The Can’t-Miss Culinary Experience in Armenia: Khorovatz
We plan. We save. We buy tickets. We travel thousands of miles. We explode our luggage into hotel rooms. After all the months of work, hours of travel, we look around and think: What should I eat?
Every culture and country has something unique to offer, and this segment will aim to answer that, be it a special dish or drink that you MUST get while you’re traveling.
So what is that in Armenia? Yes, there’s world-renowned Armenian brandy. There are several thousand years of wine-making. There’s some kind of soup made from hooves (maybe try that NEXT trip).
But for me, Armenian barbecue, known as khorovatz, will always be the definitive food and experience of this tiny corner of the Caucasus.
What’s the Big Deal?
Let’s talk about the centerpiece of this — the meat. The most common meats are pork and chicken, although beef is also served. You’ll see chunks of chicken, pork knuckles, or even whole pork chops.
There’s a bit of setup required; the meat is marinated using a recipe that seemingly every Armenian knows, rich with spices and some vinegar, and then placed chunk by chunk on large metal spits. These khorovatz spits can be found virtually anywhere in Yerevan, and range from a basic metal rod to versions with elegant metal work on the handle.
From there, the spits are placed over the long, shallow grills that are popular in the region. Lots of coal, wood, and smoke give a wonderfully rich flavor to the meat, while foil-wrapped potatoes bake among the embers.
To have the FULL khorovatz feast, you will first start with a collection of Armenian flatbread lavash, a plate of herbs like tarragon, basil, mint, and the ever-present dill, cheeses, thick yogurt, and pickled vegetables. After noshing on that for 30 minutes, the meat and potatoes come out, still on the spits, lounging on a bed of onions and more chewy lavash, placed on raised platters in the center of long banquet tables.
A Cornerstone of Armenian Culture
So the meat’s out, and it’s delicious. But what’s the difference? Why is this a cultural experience? Because this is where toasting (and sometimes music and dancing) starts.
Now a word about drinking. Armenians love toasting; to the health of children, to mothers, to fathers, to soldiers, to the meat. And vodka is a common fuel for toasts. But drunkenness is NOT something they respect — so don’t try to go drink-for-drink. It does not end well. And be a responsible human and get a cab at the end of the night.
So, you’ve got the meat, vodka, toasts. If you’re at a banquet hall, dinner may include live music and dancing. This can go on late into the night, even with kids there.
And this is what khorovatz brings to mind for me. A big party with great food, music, drinks, and dancing. Even if you’re not a dancer, you can learn quick, or just enjoy the experience.
Where to Go
So where do you go for this? The best way is to ask a local for his or her favorite spot (which might be a family member’s house). But, there is a banquet hall called Valem that does this pretty well. It’s in Yerevan and easy to spot because it has a windmill on top. You can expect to pay about $20 for the entire night, which is usually an all-inclusive fee for endless meat, vodka, and that famous brandy I mentioned.
If you’re going to be in Yerevan for at least a few days (and it’d be unfortunate to spend less than that much time if you’re going all the way there), you must include a khorovatz night to see a slice of Armenia that will stay with you long after your trip.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, make sure to share it with your friends and check out these others as well:
- Get to know: Armenia
- The First-Timer’s Guide to Visiting Yerevan
- 10 Things You Have To Do On Your Trip to Yerevan
- The Hospitality of Armenian Coffee