Discover Armenia’s gastronomic scene, from its ancient wine to its hearty dishes

Armenian cuisine is rich and varied — but it’s the country’s wine, with its time-honoured traditions and distinct flavour, that sets the destination apart for food-lovers.

Friday, March 20, 2020,
By Tourism Committee of Armenia
Armenian delicacies around the table
Armenian delicacies around the table. The cuisine of Armenia is varied, drawing on culinary influences from all over Europe, the Middle East and the Levant.
Photograph by Tourism Committee of Armenia

Offering everything from meat-topped flatbreads to flavoursome cheese, Armenia’s diverse and exciting cuisine deserves a place on the on the global gastronomic map. This small country at the crossroad of Europe and Asia draws on culinary influences from all over Europe, the Middle East and the Levant to serve up a menu of mouth-watering dishes — think harissa, a savoury chicken porridge not dissimilar to a risotto; manti, a delicious baked dumpling; or ghapama, a pumpkin stuffed with boiled rice, dried fruits and nuts. A nation of food-lovers, Armenians attach great value to ancestral recipes and home cooking, so travellers should make sure to come with open minds and empty stomachs. 

What truly confirms the country’s place on the world culinary stage, however, is its wine. In 2007, archaeologists uncovered a 6,100-year-old winery (the oldest ever discovered) in a cave nestled in the Armenian village of Areni — the same place where the world’s oldest leather shoe was found. Here, visitors can still see the remains of storage jars, fermentation vats and a press where winemakers crushed grapes with their feet. But winemaking in Armenia is not only about the past: with a new generation of winemakers eager to show off their country, the local industry is making a comeback.

Armenia’s wine production may be relatively small in size, but what it lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality. There are three key grape varieties: Areni, a red that’s referred to as Armenia’s Pinot Noir; Voskehat, an aromatic white; and Khndoghni, a red that pairs well with meat. Areni is considered the best of the bunch — a grape variety that's extremely resistant to disease, yet powerful and elegant in the glass. 

Armenia’s wine scene is vibrant and waiting to be discovered. Wine lovers can venture to several viticultural regions, including Aragatsotn, Tavush, Armavir and Ararat. Aside from being viticultural centres, these areas are developing a reputation as wine-tourism destinations and offer wine-tour opportunities. Travellers should also be sure to tick off Vayots Dzor, the winemaking centre that includes the Areni Cave complex. 

Alternatively, soak up Armenian wine culture by attending one of many wine events. Options include Yerevan Wine Days, a two-day street festival held at the beginning of May; Voskevaz Wine Festival in August; and Areni Wine Festival in October. Blending winemaking demonstrations with traditional song and dance, plenty of cheese and, of course, lots of drinking, these events are a great way to see a different side to Armenia.

Collecting grapes for wine production in a vineyard in Armenia. There are several viticultural regions in the country, including Areni, Aragatsotn, Tavush, Armavir and Ararat.
Photograph by My Armenia Program

Five to try

1. Ghapama
This comforting dish is prepared by stuffing a pumpkin with boiled rice, nuts, honey and dried fruits such as raisins. The pumpkin is baked until soft and often sliced so that it can open like a flower on the table. This aromatic specialty is commonly served during holiday seasons and celebrations.

2. Dolma
Pronounced ‘tolma’ in Armenian, dolma are parcels of rice and minced meat such as beef or lamb wrapped in grape or cabbage leaves. Vegan-friendly fillings like lentils, tomato, courgette, aubergine, herbs and spices can also be used. Dolma are commonly eaten all year round at home as well as at restaurants.

3. Manti
Similar to a gyoza but with an open top, manti are boat-shaped dumplings filled with minced lamb or beef and served with yoghurt and garlic or tomato sauce. They should be crunchy and golden on the outside and are sometimes served with a tomato broth.

4. Khorovats
Armenia’s version of the kebab, khorovats are skewers of barbecued or grilled meats such as lamb or pork. The meat can be bone-in or boneless, and might be served with sliced onion and salad and lavash flatbread. The annual Khorovats festival is held in August in Lori province.

5. Lavash
It’s rare to find a table in Armenia that doesn’t feature bread, the national pride. Featured on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, lavash is considered Armenia’s signature — a thin, wheat flour bread made in an underground clay oven called a tonir. The dough is thinly rolled and slapped against the oven wall to bake for just a few seconds.

Dolma, a traditional Armenian dish, are parcels of rice and minced meat such as beef or lamb wrapped in grape or cabbage leaves.
Photograph by Shutterstock

Essentials

Aeroflot flies from Heathrow to Yerevan via Moscow. 

Average flight time: 7h 20m duration

Hiring a car or taking a day trip from the capital is the best way to visit Armenia’s wine regions. May to October is a good time to visit; temperatures can fall below -10C in winter.

This content is created for our partner. It does not necessarily reflect the views of National Geographic, National Geographic Traveller (UK) or its editorial staff.

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