Dersim – Cuisine (Part A)

The Process of Preparing Food – Beliefs and Customs

Author: Sonia Tashjian, 05/07/24 (Last modified 05/07/24) - Translator: Simon Beugekian

Dersim is a unique land of mountains, impregnable and forested peaks, fathomless gorges, ancient Armenian forts, and numerous monasteries and villages. It is divided into two regions, the mountains and the valley, and living conditions within each region determine the locals’ commonly practiced occupations, lifestyle, and customs. Dersim boasts plentiful sources of water and mines, as well as mineral waters whose medicinal properties were once ascribed to the saints thought to inhabit the nearby holy sites. [1] The environment of the region is distinctive, and it endows the locals with distinctive traits.

The people of Dersim were generally semi-sedentary, and mostly practiced agriculture and animal husbandry. The hardy lifestyle and cold climate of the mountains required a complete diet, but strangely, the people of Dersim usually ate meat only in the winter months, while throughout the rest of the year, their diet consisted of dairy, cereals, and the local vegetation – cultivated and wild vegetables, fruits, and nuts. [2]

The main staple of the local diet was wheat, but alongside it, people grew barley, corn, sorghum, and lazout (maize) as supplementary cereals. They also grew legumes, such as lentils, peas, chickpeas, and green beans. Among oil-producing plants, they grew sesame, linseed, hemp, and sunflower. Due to the low temperatures, few vegetables thrived in Dersim. Each family, in its own vegetable garden, grew tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, garlic, beans, broad beans, eggplants, summer and winter squash, carrots, beets, potatoes, turnips, cabbages, radishes, mint, fennel, basil, parsley, garden cress, spinach, lettuce, etc. Fruits and nuts were collected from the forests.

From the highlands, flanks of the mountains, fields, and forests, the locals collected various herbs, berries, artichokes, and mushrooms, which they dried or pickled and preserved for use in the winter. Herbs were collected and widely used as food, medicine, and animal feed. Throughout the winter (especially on Lenten days), when snow still covered the ground, preserved herbs were an important staple of the local diet.

It required hard work and hardiness for the people of Dersim to have their five joums (meals) per day. The maxim “One cannot have bread outside the joums” makes us suppose that the locals usually ate nothing outside of these designated times. [3]

The five joums were:

1. Lisnpats: Around six in the morning. The meal consisted of milk skin, milk, and yogurt. Golemast was a breakfast dish consisting of mixed milk and yogurt.

2. Ghoushloukh: Around nine in the morning. The meal consisted of loghouz jajig [cottage cheese] (wrapped in lavash bread) or aged cheese, with pickles and herbs.

3. Orharsak: At noon, at 12:00 o’clock. Popular meals included tan [doogh, ayran] khash, pilaf with groats or erishde (kesme noodles), sroun, djmour (soup with breadcrumbs), seasonal fried meals, ghavourma meals, dolma, etc. All these meals were served with tan.

4. Edink: Before sunset, around four in the afternoon. The meal consisted of boiled eggs, aged cheese, pickles, and tan.

5. Irgnahats: In the evening, after sunset. The meal consisted of tan soup, followed by an omelet and any type of fried food.

Dishes were categorized as follows: ardnin (regular/daily), bahots (Lenten), anjour (simple meals cooked without oil or animal fat), holiday dishes, dishes served when honored guests visited, divine offerings (feast dishes), and funeral repast dishes.

Dairy products were an important component of the local diet. Among the most consumed dairy products were butter; milkfat; and cheeses, including cheokelig, torakh, dgi, jajigakharn, khas, and djivil. Other popular dairy-based foods included dried milk skin, chortan, strained yogurt, pazgutan, and honey butter.

Beekeeping was widely practiced and highly developed in Dersim. The bees were raised with special care, like dairy animals. The hives were moved to flower-rich locations, depending on the season. [4] Sweets/confectionaries consumed in Dersim included kazbon (manna), which drizzled on vegetation during the summer months.

As for meat, the people of Dersim ate fish, chicken, turkey, sheep, goat, and cattle meat; as well as the meat of the animals they hunted.

