Easter is the most important religious holiday in Armenia and, naturally, a special meal takes place after the service. I would like to share with you a typical Easter meal I experienced in Armena.
Churches throughout the country are packed full for the services. Afterwards, families gather at a home for the Easter meal. The Easter of 2012 I celebrated with a family I have known for many years.
The Easter menu in eastern Armenia differs from that of western Armenians where the preferred main course is fish instead of lamb. A fish meal makes more sense as a gentler way of breaking a 40-day fast which Armenians observe in individualistic ways. The fish is not just any fish, but a succulent type of trout called “Ishkhan” found in the icy Lake Sevan. Armenian festive meals are usually long and punctuated with many rounds of toasts with wine and vodka.
The table is laid out with platters of assorted of fresh herbs, Armenian cheeses, fresh vegetables and pickled foods. Armenians pickle everything, including some herbs. The preferred way to eat them is wrapping cheese and herbs in parchment-thin sheets of bread called Lavash. In Armenia you will find many types of quality of this ancient bread. The most appreciated type, made with whole-wheat flour, is almost transparent. This part of the menu is already a meal in itself – and sometimes it is. Armenians cherish good food but they are just as happy with a piece of salty cheese, lavash and some herbs. If anyone asked me what my favorite meal is, this would be it.
Next comes the Ishkhan, purchased fresh from the market the day before.
The cook will cut it into large sections and place then on a bed of herbs in a steamer over simmering water. When cooked the plump and fragrant fish is placed on a platter with the herbs. If a pomegranate is available, the seeds are strewn over the fish to give a slightly tangy contrast. The fish just melts in your mouth. “Easter is not Easter without Ishkhan,” you’ll hear said.
The course following Ishkhan, is a festive rice Pilav served on a tray, topped with sautéed dried fruits of raisins, prunes, apricots and almonds.
Some time later, after the table is cleared, and a new setting is readied for the tea table. Other guests arrive to continue the next phase of the holiday meal where pastries and sweets are served with tea. The day shifts to evening and then slowly fades away.