One of the great things about living in Armenia is that there are no rules about breakfast. In my past life, I was used to being denied cherry cake before noon and nobody liked it when I finished off cold pizza or last night’s curry at 8am. I have a family member who simply can’t abide leftovers. He wouldn’t last long here.
Breakfasting at the base of Mount Ararat, we pull everything available out of the fridge and put it on the table. It has become my practice to start every day by constructing a sandwich of apricot jam (homemade), feta-like cheese (often homemade) and fresh tarragon (homegrown) wrapped in lavash (made in vast quantities by the lady across the street). I call it my Full Irish Breakfast because it is green white and gold. The licorice taste of the herb goes perfectly with the sweetness of the jam and the sharpness of the cheese. I commend it to you.
Bean salad with vinaigrette and chicken, corn and pepper salad in mayonnaise were on the breakfast table this week, as were reheated spaghetti and chicken nuggets. I ate the beans but gave the mayonnaise a wide berth: Peace Corps staff and other seasoned volunteers have shared stories of fragile Americans who tangled too soon with aging egg-based products, with explosive results. I didn’t get to the spaghetti and chicken this morning, being distracted by the halva and mushroom pilaf. Elsa packed the chicken and pasta for my lunch, chopping and mixing it before rolling it in lavash. If you are a fan of Discovery ID you will know dead bodies and other things that villains wish to hide are almost always rolled up in rugs before being smuggled past innocent bystanders. Lavash is the Armenian equivalent of the rolled rug.
The people two doors down have a cow in their back garden and so fresh milk, heated to kill any germs, is often served. My concern isn’t the lack of pasteurization. I just don’t much like milk, either hot or cold. I prefer tea, which here is always served without milk. Sometimes homemade black currant jam is offered, to be used as a sweetener. The first time I was passed a small dish of berries and a spoon, I ate the whole plate as though it was a dessert. No-one batted an eyelid, but I have since watched entire families share what I devoured, spooning only five or six berries into each cup of tea served. Oh dear. Embarrassed of Armenia.
Sometimes a new dish appears at breakfast. Spinach pan fried in butter and supplemented by a lightly beaten egg is a favorite of mine. It’s good freshly made and hot, and surprisingly palatable when it turns up again at dinner, this time cold.
In every house, sheets of lavash the size of medieval shields are bought in bulk from specialist neighborhood bakers and stored in a cool, dark and perhaps slightly damp pantry in each Armenian home. The piles are thick enough and long enough to make a comfortable bed for a small princess. Before it is served, the lavash is cut into slices the size and thickness of a Sunday magazine double spread. These sheets are folded in two and piled high in the breadbasket that always sits on the kitchen counter. I have noticed that the basket is always topped up before it is empty. There must be lavash in the bottom of ours that is older than some of my fellow volunteers.
I keep forgetting just how young that is. In a language lesson today we had to ask each other questions about people we liked and disliked– something to do with objects and possessive pronouns. Thinking to stick with an Armenian theme, but move past the Kardashians, I asked my class mates what they thought of Charles Asnavour. Blank stares ensued. I sang a bar or two of She. Nothing. When I YouTubed the song I discovered it was a hit in 1974, more than 40 years ago. Depressing.