Preparation of Pnaghoun (Grains/Cereals)

Work in the fields was performed in the traditional method, particularly in the foothills, where fertile land was scarce, and therefore, every square inch of it was cultivated. Often, right after the wheat harvest, grass was grown in the same field for animal feed. The grass harvest was very important for the people of Dersim. In fact, they even had a patron saint of the grass harvest, called Khechelem Torom. [5] To express their gratitude to this saint, before beginning the grass harvest, locals would go on a pilgrimage, making offerings to him and organizing celebrations. The Armenians of Dersim also practiced an interesting custom called gisraroutyun, [6] whereby those who were unable to cultivate their own fields would rent them out to others. The renter would be responsible for the entire process of growing crops. Upon harvest, a tenth of the crop would be given to the government as tax, the following year’s seeds would be selected, and a portion would be set aside as church tithe and as donation to the needy. The rest of the crop would be split equally between the renter and the landowner.

Sources have documented the following ritual of sowing seeds [7]: the sowers, with their aprons full of seeds, would turn to the east, salute the dawn, cross themselves three times, and begin praying. After spreading each handful of seeds, they would dedicate it to someone by proclaiming their name. For example, one handful would be dedicated to the patron saint of the soil, another to orphans and the poor, another to guests, another to the future prosperity of the family, etc. They would go on, remembering the birds in the sky, the family’s animals, the soil, the water, the air, etc. The last handful of seeds was dedicated to the sun, the moon, and the planet Venus. After the conclusion of this ritual, the sowers would cross themselves three more times before returning to their work.

A small ritual was also performed during harvest. Harvesting was performed collectively. Before dawn, all members of the household, including nursing mothers, would line up in the fields, holding their sickles and awaiting the leader’s signal. The leader would call out: “May the harvest never be absent from the field, the truss from threshing-floor, the lavash from the kneading trough, and the guest from the home! Harvesters to the harvest!” [8] All would first salute the rising sun, cross themselves thrice, and begin harvesting, which was arduous work. The grain would have to be trussed on the same day. Therefore, the harvesters spent the entire day in the fields. For breakfast, from the mountain pastures (yayla), they would be sent yogurt, yogurt skin, quark mixed with butter, cheese, fresh onions, herbs, pickled beets, lavash bread, and skins of churned tan. Lunch at noon usually consisted of porridge or oiled pilaf with groats, fried green beans or djmour, fresh onions and greens, and cold tan. Work lasted until sunset, and families returned home for dinner. There, with the blessings of the grandfather, they enjoyed the tan soup and omelet with fried beets made by the loving hands of the grandmother. [9]

Then, it was time to thresh, transport, store, dry, and classify the wheat. Most of the harvested wheat would be ground into flour. While grinding the wheat, locals would add a small amount of darnel to it, in the belief that this would improve the quality of the bread. As for the wheat used to make gata [sweet cake], it was first washed, then ground very fine, without mixing in any darnel. According to tradition, wheat set aside for bread was taken to the mill personally by the master of the house. He would help the miller grind it and fill the sacks of flour. Then, he would knead this flour into dough with his own hands and place the dough on the red-hot stones of the mill’s oven. This bread was called chaghchi pagharch. Each household would offer a piece of this bread to passersby, in the hope of pleasing the invisible, benevolent pir (saint) of mills, who would bless the family’s yearly harvest, flour, and bread. According to tradition, the patron saint of mills was a white-bearded, tall, and robust man who protected mills, watched over the fire and water, and sanctified the process of milling. [10]

Some of the harvested wheat was boiled, threshed until hulled, then spread on a roof to dry. The rest was ground with grinders of various sizes to produce coarse, medium, and fine grain, to be used for different dishes (pilaf, dolma, kofta, tan soup, and harissa). This work was performed communally. Female neighbors, acquaintances, friends, and young brides would get together, creating a holiday atmosphere in the house, and preparing wheat for a different household each day. Each family stored an amount of grain commensurate with its size. To calculate a family’s size, the women would count the number of spoons hanging from the spoon-holder on the wall of the tonir. Each family member had his or her own spoon. Guests’ spoons were stored elsewhere. [11]

