We took the night train from Tbilisi to Yerevan. Arriving in Armenia 11 hours later, we were feeling disoriented, groggy, and ravenous.
When Shawn and I chanced upon some ladies baking lavash flatbread inside a restaurant next to our apartment, we immediately perked up. Sensing our curiosity about the baking process, an employee motioned for us to wait at the counter.
She also handed us a plate filled with a bunch of grapes. This was a fitting act of kindness given that wine has been made in Armenia for thousands of years.
A few minutes later, the woman treated Shawn to a sheet of lavash. It was still warm when he devoured it. Instinctively, she must have known that he loses all self-control when fresh bread appears on the scene.
Watching lavash being prepared is a pleasure. However, it’s hard work for the baker.
First, the baker lowers her lower body into a hole in the ground and has a seat.
She then takes a ball of dough and rolls it into a thin sheet.
From there, she stretches the sheet of elastic dough onto a baking apparatus that looks like a firm pillow or cushion.
Next, the baker uses this cushion to slap the dough into an underground oven called a tonir.
In about 45 seconds, the lavash is slightly crispy and ready to remove from the tonir.
Using a wire hook, the baker extracts the lavash from the subterranean oven and places it onto a pile. Over time, the mass of lavash grows tall, bringing to mind the pages of a handmade book.
Unfortunately, I can’t eat lavash since it’s made with wheat flour containing gluten. Shawn, however, acts as my taste buds during our travels. After a week in Armenia, he concluded that the lavash was especially delicious when filled with white cheese, as well as herbs like cilantro, parsley, and dill.
Like the Armenians we met, Shawn also liked using a sheet of lavash to wrap up almost any component of a meal — be it vegetables or chicken.
The lavash’s brilliance, Shawn explained, is that it’s so thin that it doesn’t fill you up. This apparently allows you to enjoy the rest of the dishes on the table without feeling like you’ve turned into the Michelin Man.
Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene.
A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia.
Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.
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33 thoughts on “Armenia, a Land of Lavash”
The lavash bread looks so good. Where are you spending your time during this pandemic?
Shawn is still talking about that lavash, even though several months have passed since our trip. :) I’m going to see if I can make a gluten-free version, using our standard oven.
We were in the Caucasus between August and December of last year and came to Croatia in early January. We’ve been here ever since. We have everything we need, and our parents are doing well in their respective corners of the world. It’s sunny here, though we only make it out for grocery trips.
Enjoy the rest of your Sunday!
Wonderful post! Loved seeing the process and results!
Kelly, thank you. So that I can finally enjoy the product as well, I’m going to see if I can make homemade, gluten-free lavash at home. :)
Ooh, I hope you share the story! Would love to know how it goes. Thanks, Tricia!
Beautiful photos, Tricia! It looks like you and Shawn had a wonderful trip. Such a great program to be able to have dinner at someone’s home!
Peggy, it’s great to hear from you! We did have a superb time in the Caucasus. Shawn and I were just saying the other day how we were lucky to get there before this pandemic. While we wait for the world to heal, we have a lot of beautiful travel memories to digest.
Speaking of the home-dining experience, I could envision you as a volunteer ambassador, too. We helped this company vet a few prospective hosts in Armenia and Georgia. However, experiences aren’t limited to the Caucasus, as they have hosts throughout the world.
Are you in California or Italy?
Thanks for your kind words, Tricia! That’s very cool that you were vetting prospective hosts! :) I’m so glad to hear you’re doing well and feeling good about getting some travels in before everything shut down. I hadn’t traveled this year yet, but that’s ok. I’m in San Diego, where I’ve been since I moved back to the US from Florence in Fall, 2018. I’m staying optimistic that travel will be possible again in the foreseeable future. We definitely have so many beautiful travel memories, as you say, and lots of time to relive them. :) Where are you and Shawn based at the moment?
Peggy, glad to hear you’re well and settled in a safe spot. Shawn and I have been in Croatia since the first week of January. We’d planned to go to Germany the first week of April, but plans changed. :) Even though we don’t make it out much (except for groceries), we have everything we need and we’re in a pretty town that’s sandwiched between the sea and mountains. There are some great trails here, and we’re looking forward to dirtying our trekking poles again. Hopefully someday soon. Enjoy the weekend!
That sounds fabulous, Tricia! I used to love visiting a friend in Kufstein, Austria, because the nearest hiking trailhead was a three minute walk from his apartment. I think of those hikes often. Good for you for staying positive about your change in plans. Are you comfortable in the housing you arranged in Croatia? That’s great that you were able to arrange to keep staying there. :) Yes, have a wonderful weekend, you and Shawn, too!
Hi Tricia and Shawn, good to know that you are at a safe place. I love your Lavash post, I am so familiar with Lavash, since I used to be married to a Persian man, inspite of that still Lavash is part of my daily meals.
