Thanks to its very large Armenian Diaspora community, the Greater Los Angeles area home to a number of outstanding Armenian restaurants. One of those restaurants, chef Edward Khechemyan's Adana, was the subject of a recent article by New York Times food writer Mark Bittman, who loves the restaurant so much that he goes there during every trip he makes to Los Angeles.
On a recent visit, Bittman had a chance to watch Khechemyan -- whose family has Armenian, Russian and Iranian roots (and, based on the restaurant's name, some connection to Turkey, as well) -- in action. From his piece:
One of my trips to L.A. was actually a trip to Glendale, arranged so that I could cook with Khechemyan. I was immediately impressed with his facility and his ease and especially his grilling technique. In his kitchen, Khechemyan moves quickly, and within 30 minutes, we had done four kebabs. The marinades are simple (he uses a lot of mild dried red chili powder, the kind you can most easily buy in Korean markets), and the grilling technique is not difficult. But it’s unusual: he grills slowly (over briquettes fired with gas, by the way), not too close to the fire, he insists, until gorgeously browned. The fire is not superhot, but it’s even — gas is good for that — and he keeps the grill grate a good six inches above the fire.
It wasn’t all grilling. Two of the best dishes we cooked were Iranian (“Persian,” Khechemyan clarifies). The first was baghali polo, extra-long basmati rice boiled halfway then steamed with garlic powder (an ingredient I haven’t used in 20 years or so, but hey . . . ), fava or lima beans and an infield’s worth of fresh dill. The other, a salad, is something I’ve been making all summer; if I were you, I’d just start chopping.
As reported on this blog the other day, a recent UNESCO decision to add keshkek, a traditional Anatolian stew usually served on the morning of weddings, to its "Intangible Heritage" list on behalf of Turkey, has led to outrage in Armenia, which claims the dish -- known there as harissa -- as its own. In fact, as the News.Am website reports, a group of "young Armenian ethnographers are gathering all information on Harissa so as to appeal this decision."
Feeling burned by UNESCO's decision, another group of Armenians is now taking steps to safeguard what they believe to be the Armenian lineage of tolma, stuffed grape leaves or other vegetables, which are frequently also served in Turkey, where they are known as dolma. As the Aysor.Am website reports, the president of an Armenian NGO known as the "Preservation and Development of Armenian Culinary Traditions Public Organization" is urging the Armenian government to take the steps necessary to get UNESCO to recognize tolma as part of Armenia's "Intangible Heritage," particularly in light of what it believes are Azeri efforts to lay claim to the dish.
This is not the first time the group has raised alarms over who owns the right to claim tolma and other dishes as their own. From an article that ran in September on the Arminfo website:
It's time to save the Armenian national dishes, President of the "Preservation and Development of Armenian Culinary Traditions" Public Organization Sedrak Mamulyan said during a press-conference on Friday.
DIsputes over who was the first to cook a certain dish are not a new thing for Turkey and its neighbors. Of course, there is the ongoing argument over whether it was the Turks or the Greek Cypriots who invented baklava, or about who was the first in the neighborhood to stir coffee and lots of sugar in a pot of boiling water and serve it up in a demitasse.
Now it appears that UNESCO may have inadvertently helped start a whole new regional food fight, this time between Turkey and Armenia. Along with Korean traditional tightrope walking and Mexican Mariachi music, the UN body recently voted to add keskek, a traditional Anatolian stew usually served on the morning of weddings, to its "Intangible Heritage" list. The porridge-like stew, made of lamb or chicken cooked with wheat berries, is cooked in large cauldrons that can feed hundreds of hungry guests.
While Turks were probably firing up big pots of Keskek to celebrate UNESCO's decision, Armenians were crying foul. As ArmeniaNow.com reports:
One of the most popular dishes of the Armenian ethnic cuisine – harisa – has appeared this week on the UNESCO list of world heritage as a Turkish national dish called Keshkesk. The news has outraged many in Armenia.
Sedrak Mamulyan, heading Development and Preservation of the Armenian Culinary Traditions NGO, says harisa can absolutely not be Turkish.
Los Angeles is home to one of the world's largest Armenian diaspora communities and, as would be expected, Armenian food is starting to make its way into the local culinary culture. In a very informative blog post, the LA Weekly takes a look at how LA locals are looking at Armenian food and at some local Armenian hotspots, such as Zankou Chicken and Raffi's Place. The article can be found here.
Brooklyn has plenty of Russian, Central Asian and Turkish restaurants. But what about when you're hungering for a bowl of Armenian khash (boiled cow's feet)? According to the Armenian Mirror-Spectator, an Armenian-American newspaper, the only place to get it in Brooklyn would be the Garden Bay Cafe in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn's sole Armenian restaurant. More details here.
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