Capsicums and the Spirit of competition in the Caucasus

Picture credit:Peter Barron

The Dezerter market in Tbilisi is so-called because soldiers in a Russian-Georgian war (1920s) went there to dump their guns when they tired of fighting. Deserting trends there still. The market stall holders were asked to vacate the hall a decade ago to allow a renovation of the building. Many of them never went back, preferring to set up shop on the pavements surrounding the massive warehouse. The sellers would have to pay rent in the market hall, but can squat in the alleyways for free.

Picture credit: Linda Jackman

Tina is one of the few traders inside, preferring the cool of the hall to the heat of the street, and proud of her city-approved hygiene certification. Tina makes a variety of pickles and relishes including a very good green pepper sauce. At first she handed us samples on small plastic paddles. When these ran out she poured her pepper preparations straight on to our palms inviting us to lick them off. The pepper must have anti bacterial properties for none of us suffered any ill effects. I still shudder when I think of the condition of the hand rails we’d clutched that day before we met Tina.

Picture credit: Linda Jackman

Encouraged by our enthusiasm for her condiments, Tina opened a bottle of what she calls Lady Cha Cha. This tasted like a fortified wine loaded with every soft fruit and berry imaginable. The base is cognac. One sip and it was Christmas. Many bags and knapsacks clinked by the time we moved on.

Delicious drinks and peppers in various forms were not confined to Tbilisi.

Back in Armenia we spent a night at the Hyelandz Eco Resort close to Garni and an Armenian Garden of Eden. Arthur has planted the place with fruit trees of every type. They keep goats and make their own cheese. There are aviaries. Caroline has designed the Lebanese-influenced menu and among the delights is Muhammara, a dip of homegrown red peppers and walnuts. Spread on the resort’s own bread or dried Lavash it makes the perfect lunch, washed down with a glass or two of Arthur’s home made red wine. We supplemented dinner with glasses of estate-produced cherry and walnut liqueurs. Could we fit a bottle of each in our baggage? It seemed we could.

Picture credits: Peter Barron

Caroline’s Muhammara was nearly matched by a simple dish we were served at Aland Resort in Yenokavan, high in the mountains above Ijevan. Green peppers this time, finely chopped and sautéed in olive oil with garlic and served with hunks of bread. It doesn’t sound like much, but it made a perfect outdoorsy lunch

We had a balcony in Gosh and it seemed like a good idea to order a bottle of wine to enjoy there before dinner. Bistro-owner Anahit took our order for a bottle of dry red wine without comment. We watched the sun go down as she brought glasses, giving them an elaborate polish before she set them down. A few minutes later we saw a five year old running across the square beneath us carrying a newly purchased bottle in front of him as though it were an outsize rolling pin. It was rose. It was warm But least it was dry. We drank it.

“Maybe we should take a bottle of our Georgian red with us to dinner?” I mused as I saw the shutters go up on the local store.

“You’ll need to ask if that’s ok”.

I broached the subject with Anahit who seemed most alarmed.

“What was wrong with the bottle I brought you earlier?” She wanted to know.

“Nothing at all” we reassured her “it’s just that we drank it”

“Ay Elizabeth jan” said Anahit and handed over the corkscrew.

Anahit produced a lentil soup we liked nearly as much as the Cornelian Cherry soup and the Rosehip, Cognac and Lemon soup we sampled at the Flying Ostrich in Dilijan. And we liked those quite a bit. Honestly though, Anahit’s tiny roast poussin, and cucumber, tomato and herb salad beat the Dolmama sister restaurant’s main courses by a Caucasian country mile. Across a week of very fine– and absolutely straightforward– dining, our favorite dinner was the fish barbecue, bbq potatoes and salad served by Hotel Lavash in Sevan. Fresh, simple and served by the lake. Go there whenever you possibly can.

Following a highly enjoyable wine-tasting at Vino Underground in Tbilisi I was eager to make sure the small wineries of Armenia weren’t ignored.

I booked us a session with Mariam at In Vino in Yerevan

Peter became uncharacteristically flushed and excited after the eighth half glass which this time was filled with a deep red Alluria Reserve, made in Etchmiadzin, just outside Yerevan.

“I enjoyed these much more than the Georgian wines” he said.

Mariam beamed and so did I. My smile was pretty slack by then.

The next day– heads beautifully clear– we visited GUM fruit and vegetable market close to where I stay in Yerevan. It doesn’t sprawl quite as much as Dezerter does and the market hall is full of traders selling everything from chicken feet to cheese and willow baskets to braided sorrel. A great deal of work goes into each display.

“Beautiful stuff” said Peter “and so orderly”.

Another score for Armenia.


About Liz Barron

Returned US Peace Corps Volunteer (Armenia 17-19). Permanent address in Washington DC. Deep roots in Northern Ireland and persistent Belfast accent. Blogger, cook, painter, mother, grandma, Scrabble-player and enthusiastic world traveller.
This entry was posted in Armenia, Cooking, Cross-cultural understanding, drinking, eating out, Food, food safety, Georgia, Lake Sevan, Tbilisi, Things that gladden the heart, travel, Vacation spots, Village life, wine. Bookmark the permalink.

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