I’m intrigued by how you make your lavash, because I’m guessing you don’t have a tonir / clay oven? :) Do you bake it in an oven, or perhaps use the wok technique (where you flip the wok upside down and cook the bread on the exterior)?
When we were in Yerevan, we befriended a female traveler from Iran. We spent a day traveling with her and she mentioned that many of Armenia’s customs are similar to Iran’s, including lavash. I’d love to visit Iran someday.
Hi Tricia, it is always such a pleasure to hear from you. Regarding Lavash, there might have happened a misunderstanding , I don’t make Lavash myself, I just buy it at a Persian store.
Indeed Armenians customs are very similar to Persian’s, as so many Armenians are living in Iran. For so many years as I was married to a Persian man, I would have loved to visit Iran, but because of his father’s background it was not possible. Still since I am divorced , I would love to take my camera to Iran. Stay safe my friend.
Great post. Really enjoyed reading and seeing the photos.
Tracey, I’m glad you enjoyed this look at lavash. Is there a specific type of bread that you’ve especially enjoyed during your travels?
Yep. I love Turkish simit! Especially with cream cheese!
I was in Istanbul a long time ago (10+ years), but I don’t recall trying simit. With all of those seeds, I bet it’s delicious. I’ve just found a gluten free simit recipe, and I’ll see how it turns out. Thanks for the recommendation, Tracey!
Holy cow that’s a lot of bread Tricia! Fascinating the amount of work it takes to make it. It must have killed you not to be able to eat it 😊. Enjoyed your details of the process although I must admit I’m more of a crusty sourdough boule kind of gal!
Abstaining from bread during our travels just means that I get get to enjoy a bit more cheese and chocolate in its place. :) At home, we bake our own bread though.
I’ve never tried to make gluten-free sourdough bread. Do you bake it at home, or do you have a special bakery in town?
Trisha, the photographs of the process of making lavish is marvellous. The making of bread, sharing and serving it, is an atavistic process that nourishes us, body and soul. Good bread is so important. In our restaurants we made various kinds of bread and rolls. Retired from the restaurant business we continue to bake our own bread. Cheers Virginia
Hi Virginia, I often bake my own gluten-free bread, and I love trying out different types of flour such as buckwheat, chickpea, etc. I’d love to hear more about the bread that you bake at home now — do you have a special oven? And do you think there is a great difference between dry yeast or fresh yeast?
Here in Croatia, we noticed that cubes of fresh yeast seemed to be the norm. However, once the virus changed shopping habits, the fresh yeast version sold out. We’re now back to using the packets of dry yeast.
Hi Tricia, Interesting that you question yeast. In our restaurants we used dry yeast, but for our pizzeria we used fresh yeast. The fresh yeast gave us quicker rising time and more loaf. Perfect for pizza. For our home baking we use a vacuum packed yeast. It’s a generous amount so we keep a small jar on hand and store the rest in the freezer. Since the covid 19 there has been a shortage of yeast and flour. We’ve noticed the last lot of yeast (not our usual brand) we bought didn’t give us the same results. The bread and buns even tasted different. Consequently we are making artisan bread with a starter (biga). Most of the packaged dry yeast sold today is referred to as “instant yeast”. You don’t have to proof it. We still start our yeast in warm water with a little sugar. Re our oven. There’s a splendid photograph of it on my blog Warm Chocolate Cake. When we are baking artisan bread and pizza we have a large stone we put into the oven. It give a lovely crust. Happy baking and stay well. cheers Virginia
Virginia, wow — thank you for sharing your baking secrets. :) I read them to my husband, Shawn. Just as your comment came in, he was doing his own bread baking research. Like you, those baking pros recommended using sugar (or honey) as a starter. Shawn incorporated a bit of honey into his dough the last two times he baked bread and said this makes a great difference. He asked me to relay his thanks to you.
Here in Croatia, we’ve also been learning about European flour numbering systems. It seems like they differ in Germany, Croatia, France, and Italy. I’m not sure how the flour numbering system works in Canada, but here, higher numbers tend to be more whole-grain in nature. Just today, I bought Shawn a bag of whole-grain flour so I imagine he’ll be baking again soon.
I’ll definitely have to take a peek at your Warm Chocolate Cake recipe. Perhaps it’s something we can make here.
Thank you again!
Hi Tricia. I’m glad I read this post on a full stomach! Trying as many local dishes as possible has become one of the things I look forward the most when I travel. And after sampling some really delicious Armenian food in the Armenian quarter of Beirut, Lebanon, I really want to go to the land where all these delectable cuisines come from. Thanks for this glimpse of what Armenia has to offer!
Hi Bama, I haven’t been to Lebanon. However, when I lived in Germany, two of my favorite restaurants served Lebanese fare. The display cases in those restaurants looked like jewel boxes. They were always dressed up with plates of colorful vegetables, as well as hummus and baba ghanoush topped with swirls of golden olive oil. Warak enab (grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs) was one of the sides that I regularly ordered.
