Saturday, April 30, 2016

Family Time in Yerevan.

Family selfie.  Gurgen, Arshak, Pat, me, and Anush.

One of the things that made our trip to Armenia so special and memorable was the fact that we spent a great deal of time with a very lovely family.

We first met the family patriach, Arshak and his son, Gurgen when they met us in Tbilisi.  They had driven all the way from Yerevan to Tbilisi, waited for a hour before we could leave and drove us all the way back to Yerevan.

The next afternoon, Arshak took us back to his home, located in a suburb of Yerevan called Arindj, for afternoon coffee and dessert.  There, we met more family members, including the matriarch of the family - Anush and her lovely daughter, Teresa.  Two of Teresa's children were also there as well as Arshak's sister.

Gurgen had taken the day off and spent most of it trimming a very large grape vine in his garden.  He took us on a tour of his garden - planted with mainly roses and several fruit trees.  It's not a big garden but it's very well tended to thanks to Gurgen's efforts.


On the back terrace, we had coffee and shared some gata, including the one that we had bought from the vendor at Geghard.

Pat, me, Arshak, Arshak's sister, Teresa and Anush.

Happy son, loving mother.

One of my favorite pictures.  A very tender moment between mother and daughter.

We didn't stay at the house too long - didn't really want to impose on their hospitality but both Pat and I had a wonderful, relaxing time.

The next occasion that took us back to the family home in Arindj was to make and eat djengalov hats (Armenian flatbread filled with herbs) Gurgen had bought the ingredients, the day before, in the village of Goris, on our way back from Artsvanik.  Today, we got a lesson from Anush in how to wrap and cook the djengalov hats.

We first started with finely chopping up the greens.  Gurgen bought a huge amount of greens.  I didn't recognize anything except for the stinging nettle leaves.



Then, Anush rolled out a piece of dough to an oblong shape and then placed a good amount of the finely chopped greens on top.



Then she showed us how to connect the two sides - basically overlapping, in an alternating pattern by stretching a small piece of the dough to the shape of a thumb and then laying pressing it down on the other side.  Hard to explain but I was surprised that the seam held without needing any water as *glue*.


As we were working, Arshak returned from a day of sightseeing with an older couple from Turkey.  Even though they are of Armenia descent, they had never had djengalov hats before, this was a great opportunity to have some.  Most certainly, we had more than enough to go around!  The wife helped us out in the kitchen - her hands made the wrapping go a whole lot faster!


Update April 30:  We had made so many djenjalov hats that we had enough for me to bring back some for Areg and her family to enjoy!
While the girls were busy rolling out dough and forming the djengalov hats, Gurgen got busy at the stove.  We had a lot of flatbread to cook up.


I eventually took over the cooking duties from Gurgen as there were enough hands making the djengalov hats.

Hamming it up in the kitchen :-)

Everybody wants to be in the kitchen!

The dining table had already been set by the time the food was ready.

Someone is ready to eat :-)

I think we made at least 20, if not more, djengalove hats.  It was a lot.  

The star of the dinner table - djengalov hats.

In addition to the flatbread, we there was also a salad of tomatoes and cucumbers, a plate of fresh herbs and the family had ordered a large of barbecued chicken.  Enough food to feed that small Armenian army!


Since we had never eaten djengalov hats before, we needed a lesson.  What you do is cut the bread in half and then insert a pat of butter down into the warm bed of herbs.  Then you're ready to take your first bite.  Okay.  So my opinion of djengalov hats.  I think it's a bit of an acquired taste.  Neither Chinese nor Americans are used to eating herbs as vegetables so the flavor was a bit too intense for me though the butter did mellow things out a bit.  I ate a whole piece and probably had enough room in my stomach for another one but that would have been enough to fill me.  I had to leave room to try some of the chicken :-)


Just as we sat down to eat, another family friend showed up.   It's fun to have gatherings like this - very informal, good food, good friends, great conversation and much laughter.  What more could you ask for and how privileged were Pat and I to be included?



