Notes From Hairenik
August 18, 2005
There are a few options for quick-fix meals in Armenia, Yerevan especially, as the concept of fast food has still to take true hold here. In many places, especially shopping areas and near universities or institutes you can always find someone slicing shawerma (which originated in the Middle East and entails slowly roasting layers upon layers of chicken, beef, or pork on a rotating vertical spit) or grilling kebab beside a makeshift grill that faintly resembles the guts of a toaster. However, because there are really no enforced laws about meat preparation and especially storage in Armenia you never know what you’re going to get in terms of freshness and quality. Another option is to eat lahmajo, a.k.a. lahmejune, which also can be found most anywhere but also varies quite a bit in quality.

And then there is khachabouri, which is a type of pastry usually in the form of a triangle and is supposed to have a bit of cheese in the middle. Khachabouri is a Georgian delicacy, and from what I understand dozens of variations of the dough-and-cheese concept can be found throughout the country. It is very similar to “bureg” which is found in Western Armenian cuisine and also has several incarnations. A few such khachabouri variations managed to find themselves in Armenia.

Finding the right khachabouri is tricky though. The stuff they sell on street corners and small kiosks for around 100 drams are usually very brittle and as soon as you bite into crumble into small, annoying bits that you spend 10 minutes or more picking off your clothes. They are usually tasteless and difficult to digest. And from what I understand some street khachabouri does not even contain cheese (usually lori or chanakh I believe) but instead are sprinkled with simply salty water to give a slightly mock cheese flavor.

Khachabouri in its basic form is just densely layered paper-thin dough with a small amount of good cheese in the middle that melts when baked, shaped in a triangle or a square. In my experience the triangular ones sold by street vendors should not be consumed unless you are desperately hungry. You should try to find small bakeries or even some high-quality grocery stores to eat something decent.

The place to go, however, by those who know is called, oddly enough, Khachabouri, which has two locations in downtown Yerevan—one on Sayat Nova Street near the Ani Hotel and one on the corner of Khanjian and Alaverdian/Hanrapedutian. This place is fantastic, and if you have never eaten a khachabouri go here first to understand what it should be. Here it is fairly large, soft and chewy, with real cheese that you can see inside. The pastry dough is similar to a croissant as there are several layers, but the result is soft, slightly puffy. Each khachabouri costs about 150-200 dram but the quality is unmistakably good. They are continuously churned out throughout the day in small batches so that they are always fresh and warm. Here as well, other variations of authentic khachabouri can be found, including meat, which contains sautéed ground beef-onion-parsley mixture, and also ajama, which is a lasagna-type dish that has layers of cheese wedged between sheets of dough.

There are two other places that feature khachabouri on their menus, both Georgian restaurants, which is supposed to be the most close to authentic that you can find anywhere in Yerevan at least. One place is called Caucasus and is located at the very beginning of Alaverdian/Hanrapedutian Street. They have ajama as well as something that resembles a small pizza, with two layers of dough and fantastic cheese that oozes out one you cut into it. Old Tbilisi on Alec Manoukian Street near the Sayat Nova intersection supposedly has the best khachabouri in town with a very good selection, although I regrettably have not yet been there.

Then there is “Ajaragan” khachabouri, which originated supposedly in Ajaria. This dish is a oval shaped type of bread with a high crust but a shallow base, filled with thinly sliced cheese and a bit of oil, then baked for about 5-10 minutes. It is removed from the oven and an egg is cracked in the base, on top of the cheese, then baked again for 5-10 minutes, until the crust browns and the egg cooks (the yolk is meant to be runny). You can find this khachabouri at most restaurants throughout Yerevan. If I go someplace with a friend and am hungry but I don’t know how good the kitchen is, I usually order the “Ajaragan” since it’s a safe bet and is hard to screw up.

If you happen to be traveling though Dilijan by way of Sevan, stop by the bus station just before you enter the main rotary in the center of town, then cross the street and head towards the vendors there. They have a khachabouri there that is excellent, although it is triangular. It is soft as well as chewy, and a melted sprinkle of cheese can be found on top.

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3 Comments:
Anonymous Chrissy said...
aarrrrggggghhhhhhh, arrrrrrrrggghhhhhhhhhh, aaaaaaaaaammmmmmmmmmmhhhhhhhhh.....cheesy goodness.

Blogger JLD said...
How this post makes me homesick for Vanadzor. During my two years there I would go to this great little khachabouri place right off Tigran Metz, near the Central Square. The Ajaragan khachabouri was amazing. Now that I am back in the U.S. I would give anything to have one. There has to be a good place in DC. If anyone knows of a place let me know.

jeff
www.vochmeban.blogspot.com

Blogger Christian Garbis said...
I want to point out one more place that by far has the best khachabouri I have tasted in Armenia.
It can be found at a small grocery store near the corner of Tumanian and Moscovian, just across the street from the new Stop Club. It is loaded with cheese, very soft and flaky. Simply delish.

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