After kneading dough for bread, the Armenians of Dersim would trace the shape of a cross in it, then cover it. While the dough leavened, anyone who came into the tonir room was offered lavash bread. They would take the lavash, kiss it, and eat it. It was considered sinful to cut bread with a knife. The people of Dersim called bread namet, meaning “blessing” or “holy morsel,” and treated it with great care and reverence. As in other areas of the Ottoman Empire, the Armenians of Dersim used the phrases “eating bread” or “serving bread” to mean eating any type of food or setting the table for a meal. [12]

Preparation of Aghartou (Dairy)

Conditions in Dersim were excellent for animal husbandry. Each middle-class family had an ox and a cow, sheep and goats. At the start of the summer, the animals were taken to the mountain pastures. These were previously selected sites sheltered from strong winds, preferably in forest clearings and bordered by cold streams. Each family would build its own hut in the pastures, renovating the roof every year to ensure that it was waterproof. In the pastures, it was customary to bake bread on a saj, and to cook food and dairy on outdoor hearths. Still, each hut had its tonir, around which the beds were arranged. Next to their huts, the locals would erect large tents woven with goat hair. [13]

Each mountain pasture had its own patron saint who protected the animals and lived in the surrounding nature – in the crevices of the rocks in the leafy woodlands, under the giant trees, or in the milky water of the springs that flowed from under the boulders. There were no shrines or khachkars in these places dedicated to these saints. The secret of where they dwelled was passed down from each generation to the next. Each Armenian and Kurd from Dersim knew these saints and their names. Once a year, at dawn, groups would visit these sites to greet the dawn, after which they would burn incense and slaughter animals as offerings, imploring the saints to protect their animals and bless them with fertility and plentiful dairy production. They would return to their pastures only after the setting of the sun. [14]

In the mountain pastures, people were primarily engaged in the production of dairy. They would produce and preserve enough dairy, or aghartou, for the entire winter. Dairy was preserved using the same traditional methods as in other regions of the Ottoman Empire. Each day, the cows’ milk, containing its natural fat, was turned into yogurt, set aside for a whole day to cool down, then, early on the following morning, poured into a clay churn and churned into butter, using the cold water of a nearby stream to harden the clumps of butter. Finally, using their hands, the locals would stick these clumps together, and store the final product in cold water.

To make honey butter, the locals would use the aforementioned method of making butter, which they would shape into small, oval balls. They would harden these butterballs in cold water and arrange them in jugs. They would then pour honey over them, seal the jugs, and store them. [15]

The tan that separated from the butter during the churning process was boiled, then curdled and strained into cheokelig (cottage cheese, also called shor or jajig). On the following day, the locals would collect the skin that had formed on the surface of milk that had been left to cool overnight, mix it into the strained cheokelig, sprinkle this mixture with salt, then pour it into a jug or a skin. They would dig a pit in the ground, and bury the jug or skin entirely, upside-down, in that pit. For this reason, this cheese was sometimes called dgi, horvadz, or kup (hole or pit). The same cheese, when fresh, was called torakh cheese. [16]

To make cheese with jajig, the locals would heat up sheep’s milk, mix into it their traditional homemade cheese, then pour this mixture into a colander, with a cloth sack underneath, to strain it. This process would produce a block of cheese, which the locals would dice, and then mix with milk, milk skin, and strained shor (described above). They would then add salt, pour the mixture back into the sack, place the sack on a boulder, and place a stone slab on top of the sack, so that it would be strained properly thanks to the slab’s weight. The final product was poured into jars or skins, which were stored upside-down in a pit in the ground. [17]

Khas cheese was the name given to the choicest cheese of Dersim, consumed on holidays and served to respected guests. This type of cheese was prepared without jajig. Cheese made with sheep’s milk was mixed with yogurt and milk skin. The mixture was buried in the ground. Given its high concentration of fat, this cheese remained soft. It was enjoyed by spreading it on bread. [18]

The people of Dersim also made string cheese, which they called djivil banir.

