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Cook Armenian pumpkin dish, ghapama, and bread in a pur

Cook Armenian pumpkin dish, ghapama, and bread in a pur image

Final meal of ghapama and fresh bread. (Photo by Areg Vardanyan, My Armenia Program)

The Iris Guesthouse in Alaverdi has taken an innovative approach to centuries-old culinary traditions since Irina Israyelyan founded it in 2010. Irina offers many cooking classes for you to explore the rich culinary traditions of Lori in a warm atmosphere. For this experience, you will prepare ghapama or stuffed pumpkin—the heart of many festive tables, and even the subject of a popular Armenian song.

You will start with stuffing the pumpkin with rice, various local dried fruits, and nuts. When you and Irina are satisfied with the sweet combination, you will place the pumpkin into an oven to gently cook it to perfection before topping with honey, raisins, and even more nuts. Watch inside Irina’s outdoor brick oven, or pur, as the ghapama’s delicious aromas and special sweetness fill the air and as its crust becomes golden brown. This richly flavored dish is both filling and healthy and pleases even the most discriminating palates.

Nowadays, most people cook ghapama at home in ordinary ovens, though some traditional cooks prefer an underground clay oven known as tonir. Other traditionalists such as Irina use an outdoor pur, with brick walls that retain the heat in order to cook the pumpkin slowly and evenly.

With the rise of healthy lifestyles and vegetarian diets in recent years, this traditional pumpkin dish now appears on many restaurant menus—as a first course, a side dish with meat, or on its own as a dessert. Of course, you can’t fully appreciate ghapama without also singing the popular song.

A must for any visitor to Alaverdi is to try traditional bread baking with Irina. It simply can’t be missed. You will learn about ancient Armenian bread-baking folk traditions and beliefs, an experience that will leave your hands doughy and your mind amazed. In Lori, bread is traditionally baked in a brick oven called pur, a technique unique to Lori, although even here it is becoming something of a rarity. The result of mixing four simple ingredients—flour, water, salt, and yeast—under Irina’s skillful guidance will mesmerize you. However, you should be ready for the challenge of kneading. This is what guarantees the iconic crackled crust and the pillowy center of the golden loaf.

Bring some sunshine to the table with this festive favorite on your visit to Lori, where you can satisfy your wanderlust while also pampering your palate.

Meet your host

During Soviet times, Irina taught music to children in Alaverdi, but like thousands of other professionals, she had to change careers following the economic collapse of the early 1990s. However, she gladly took part in new initiatives, including establishing her guesthouse in Alaverdi. Irina believes in the power of teamwork and has greatly contributed to the creation and retention of hospitality networks in the region. Irina's approach is to share with guests the local culture of warm hospitality through food.

My Armenia Program

My Armenia Program

My Armenia Program

My Armenia Program

My Armenia Program

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