We’ve stated early and often that we’re food fanciers not food historians, so we’ve tried to steer clear of claims that any dish is uniquely Armenian.
|From YouTube: Turkish villagers
Our premise when we began this blog was to embrace as Armenian food anything that Armenians eat.
In my case, of course, that would include hot fudge sundaes — although, it really shouldn’t, for a number of reasons. The lesson is that some things aren’t so easy to define or to avoid.
But identity politics is a powerful thing, and it’s clear that Armenians must define their food or others will define it for us.
There’s been a clear and ominous trend in recent years among our not-always-friendly neighbors to label certain dishes as Turkish or Azerbaijani in origin. Our friend and frequent correspondent, the writer Lucine Kasbarian, brought the latest instance of menu poaching to our attention.
A cultural arm of the United Nations recently certified keshkeg as Turkish. Known by various names, it’s a familiar and filling winter-time stew of mashed wheat and meat, usually lamb or chicken. It has a consistency and appearance similar to oatmeal and is often seasoned with cumin.
Armenians have been making it for centuries. So apparently has everyone else in the ‘hood, with variations, including Persians and Greeks.
There’s nothing odd about that. We know food travels, although its exact path is sometimes hard to trace. But there are real food historians in Armenia, and we’ve noted their efforts to define and refine Armenian food as a distinct cuisine.
They seem certain that the original version sprang from the distinctly Armenian earthen ovens called tonirs. The stove-top pot version —or, in the Old World, the open-hearth version — is an evolutionary step. Turkish cooking, they note, does not include the use of the tonir.
I’m just old enough to remember the lingering euphoria over the UN’s birth after the Second World War and the hope that it would be a major and lasting force for world peace.
I think it’s fair to say that didn’t exactly work as planned. But really, how in the world is it now the UN’s business to be poking its fingers in our soup bowls?