To Gyumri to attend the Cow Head Festival, run by Mr. Digital Pomegranate (not his real name). For me, Caleb and Matt (the two big, bearded Southern gentlemen pictured), the event kicked off at 5pm on Saturday and cost 1000 AMD each–about $2. For our fellow Peace Corps Volunteer Thong Do, the party started a full day before–just about the same time as things started to go badly downhill for the cows. Thong was invited to document every aspect of the party preparations. That’s an offal lot of photos. Do you think he got the cow’s best side?
There is about 25 kg of meat on one cow’s head and so oven-baking took about 24 hours.There were five cow heads altogether, for a party of about 75 people. There were still pieces of grass stuck between our cow’s teeth, although they’d been browned in the oven. We had a giant platter of cheek, tongue and brains all to ourselves. There weren’t enough eyeballs to go round, so we nobly passed on those. I don’t think ears were on offer. Shame. The meat was all a bureaucratic shade of brown and the brains, served in a pouch of lavash, were creamish grey. Nothing tasted of anything much until enlivened with chopped chili, or mustard–the first we’ve seen on an Armenian table in 9 months. The cheek meat was glazed on the outside, and chewy in a good way. The tongue was coarse and linty–a tangle of tiny strings. The brains were soft yet rubbery. Caleb was brought up to eat everything on his plate, because waste is a sin. Quite quickly, he regretted the large dollop of cow smarts sitting spongily in front of him. He finished them though, although we all agreed that some cornmeal, beaten egg and hot oil would have helped the brains mightily. The meat was served with bread, lavash, tomatoes, cucumber, pickles, and herbs and washed down with vodka, wine, beer, juice, water or tan–a yogurt drink.The boys stuck to the vodka and beer and I monopolized the wine. All in all, it was one of the jolliest evenings we’ve had since arriving in Armenia. As the novelty of the cow heads waned, the Armenian dancing started. The party, I’m told, went on until 2am. I left when the accordion struck up at about 8pm. This was Gyumri’s first annual Cow Head Festival, part of an effort to raise the visibility of Armenia’s second city, which is still recovering from the after effects of 1988’s earthquake. The city–both beautiful and interesting– is worth visiting even on weekends without a Cow Head Festival, but my plan is to come back again next November. It was a great occasion, and really good fun.
To see Thong Do’s photos taken all over the world, go to http://www.theiconichand.com/