one of my favorite vegetarian products in Armenia which doesn’t fit into these categories and is usually only available in shops is the eggplant caviar. It’s a great spread to eat with bread, cheap and tasty.