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From Mayrig to Mamig and from Lusin to Batchig to Nour, a wave of the finest restau­rants in the Mid­dle East, serv­ing Ar­me­nian del­i­ca­cies, is tak­ing the re­gion by storm and gath­er­ing a cult-like fol­low­ing. Even if the cui­sine’s true ori­gins re­main a sub­ject of de­bate, what’s be­yond a doubt is that the Mid­dle East is in love with Ar­me­nian food and the cui­sine isn’t so much the tra­di­tional dishes of one coun­try, but rather the cooking tech­niques of an en­tire di­as­pora


“Be care­ful not to con­fuse Mid­dle Eastern Ar­me­nian food with that of the Cau­ca­sus,” cau­tioned culi­nary ex­pert and cook­book au­thor, Anahid Donigu­ian. “Ar­me­nian win­ters are harsh, so cooks tend to pre­pare food dur­ing the sum­mer and store it to sur­vive the win­ter. We mostly use fresh sea­sonal in­gre­di­ents in the Levant, so it’s quite dif­fer­ent.” Donigu­ian is the con­cept cre­ator of Lusin, the first Ar­me­nian restau­rant in Saudi Ara­bia, which has four branches lo­cated across the King­dom. The Saudi own­ers first de­cided to bring the cui­sine to the coun­try in 2009, when they re­al­ized that tourists were fre­quent­ing Ar­me­nian restau­rants in Le­banon. “Al­most the en­tire menu (95 per­cent) is Ar­me­nian, ex­cept for a few dishes which we’ve ‘Ar­m­enized’,” she ex­plained. “The food is the same at all of the restau­rants be­cause we’re us­ing iden­ti­cal equip­ment and recipes, serv­ing dishes that are known and loved by all. Most im­por­tant is that the pre­sen­ta­tion should com­ple­ment the fla­vors.” Donigu­ian’s aim has been to cre­ate a link be­tween the mod­ern world and tra­di­tional food by up­dat­ing and re­fin­ing the look. “We can cook our ba­sic dishes but make them look more ap­peal­ing, by adding more in­gre­di­ents that were not avail­able or ac­cepted be­fore,” she noted. “There are 101 ideas; for in­stance, vospov keufteh – a ve­gan ap­pe­tizer made of red lentils. In­stead of us­ing my palms to make the pat­ties, I plate it, us­ing an ice cream scooper and serve with a lit­tle bit of pars­ley and red pep­per flakes on top. I don’t want to de­vi­ate from the ba­sic recipe, but I want to mod­ern­ize the look.”


Serv­ing much more than sim­ply street food, which is what the cui­sine was typ­i­cally as­so­ci­ated with in Le­banon, Aline Ka­makian, au­thor and founder of Mayrig and Batchig restau­rants, started what has been de­scribed by many as an Ar­me­nian culi­nary rev­o­lu­tion. To­day, she is known for re­mov­ing the stigma at­tached to Ar­me­nian cui­sine and telling the story of a culture through food. “There were many restau­rants with Ar­me­nian own­ers, but not serv­ing Ar­me­nian food, un­til Mayrig opened in 2003,” she said. “Mayrig is known as an au­then­tic Ar­me­nian restau­rant. Dishes might be sim­i­lar to those of the re­gion, be­cause we share the same land and in­gre­di­ents, but ev­ery­one pre­pares them dif­fer­ently. Our strength is that we have Syr­ian, Lebanese, Ira­nian, Iraqi and the Cau­casian Ar­me­nian in­flu­ences all com­ing to­gether. This is the rich­ness of Ar­me­nian food. What I’m try­ing to do is gather all of th­ese recipes that are au­then­ti­cally ours, de­spite the large area of in­flu­ence.” Ka­makian em­pha­sizes that au­then­tic doesn’t mean “frozen in time”. “Au­then­tic is when you adapt your re­al­ity to the ex­ist­ing cir­cum­stances,” she ex­plained. “This is how we up­date our culture and hold on to it.” Cur­rent pro­jects in­clude a Mayrig restau­rant in Ar­me­nia, as well as a culi­nary school that will ed­u­cate a new crop of chefs in­ter­ested in the cui­sine. “We don’t have a trained group of chefs to take over a restau­rant be­cause it was our moth­ers who safe­guarded our food tra­di­tions,” she com­mented. “When I opened the restau­rant 15 years ago, there were no chefs. The only ones that were fa­mil­iar with our culture were our moms. This is why I wrote the book - as a trib­ute to all Ar­me­nian moth­ers who kept the knowl­edge and re­layed it to their daugh­ters. Things are dif­fer­ent now; the legacy that we’ve pro­tected has to be passed on. My job is to give it to the next gen­er­a­tion in a struc­tured way. Their job is to evolve it.” Ka­makian be­lieves that Ar­me­nian food is cur­rently rid­ing a wave, with an el­e­vated ver­sion of street food set to be the next cy­cle. “There will be a lot more Batchig-style trat­to­rias in com­mon ar­eas, next to movie the­aters, for ex­am­ple, and where there is a lot of foot­fall. I’ve in­cor­po­rated the street food el­e­ment within the restau­rant, like the wood­fired oven serv­ing ‘beureg’ and ‘lah­mad­jun’. I’ve up­graded street food.”

Batchig in Dbayeh

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