We’ve since encountered a similar grape leaf recipe in parts of the Balkans, in Cyprus, and Armenia. In Armenia, they called these stuffed grape leaves dolma. It’s fascinating how different cultures share similar culinary elements. An Iranian friend that we met in Yerevan even said that Iran and Armenia share some of the same foods, to include lavash.
Do you remember any of the names of the dishes that you tried in Beirut’s Armenian quarter?
We tried eetch (bulgur salad), mante, su borek, and also this Armenian take on kibbeh nayeh, among other dishes whose names I can’t remember. Oh just thinking of them makes my stomach rumble! :)
How fascinating, Tricia. Although I’ve been a longtime fan of lavash, I had never seen it made before. And I’m sure that the Armenian version is quite delicious. Wonderful photos, as always.
The most interesting bread-making process I’ve seen was for injera Bread. When we lived in Khartoum, our backdoor neighbors were from Ethiopia. Every day, the women of the house would come to their courtyard and start a low charcoal fire. Over that they placed a huge (about 30 inches across) metal wok-shaped pan. Once the pan was hot they would pour in a thin batter, coating the entire surface. One minute later they would skillfully run a large crescent scraper under the crepe and scoop out the bread into a quarter-folded triangle. Then quickly apply more batter and repeat the entire process until they had made at least 30 “loaves.” They were preparing the Injera for their large extended family, where it was used as both bread and eating utensil to pick up food.
Are you two still in Croatia? It sounds like you’ve been sheltering in place like so many of us. Here in Lexington, things are starting to reopen, but the Covid cases are surging, so I don’t know what’s next. I hope you two are staying healthy and making lots of bread. :) Hugs, Terri
Hi Terri, how nice to hear from you! My reply is escargot-paced, I know. We (reluctantly) had to change apartments last month, as the apartment we’d been staying in for about 5 months had another reservation. Those guests booked it long before the pandemic started. But yes, we’re still in Croatia. Fortunately, the government has allowed people “trapped” here to extend their stays. Before Covid, we’d planned to go to Germany in early April.
Thank you for sharing your memories of injera being made. When I first read your comment, I didn’t realize that I’d actually eaten injera before. Back when we lived in Heidelberg, Germany, we’d sometimes go to an Eritrean restaurant. The bread they served was also intended to be used like a utensil. It’s somewhat spongey, isn’t it? It’s nearing dinnertime here and I’m getting hungry just seeing those photos. What an incredible experience it must’ve been to live in Sudan.
I hope that you and James continue to be well. Have you been able to do some activities in nature? Hugs back at you. :)
Hi Tricia, That’s too bad you had to change apartments. Always a pain in the neck. But glad the government let you extend your stay. It definitely hasn’t been the time to be on the road.
You’re right about the Injera bread – very spongey. And since it’s made with teff it’s gluten free – perfect for you.
Being in nature has been our saving grace during the Pandemic. Lexington is surrounded by horse farms, so we’ve been going out to the country every few days to watch all the newborn foals frolic. There’s really nothing cuter. Stay safe and healthy. Hugs, Terri
I didn’t know that injera was made with teff. Based upon its nutritional profile, it sounds like a superfood.
I’m happy to hear that you have access to some fabulous natural spots in Kentucky. Being in nature is such a stress-reliever. I remember seeing some precious foals in Nevada, where Shawn’s parents live. I thought it was pretty fabulous that wild horses still roam parts of the countryside there.
Speaking of nature, we reluctantly had to change apartments again (tourists had booked “our” apartment for a few nights). As a result, we decided to go to the quieter community of Solin. We’re delighted to be able to go walking in the expansive Salona Archaeological Park. It’s perfect for physical distancing. Once things cool off, we’re looking forward to hiking on the nearby mountain slopes. I guess that the move was meant to be.
Continue to be well! :)
I just read your Armenia article in IL and came by to see more. Got to add Armenia (and Georgia) to the list! Hope we can travel next year. Canceling our trip to Germany and Poland this summer was so disappointing. How lucky for you to be passing the COVID in beautiful Croatia.
Thanks for reading my Armenia piece in International Living; I just saw the article myself. :)
During these past few months, we’ve indeed been fortunate to pass the time in Croatia. The coastal walks and mountain hikes have been incredibly refreshing. I’m so sorry to hear that you had to cancel your European travels this year, though. I hope that a vaccine and a better normal is just around the corner.
When you start preparing to visit the Caucasus, please feel free to ask me any questions. We spent 4 months there in total. The bulk of that time was in Georgia, but we also made trips to Armenia and Azerbaijan. The people of these 3 countries treated us with exceptional kindness and generosity, and I hope to return someday. While each one has its own culture, they all have fantastic natural scenery — everything from majestic mountains and mud volcanoes to seaside vistas. Their colorful and flavorful cuisines are also a delight to explore.
Take care. :)