Today comes the time that we must again eliminate a national cuisine that we enjoyed a great deal. Whichever of Armenian or Malaysian food has made its last featured appearance on The World Cup of Food has been a pleasure to prepare and especially to eat.
Soups play an important role in Armenian cuisine. Armenian winters, high in the Caucasus Mountains, are long and cold, and hot, heartwarming soups and stews are served almost daily in the Armenian home.
We cooked meat over a wood fire, made another (though certainly not our last) pilaf, played with new ingredients like fresh, whole bamboo shoots and quail eggs, and put ground beef on a salad. Armenia and Laos are probably as geographically separated as any two potential qualifiers in this competition, and that distance is reflected in the differences between the cuisines. Armenian food is a showcase of one or two key ingredients with minimal use of spices. Lao cooks throw as many spices and (to our Western sensibilities, at least) unusual flavor combinations at the eater as possible. The pressing question is: which approach do we prefer?
In Armenian cuisine, the use of fruits like pomegranate and apricot to compliment grilled meat was seemingly unorthodox at first, but having prepared and eaten the food now seems obvious. Tart, sweet fruits and charred, rich pork were a natural fit together, and the rice pilaf on the side was, in spite of its simplicity, surprisingly rich and complex. The tradition of outdoor cooking was an added bonus, especially here and now in our beautiful Puget Sound summer.
Lao food was very different than that of its neighbors with which we are more familiar, Thailand and Vietnam. Amanda Hesser, writing about Lao cuisine for the New York Times in 1985, said “…nothing we tasted reminded us of Thailand or of Vietnam. Every flavor vindicated the distance we had traveled; every sip of that rice wine told us we were in Laos.” Before this meal, we hopefully expected Lao food to take the best aspects of Thai and Vietnamese and meld them into some kind of supercuisine; what we found was something different entirely, flavors unfamiliar and even a little weird but ultimately good.
In the end, we felt that despite the strengths of either cuisine, one stood out more than the other. This time, the simple, easy to prepare, but ultimately rich and flavorful food of Armenia won out.
Armenia will next be featured in its match in the last qualifying round against Malaysia.
Coming next is Trinidad & Tobago versus Colombia.
Like most of western Asia, Armenia has its own take on the pilaf. Here we have prepared a simple Armenian rice pilaf with broken angel hair pasta pieces (recipe follows), a popular version in Armenia, which seemed like a perfect pairing for our khorovadz.
Armenia is in the center of the Caucasus mountains of western Asia, and its people have a culture and cuisine closely related to its historic neighbors Turkey, Arabia, and Persia. Importantly, the spread of Islam throughout the region did not take in Armenia like in some other places, and as a result Armenia is one of the few countries in the region that has a place for pork at the national table, like in the famous grilled meat dish khorovadz (recipe follows). Other key products of the Armenian kitchen are pilafs (of either rice or bulgur), flatbreads, fresh or dried fruits, walnuts, and stuffed and rolled vegetable leaves like grape, radish, cabbage, or chard.