After dinner, Gurgen drove us back to the apartment.  We weren't quite ready to call it a day so we decided to go for a stroll about town.  We didn't get far.  In fact, we stopped at a small restaurant in Saryan Park where Gurgen treated Pat and I to scoops of ice cream - pistachio ice cream instead.


Talk soon turned to smiles to laughter to tears.  We laughed over silly topics that would not make sense to anyone who wasn't at our table.  Pistachio ice cream tasting like banana.  Gazoom.  You'll have to ask Gurgen to explain that one though I will forever chuckle to myself when I recall that word.




After ice cream, we took our laughter on a short walk around Opera Square.

Trying to emulate Armenian composer Arno Babajanyan in front of his statue in Opera Square.

Checking out the giant saxophone.

Honey, who blew up the guitar?

It wasn't all that late when we bid goodnight to Gurgen but it was time to call it a day.   The next day, we were back in Arindj for one last meal.

Gurgen picked us up around 4p and on his way home, he stopped at a local supermarket to pick up some ingredients for dinner.  We were having dolma!!  I LOVE dolma!  I expected Gurgen to pick up a few items but he left with several grocery bags worth of food.  At first I thought there would be other people joining us for the meal but it turned out he was buying stuff as presents for Pat and I.  So thoughtful of him but it was a lot of foodstuff and I am still trying to figure out how I am going to pack it all in my suitcase, which is already pretty full!

Back to dinner.   Wisely, Anush had waited for the extra hands to arrive before making the dolma.

We started by peeling and coring the veggies.  Pat and I took care of that task.




While we were busy preparing the dolma *shells*, Anush worked on seasoning the meat that Gurgen bought at the supermarket.


Mincing up the seasoning for the meat.

I have no idea what herbs and spices are in here.  I should find out so I can recreate this at home.


We then all worked on stuffing the veggies.




Next, it was on to making the stuffed cabbage rolls.  Oh....I already knew I would enjoy these!




As we stuffed and rolled, tomato sauce dolma were being cooked up on the stove.


The aroma that filled the kitchen was so intoxicating to me.  I was getting hungry!


Last but not least, we tackled my absolute favorite dolma - the grape leaves.  These were leaves that came from the grapevine in the garden and they were simply preserved in salt rather than in a brine solution which is how I typically get them.  I think curing them simply in salt is much better.

Gurgen getting into the action.

Wrapped and ready to go.  I think this is the perfect portion for me :-)

When you're greedy, it feels like an eternity before the food comes to the table.  I was so ready to plunge into the meal that I forgot to take photos except for this one.  I ate like there was no tomorrow. 


I ate so much, I literally could not move.  That was more than enough food for me but there was more to come!  As we cleared the table, Anush began to make a batch of gata.  Seriously.  She whipped up the dough and filling in a matter of minutes.  I don't think the oven had even finished pre-heating when she had the first batch ready to go!  She even had time to make two different types of cookies.








I was so stuffed I could barely finish a cookie.  I do have to say that you really can't not love a warm buttery, sugary cookie.  If only I had eaten one less dolma or maybe a dozen less dolma :-0

Soon, it was time for us to say goodbye.  Before we left, Anush and Gurgen handed us gifts for food for Pat and I as well as for us to bring back to Areg.  It was so much food!  I had no idea how I was going to carry it all back home with me but I know I have to as it was so thoughtful of them to do this.

We posed for one last photo and then gave our thank you's and hugs to Anush and Gurgen.  They have been incredibly hospitable and I will forever have a place in my heart for them.  My wish will be that one day, they will come to visit Areg in DC and I will be able to return their kindness.

Bye Anush!  Bye Arshak!  We will miss you and we hope to see again one day!

Pat and I with our Armenian family.

Gurgen dropped us off at the apartment and there, we were able to settle up on what we owed him and to say a proper thank you and goodbye.

I cannot believe our four weeks in the Caucasus has come to an end and in a few short hours, we will be leaving for the airport for the long flight back to JFK.  I couldn't have planned a better way to end our trip than to spend it with a very loving family!

I will miss Armenia.   If I am lucky, I will get to come back one day, visit the places I didn't get to go to on this trip, taste new foods, and spend more time with my new family!

Goodnight from Yerevan and farewell Armenia!