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ANCA x h-pem | The secret ingredient to Armenian food

September 08, 2018

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By Victoria Messikian

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ANCA x h-pem | The secret ingredient to Armenian food

If you’re going to create a mini Armenian village anywhere in the world, you better have some great chefs on standby. The folks at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival this summer knew this well when they called upon Zara Gasparyan—a painter, ceramist, and master of handmade silk scarves—to share her knowledge on herbal teas for festival patrons. ANCA intern, Victoria Messikian, spoke to the multitalented woman about her love for cooking, her favorite meal, and how food is the greatest bond for us all.

Herbal teas and apoor in D.C. 

For centuries, food has united people of completely different upbringings through the universality of flavors, both familiar and comforting. At the Smithsonian Folklife Festival this summer, Armenians and non-Armenians alike came together to learn about some of the Armenian recipes and meals that have been passed down through generations.

Eager to know more about our historical cuisine, a mostly non-Armenian audience asked translators to interpret their questions to the extremely knowledgeable and talented chefs. In 45-minute cooking lessons, the spices, ingredients, and recipes of the Armenian people came alive in this tiny corner of D.C., where crowds united over their commonalities and shared pride and interest in their differences.

Wife-husband ceramicist duo, Zara Gasparyan and Vahagn Hambardzumyan, held an informational lecture on the practice and tradition of herbal teas in Armenia. Though she was informed just two days prior to the festival that she would be holding her own cooking class, Zara did not fret. “I love to share my knowledge of cooking and clay making, and the things displayed here can be difficult to learn, but we share it with love.”

For Zara, cooking is an everyday occurrence that does not take much preparation to master. She does not see it as a chore or difficult task, as most people do, but as something enjoyable that she performs with love and care. “I love every Armenian food. I love Armenian kitchens. My favorite meal to cook and eat is matzunov apoor (yogurt soup) . There really is not a food that I don’t like. Our Syunik cuisine is my favorite.”

Emphasizing the fact that every Armenian family cooks with a twist, Zara believes that the common ingredient of Armenian meals is the love that goes into making them. Of course, food is prepared with the purpose of nourishment, but more importantly, it brings joy to the table. “In our nation and family, everyone cooks because we love. Everyone has their family meals. You can’t go somewhere new and not learn or eat your own family’s recipes.”

In her natural teaching form, Zara shared with me the recipe to her favorite dish—ingredient by ingredient. Here, in D.C., she felt like home and reminded me of my own mother and grandmothers. This familiarity and love is something that all Armenians can relate to, and is the leading reason for our hospitality with food and family.

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