At the end of the summer, when daily production fell, but the quantity of available milk was at its peak, the people of Dersim made dry milk skin. After allowing raw milk to cool down, the skin was collected, some additional milk added to it, and this mixture was poured into a wide-brimmed pot, boiled on a low flame until it thickened, and put aside to settle, which allowed a thick skin to form on its surface. The locals would then take a branch, strip it of its bark, carefully insert it under this skin, lift it off entirely, and hang it to dry. A portion of this skin would be placed, while preserving its original shape, in a basket lined with dry leaves. This basket would be hung from the ceiling of the storeroom. Of the final product, most was cut into small pieces and stored in small jugs, immersed in honey. [19]

Each family in Dersim kept a large supply of chortan. After fully straining the fatty yogurt of sheep’s milk, locals would add salt to it, then shape the strained yogurt into oval or round balls, which would be dried and hardened in direct sunlight. The final product was stored in a cave. [20]

Strained yogurt was prepared by pouring the yogurt of sheep’s milk, with its skin, into cloth sacks, then covering the sacks with flour dust. As soon as the flour dust became moist, it was replaced. This process continued until the flour dust no longer moistened, which indicated that the yogurt was fully strained. The strained yogurt was poured into pghougs (pots), and melted tallow was dripped around their lids to seal them, to ensure that the yogurt was not spoiled by contact with air. The pots were stored in the storeroom. [21]

Pazgutan was made by mixing yogurt and cracked groats, and shaping this mixture into balls that were dried in the sun. Pazgutan was also an ingredient used to make tan khash and tan soup. [22]

The Use and Preservation of Meat

The rivers of Dersim teemed with fish, among which the most popular was alabalugh. The next most popular fish was tos-tos (or fus-fus), which was oil-rich and lacked scales. The local rivers were also home to many other types of fish, which had remarkable names in the Dersim vernacular: lousntak, goghag, khadoudig, gouzig, turt, kiroug, lezgi, uradam (mogh), shrbout (flying fish), chrshoun, otsatsoug, etc. Fish were usually roasted. Fishing was usually practiced over the winter months, when the calmer segments and the shallows of the Euphrates and Tigris froze. Fishermen would make holes in the ice and catch the fish that swam underneath.

The people of Dersim also enjoyed hunting. The mountains and forests teemed with game and fowl. Locals consumed the meat of the animals they hunted, but they did not customarily sell it. Instead, the meat was distributed among the hunters, who in their turn took it home and shared it with family and neighbors. [23]

According to ancient tradition, animals living in certain locations were considered sacred and hunting them was prohibited. For example, locals avoided hunting wild goats, preferring to capture them alive, domesticate them, and add them to their herds. The people of Dersim loathed boars. Even if they were forced to kill them, they abandoned the carcasses to wild animals. They never hunted deer or reindeer, believing that they were inhabited by holy spirits, and that they could shapeshift into white-bearded elders. The Kurdish clans of Dersim believed that foxes were transfigured shepherds, sometimes also grooms or brides. The region’s Armenians, too, had adopted this belief to a certain extent. At the bottom of the Saint Hovhannes shrine, under some large boulders, there was a small passage called aghvesapoun [fox’s nest], home to several families of foxes, because pilgrims would leave bones from sacred offerings there, as aghvesapajin [fox’s portion]. As for birds, the people of Dersim did not hunt pigeons, doves, storks, swallows, cranes, or eagles. [24]

The Preparation of Fish

Roasted fish was called khorou. It was prepared by suspending fish in the tonir, with a pot full of coarse groats and water underneath. While the fish roasted, its oils dripped into the pot. Roasted fish was served on top of pilaf.

Dabgadz (fried): the fish was cut lengthwise, and its spine removed. It was seasoned, dipped entirely in flour, and fried in animal fat or oil.

Khorovadz (roasted): fish roasted whole on a fire.

