Hey Jan, Ghapama!

While growing up my father used to occasionally break out into Armenian song. You never knew what he was going to start singing, there was no lead-in humming or forewarning.

From time to time we would here him blare out (transliterated), "Hey jan, ghapama! Hamov, hodov ghapama..." This translates as, "Hey, dear, ghapama! Delicious smelling ghapama..." When I finally asked him several years ago what ghapama actually was, he replied, "Ghapama is... it's ghapama, I don't know..."

He first heard the song on a Soviet-era record he had purchased in Beirut of music from Armenia, mostly folk songs and some instrumental pieces. Several years ago I ran across the exact same recordings on CD. One of the songs was "Ghapama," and I understood why he took such a liking to it since the melody is very catchy and the guy who's trying to entice listeners to eat the ghapama sounds very jovial but ancient, too, like he's singing with toothless gums. The song is actually hilarious, I'm not going to pretend otherwise.

Naturally during my travels in Armenia, whenever I bothered to remember I would make inquiries about the significance and meaning of "ghapama," in other words what it was and how I could eat it, assuming it was a food. Most of the time I was met with shrugged shoulders and bewildered faces. Very few people actually know what it is.

Finally I asked my mother-in-law a few months back if she happened to know what ghapama was, having remembered my interest in it when I glanced through an Armenian cook book that was lying on the table. She said she had never eaten it but only knew it involved a pumpkin and rice. She didn't know exactly if they were mated with one another, or eaten separately or anything else about whatever it was supposed to be, but she recalled seeing a recipe for it in the book and promised she would prepare it for me some day.

To my surprise that day came on Friday. She placed on a dish a quarter portion of a pumpkin, which had been roasted in an oven, filled with a pilaf of short-grain rice, cinnamon, sliced apples, raisins and dried apricots. She cautioned me before I sampled it that she made it according to the instructions and didn't improvise, so if I didn't fancy the ghapama it was not the fault of her cooking.

I didn't know what to expect of it quite honestly, I figured it wouldn't be very tasty, rather bland and lacking pizazz. I grew up eating various varieties of squash prepared in different ways, baked, boiled, even sauteed. My grandmother used to make pumpkin pie once a year, and I always seemed to enjoy it. So I delved into the ghapama without further thought of her warning and was rather pleased, it was light tasting and delicate. The pumpkin flesh was naturally sweet and supple, and the pilaf with the swollen, warm white raisins was fantastic. Simple food, that if prepared properly (and most of the success was due to the quality of the pumpkin, undoubtedly) can be quite satisfying.

Too bad no one knows what the hell it is.

Photos by Gohar Khachatrian


Vrejouhy said…
Hi Christian , yes I know what Ghapama is and I even made it for my family here in Canada last Thanksgiving and Christmas , I followed Raffi's recipe from his cook book , it was so tastey .check armeniapedia.org
Diana said…
I have an inquiry that I hope you and your readers are able to help me.

I am planning to go to Armenia this summer for volunteering on a conservation project at Gyumri. I would very much like to stay with a local family for 2 weeks. I will pay the family for my stay and foods. I don't need a great room, but clean and safe. I also would like to get to know the family and culture. I could reached at dc44120@hotmail.com. Diana

p.s. I am a mature and professional individual/woman.

Popular Posts