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Cook your organic dinner in the wild

Cook your organic dinner in the wild image

Zhora Hambardzumyan and his son Artyom prepare your freshly caught fish on an open fire. (Photo by Areg Vardanyan, My Armenia Program)

At the bottom of a steep gorge alongside the Vorotan River, Zhora Hambardzumyan and his family prefer to live close to nature. You can cook a meal of fresh vegetables and fish, from nature to the table, with Zhora’s family.

When Zhora was a young man, growing up in the village of Vaghatin, the Vorotan River was deep and full of fish, especially red trout. Due to construction development threatening the fish population, Zhora returned to his home village in 1995 and began breeding red trout to replenish the population—now releasing upwards of 25,000 into the river each year. As Zhora shows you the fish pools, you may feed the trout and even catch some for a delicious lunch.

Thanks to Zhora and his son Artyom Hambardzumyan, a healthy variety of fruits and vegetables now thrive in riverside gardens and greenhouses, as well as abundant wild asparagus in the surrounding mountainsides of the Vorotan River Gorge. You may now enjoy the literal fruits of Zhora’s labors, and learn how the renewed life along the river is helping to restore the area’s rich traditions of Armenian foodways.

After a short tour of the garden and poplar tree forest, Zhora and Artyom will show you a special way to cook wild asparagus on a bonfire by placing it inside an envelope of willow tree bark. Zhora and Artyom cut the bark from pruned willow branches and of course, they regularly plant new trees to maintain the balance. Willow bark is the best fit for cooking on an open fire as it provides the right level of humidity and adds a pleasant, woodsy taste to the dish. Use the bonfire to grill your freshly-caught trout as well.

Depending on the time of year, the meal’s local ingredients are drawn from what’s in season and may include broccoli, celery cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes, as well as apples, apricots, cherries, figs, grapes, peaches, pears, and plums. The feast concludes with some of Zhora’s homemade wines and vodka, which provide the perfect opportunity for you to learn some traditional Armenian toasts.

Meet your host

Because of his fond childhood memories and attachment to his birthplace and nature, Zhora Hambardzumyan decided to return and establish a garden here in Vaghatin where he cultivates a selection of new, high-value crops, including asparagus, broccoli, celery, and greens. The area is located in the gorge below the Vorotnavank Monastery—a medieval historical site and architectural monument. Zhora has a saying that has become his motto for this initiative, “Give back to nature what you took when you were young.” He believes that nothing is impossible; you just need to take steps to implement your ideas, which will then bring tangible results. This garden and its hosts are so popular in the whole region that many people like to visit on weekends to enjoy Zhora’s hospitality and charm.

My Armenia Program

My Armenia Program

My Armenia Program

My Armenia Program

My Armenia Program

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