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Learn to cook Syrian-Armenian fusion cuisine

Learn to cook Syrian-Armenian fusion cuisine  image

Feast on delicious Syrian-Armenian fusion cuisine after your hard work. (Photo by Areg Vardanyan, My Armenia Program)

After moving to Armenia from Syria, Sevan Haboyan and her family chose cozy Ashtarak instead of settling in the capital Yerevan. In this cooking class, you will experience a distinctive mix of Syrian and Armenian traditions—all in the kitchen of their Old Ashtarak Restaurant.

As soon as you enter Old Ashtarak, you are transported into the ambiance of a centuries-old history of Armenian culture, influenced by its place amongst ancient civilizations and the back-and-forth migrations of its residents. Through this historic building and the delicious dishes prepared within, Sevan and her family are helping to reinvigorate the life of Syrian-Armenian food traditions.

Using a recipe perfected and passed down through generations, she will teach you how to make the popular ishli kufta and filo pastry. Making ishli kufta is an art form and takes a true master, made with techniques shared between mother and daughter for centuries. At Old Ashtarak, you will have a rare hands-on opportunity to learn Mrs. Sevan’s secret techniques and prepare these lemon-shaped spiced meatballs covered with a mixture of meat and bulgur wheat.

Sevan will describe the wide range of spices used in Middle Eastern cuisine and how she combines these ingredients to make a delicate seasoning, which she adds into the beaten kufta meat filling. Then, you will help prepare the outer layer of ishli kufta. It’s a gentle skill, but Sevan will teach you how to form the outer shells into elongated lemon shape. Getting it perfect takes patience and skill to ensure they don't break up while cooking. Finally, you'll stuff and close this lemon-shaped shell to encase the meat filling. There are two ways to cook ishli kufta—by boiling and by frying. Sevan, following the Syrian-Armenian tradition, prefers to fry them, so that ishli kufta gets a golden crunchy crust while keeping the inside moist and flavorful.

While the ishli kufta cooks, Sevan will teach you how to prepare a traditional Middle Eastern filo pastry called pakhlava. Although it seems like an easy recipe, the filo pastry actually takes three to four days to prepare. With dough prepared in advance, you’ll fill your own pastries with a variety of local ingredients, including walnuts, honey, and other spices. To finish, Sevan will show you how to neatly wrap it or cut it into flower-like shapes and then bake so it gets a nice flaky texture.

Enjoy your handmade ishli kufta and pakhlava, as well as other delicious Syrian-Armenian and Eastern Armenian dishes for lunch or dinner in the cozy restaurant or in Old Ashtarak’s garden. You will leave pleasantly full of delicious food and with new cooking skills to impress your family and friends. You’ll also gain a better understanding of how both Armenian culture and cuisine influenced Syrian cuisine in the early 1900s and vice versa, and how ethnic Armenians brought those Syrian-Armenian traditions back to their homeland today.

Meet Your Host

The history of Old Ashtarak Restaurant reflects various layers of the history of Ashtarak and of Armenians’ forced relocations, and everlasting quest to live in their homeland. Born in Syria, two generations of this family "found" each other and fell in love in Armenia - Sevan and her husband in Soviet Armenia, and their son Hovig and his wife Dalar in the present-day independent Republic of Armenia. In 2015, the family decided to settle in Ashtarak, and in 2016 opened Old Ashtarak Restaurant. Despite personal difficulties, they have always made their restaurant a welcoming and family-friendly place. Here, they share both well-known Syrian-Armenian and local Eastern-Armenian dishes. Uniting all the family members’ skills and efforts, they continue to build an Armenian mosaic, based on the memories of Old Ashtarak located in its historic buildings and supplemented with memories of their Syrian-Armenian community.

Enjoy delicious food and learn how to make some yourself!

Photo by Areg Vardanyan, My Armenia Program

Photo by Areg Vardanyan, My Armenia Program

Photo by Areg Vardanyan, My Armenia Program

Photo by Areg Vardanyan, My Armenia Program

Photo by Areg Vardanyan, My Armenia Program

Photo by Areg Vardanyan, My Armenia Program

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