Explore Armenia's Must-Try Dishes
Visiting Armenia is sure to be a culinary adventure. Prepare to try dishes that have been enjoyed for centuries, for a symphony of flavours and textures, and even to experience some local specials that you probably never even imagined were possible. Eat your way through our suggestions below, and see how many you can cross off your belly’s bucket list!
A famous local staple, dolma represents a labour of love and tradition. Grape or cabbage leaves are carefully filled with a mixture of minced meat, rice, and aromatic spices. Wrapping the dolma pieces looks deceptively easy, but it’s an art form to ensure that they don’t unwrap when simmering in a large vat on the stove. Many variations exist. Some cooks prefer stuffing vegetables like peppers and eggplant. Sarma rolls are grape leaves filled very simply with spiced rice and often served cold as an appetiser. Vegetarian, cabbage-wrapped, legume-stuffed “basuts” dolma is frequently enjoyed in the Lenten weeks leading up to Easter. In Armenian culture, dolma is frequently served to first-time guests. Hosts may ask out-of-town visitors if they’ve ever tried dolma, and even if you say yes, you’ll probably hear back: “But you haven’t tried my dolma!”
Enjoyed for centuries, harissa is a flavorful and hearty dish made from cracked wheat and chicken. It is frequently prepared in a large vat; cooks take turns stirring the thick porridge with a long wooden spoon. Slow-cooked to perfection, the wheat and meat blend together harmoniously to create a comforting, nourishing meal. Don’t forget to top your bowl with a generous pat of butter. Traditionally enjoyed during religious observances and significant cultural events, harissa brings people together, fostering a sense of unity and celebration.
This dish is so beloved in Armenia that it even has a popular song dedicated to it (“Hey Jan, Ghapama”)! If you’re not usually a fan of pumpkin, you might change your mind after eating ghapama. Imagine the squash stuffed with a mixture of boiled rice, dried fruits, nuts and spices, baked until it is tender and fragrant, and garnished with butter, honey and cinnamon! Delicious and visually stunning, it’s the centrepiece of any festive table and often prepared for larger groups. During the autumn months, you may see ghapama featured at harvest festivals in some regions of Armenia.
Meaning “bread with herbs,” zhingyalov hats is a type of stuffed flatbread typical to the regions of Artsakh and Syunik. Rolled thin, the dough is meticulously filled with a medley of between 10 and 20 freshly diced seasonal herbs. The greens are mixed with spices and oil and carefully tucked into the dough, creating a distinctive, football-like shape. Baked to golden perfection on a griddle, the zhingyalov hats is then wrapped in paper and ready to eat. Enjoy as a light meal or a snack-on-the-go.
Locals will tell you that “khorovats” (the word for “grilled” in Armenian) is not just your average barbeque. Making it is an art form and eating it is a reason to call your family and friends together for an open-air picnic in a scenic spot. While Armenia’s most famous khorovats dishes centre around fire-grilled beef and pork, vegetables make a delicious addition. Some of the most delicious potato khorovats are famously fire-grilled over dried cow manure. It may sound repulsive, but it tastes delicious! Carnivores and vegans alike will enjoy accompanying mushrooms, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, garlic and onions.
Usually enjoyed during winter months, khash is a savoury and hearty broth prepared from meticulously cleaned and boiled cow's feet and tendons. It is typically flavoured with garlic, served with dried lavash and washed down with vodka. The rich and distinctive flavours result from the long simmering process which can last up to ten hours. Khash eating parties can last just as long! Friends and family traditionally gather on weekend mornings to enjoy the delicacy, fostering camaraderie and social bonding. It's a cherished culinary ritual, often accompanied by lively conversations and toasts. Some swear by it as a cure for hangovers.
Creeped out by khash? Panrkhash is a vegetarian version to try (but certainly not vegan). This dish is all about dairy! Chechil, a dry and sharp-tasting string cheese unique to the Shirak region, steals the show. The one-bowl meal featured chechil layered with lavash pieces. Boiling water is poured on top and garnished with onions sauteed generously in clarified butter.
For those who’ve never seen it, kyufta might be best described as a uniquely textured meatball. It’s typically made with ground lamb or beef mixed with finely minced onion, parsley, and spices. Traditional kyufta is wrapped in a covering of bulgur, formed into football shaped patties, and simmered in a hearty broth. Enjoy with a squeeze of lemon on top!
Ishkhan (prince) trout is probably Armenia’s most famous fish, found in Lake Sevan and some of Armenia’s other big lakes. Try it in its most popular form: barbecued alongside potatoes. It’s also delicious boiled with butter and lemon… and even as a replacement for beef in dolma!
Visually stunning, qyallagyosh is prepared from lentils sauteed with onions, garlic, spices and clarified butter. The savoury blend is dolloped in the middle of a spiced yogurt sauce and then surrounded by a wreath of bite-sized pieces of lavash, Armenia’s famous flatbread. Sometimes, the lentils are also prepared with tender pieces of beef.
If you’re an adventurous eater, go for this legendary dish. Famous in Gyumri, qyalla is a whole cow’s head baked in a traditional stone “tonir,” the same type of oven in which lavash is baked. Those who love this dish swear by it. You’ll also meet lots of local Armenians who have still never gotten up the guts to try it.
We end on a sweet note. Masrapur is a compound of the words “masur” (rose hip) and “apur” (soup). It’s traditionally prepared across the whole country, although the version made in Yeghegnadzor stands out for its exceptional flavour. Pureed rose hips are simmered alongside semolina, olive oil and finely diced onion. Chopped apricots and strawberries are then added to the mix. Dry lavash serves as a garnish.
There you have it. Grab your stretch pants and get eating!