Tsgashok was the name given to stuffed fish. The fish’s abdomen was stuffed with chopped onions, carrots, peppers, parsley, and spices. The stuffed fish was then placed in a metal tray and lowered into the tonir. [25]

The Tonir Room

The most important room in the homes of Dersim was the tonir room, inclusive of the storeroom. A household’s prosperity was judged by the size of its tonir room and the contents of its shelves. Similarly, a homemaker’s cleanliness and conscientiousness were judged by the condition of the tonir room.

The tonir room included both the tonir and the hearth. On the walls were large and small shelves, on which were arranged pots of different sizes and for different uses, as well as various kitchen utensils, from bread troughs to salt cellars and grinders. These shelves also held jars of oil and cheese, pots of ghavourma, pots of honey and manna, vials of spices, and sacks of nuts and dried fruits. Ladles and pans were hung from beams of the tonir room. The lower shelves were built specially to securely store jars of pickled foods. One side of the room was dedicated solely to the storage of crates and containers of wheat, cereal, and flour. Bundles of herbs, medicinal plants, and clusters of fruits were hung from the ceiling. [26]

Local artisans manufactured all necessary kitchen utensils – wooden spoons, rolling pins, plates, tubs, metal pots, water pitchers, strainers, sieves, ladles, clay pots, jugs, jars and vessels of various sizes and uses, skins, storage containers, shelves, and crates. Each family’s salt cellar, which was considered sacred, was kept in the tonir room. This was the traditional Armenian salt cellar, shaped like a woman. However, the salt cellars of Dersim were unique, and featured carvings of celestial bodies. The largest salt cellars, which had a capacity of up to 50 kilograms, had a shining sun as a head, a crescent moon as a neck, and stars on the chest. The salt was obtained from a circular aperture under the figure’s chest. [27]

On days when lavash and other types of bread were baked, the tonir room became a guest room with a warm atmosphere. All passersby who smelled the aroma of the bread would drop in, and aside from freshly baked bread, would be offered the pishi prepared by the household’s gracious bride. Pishi was fried bread dough, sweetened with honey.


Although the consumption of alcoholic beverages was not common in Dersim, it was customary to drink arak and wine on holidays. These beverages were made in the valley, where grapes grew, and traded with the residents of the mountain areas and the city.

Khoushab juice was prepared by soaking dried fruits in water. It was served on holidays, as well as during weddings and funerals, as a refreshing, semi-sweet beverage.

The most common regularly consumed beverage in Dersim was tan. It was drunk throughout the year. “Tan is medicine,” the locals would say, believing that it satiated thirst, treated exhaustion, and cured diseases.

Another beverage consumed on a regular basis was the semi-sweet and slightly carbonated brine of pickled foods (see the “Pickled Foods” section of this article).

On holidays and when guests visited, the people of Dersim served sherbet (juice) made from berries, sweetened with honey or manna. Only a few locals could afford to travel to the city and buy sugar, and they usually saved it for tea. The custom of using sugar to sweeten drinks reached Dersim in the early 1900s.

Black and green tea were not regularly consumed in Dersim until later years. Instead of tea, the locals drank brews made with wild plants (flowers, leaves, berries) collected from the mountains, valleys, and fields. They knew exactly when to collect these plants and herbs, which were consumed both medicinally and as hot beverages on cold winter nights. Among these herbs were thyme, wild mint, ziziphora, mint, chamomile, and dog rose. It was also customary to purchase cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and peppercorn from the city.

Coffee was exclusively consumed by the wealthy. Instead of coffee, most people in Dersim drank brews of roasted and ground acorn and artichoke seeds. [28]

The consumption of kazbon (manna) in Dersim had a history spanning centuries. The locals often called it “meghr oto” [honey of the air] or “tsogh yergnayin” [divine sprinkle]. In the summers, especially in June and July, kazbon would fall like a drizzle. At first, it would be invisible, but a few days later, it would thicken and whiten on tamarisk and licorice bushes and oak leaves, from which it was collected. The leaves were cut and added to a pot filled with water. The water, as it mixed with the manna, would turn white. Locals would then boil this brew, adding a small amount of flour to make sure it thickened, until it became a sweet, white, honey-like substance. Kazbon was used both medicinally and as a sweet drink offered to guests. It was also used as a sweetening agent in the preparation of cakes and halva. [29]

