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Although Armenia is a Christian country, its food has definite Islamic roots. The food is very spicy and often contains a lot of garlic. People often eat shish kebabs of lamb cooked over open fires. Stews such as solyanka are made of beef hocks, ears, and other remnants heavily spiced with herbs such as coriander, tarragon, and paprika. Yogurt is very popular but is used more as an addition to a dish than eaten alone as it is in the United States and Europe. The yogurt is often mixed with mint and used to thicken and flavor soups. Although many different fruits are eaten fresh in Armenia, one of the favorites is pshat, the fruit of the oleaster. It is acorn-shaped and has a dry, dusty taste. The bread, called lavash, is much like baklava without the sweetness. It begins as a large, thin sheet of dough and then is folded over again and again. Drinks are almost always flavored with spices. Several cold drinks are made using tarragon to spice them. Another, called tahn, is made with salt and minted yogurt. Most towns have their own wine-making facilities that use local fruits such as mulberry and apricots. Some is distilled to make brandy. The country also makes a number of light and dark beers.

Armenian cuisine is a national treasure, a delicate mix of lightly spiced meats, fresh salads, lots of chewy light lavash bread and home-made specialities dating back centuries. It combines elements of the cuisines of all its historic neighbours - Arabic, Russian, Greek and Persian - but remains distinctive. Scientists believe that the first wheat was grown on the southern flanks of historic Armenia, south of Lake Van, while the Romans dubbed the apricot prunus armeniaca, or Armenian prune. A lot of Armenian produce is practically organic by default, and you might notice a difference between industrial-scale Western supermarket chicken and happily free-range Armenian chicken.

If there's one word for dining, it's khoravats (barbecued food). Pork is the favourite, though lamb, beef and sometimes chicken are usually available too. Ishkhan khoravats is grilled trout from Lake Sevan. Siga is another good grilledfish dish. Kebabs are also very common. Broadly speaking, western Armenian cuisine is more similar to Lebanese and Turkish cooking, while eastern Armenian has more Russian and Georgian influences. Besides khoravats, staples include dolmas (rice wrapped in vine leaves), soups, vegetable stews and lavash fresh from the oven. Armenians aren't afraid to throw in garlic and salt by the handful to boost the flavour. Hors d'oeuvres include cold salads, salty cheeses and dips such as jajik (yogurt with cucumbers and fennel). Tan abour is yogurt soup sprinkled with parsley and fennel, much admired for its curative qualities. Pastries appear everywhere, such as Georgian khachapuri (cheese pies) and bourek (flaky pastry with salty cheese and spinach). Cured meats include sujukh or yeghchik (dark, cured spicy sausage) and basturma (finely cured ham). Desserts include honeydrenched baklava and sweetly crunchy kedayif (dessert pastry) though thick chocolate cakes and tortes are popular in the region too.


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