Preserved Foods

Erishde required dough that had been kneaded until firm. Locals would add flour, water, and salt to the dough, then shape it into small balls. Each ball would be flattened with a rolling pin to a thickness of 0.5 centimeters, and several of these discs would be piled on top of each other (adding flour in-between, so that they didn’t stick to each other). Then, using a knife, the locals would cut this dough into long, thin strips. They would then sprinkle these strips with more flour, shake off the excess flour, and hang them from a rope to dry. Finally, they would arrange the dried strips on a tray, lower the tray into a warm but unlit tonir, and roast. Erishde was stored in cloth sacks. [30]

To make pokhintalur, locals would roast dzedzadz (pounded wheat), let it cool down, and then grind it into a powder.

Tatkhoun was prepared by grinding aghants (roasted dzedzadz), then adding zambour, an herb that grew in the mountains (a type of ziziphora); green and red pepper; sumac; and salt.

Rodjig was the name given to sharots (sweet sujukh). Walnuts or almonds were suspended from a string and dried fully (to make sure they wouldn’t mold or become infected with worms). Then, they were dipped several times in flour and in shira cooked with grape roub; hung in the wind; dried; and stored in the storeroom.

Kaghtsou, roub (grape molasses), and shira (grape must) were made with the juice of grapes.

Basdeghs (pestils/fruit leathers) were prepared with grapes and mulberries, sometimes with both fruits mixed. After straining the fruit juice, a small amount of flour (or starch) would be added, and the mixture would be cooked fully until it thickened. Then, it would be spread on cloth and left to dry in the sun. Before the paste dried completely, some people would add hulled and roasted apricot kernels or almond kernels to it. Once the paste dried, it would be detached from the cloth, folded, and stored in the storeroom. [31]

Dried fruits: Throughout the summer months, various fruits, berries, vegetables (chopped or hanging from ropes), mountain herbs, and nuts were dried in the sun. Cultivated and wild spices, including thyme, wild mint, taghtsahamem, teas, etc. were dried in the shade. All were stored in cloth sacks hanging from the ceiling of the storeroom.

Ghavourma was prepared to preserve meat. The locals would choose a well-fed animal, with thick tail fat, an oily chest, and fatty kidneys. After boiling the meat in heavily salted water, the bones would be removed, then the meat would be cooked in its own fat. Butter would be added as necessary.

Oils played an important role in the cuisine of Dersim. Both on Lenten and non-Lenten days, locals often replaced animal fat and butter with various oils. The most valuable oil was sesame oil. Sesame seeds were roasted, then crushed into a paste with a press. Some of this paste was kept as it was, while the rest was strained, and its oil extracted. Another local favorite was walnut oil, or enguzegh. The people of Dersim also used sunflower oil. [32]

Lentil was the second most popular cereal in the kitchens of Dersim. It was consumed on an almost daily basis. Both on Lenten and non-Lenten days, in summer and winter, homemakers would prepare various dishes with lentils, considering it an easy-to-cook, nutritious, delicious, and easily digested staple. If anyone complained that lentils made them feel bloated, it was customary to reply with a traditional, humorous verse, which a mother-in-law was supposed to have said to her son-in-law called Hagop: “I made soup with lentils; I fed it to Agop jan; don’t be upset, Agop jan; I fed it to you without telling you.” In the autumn, the locals would crush some of the lentil harvest with a millstone, hull the crushed lentils, and put them aside for making lentil soup. [33]

Pickled Foods

Foods pickled in brine were locally known as ttou, katskhou, and aghadzo. From early spring to late autumn, either together or separately, various fruits (pears, apples, watermelons, cantaloupes, grapes, plums), berries (medlars, guelder roses, grabolig), vegetables (cabbages, summer squashes, eggplants, beans, okras, green tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, onions, garlic, carrots, beets), and herbs (parsley, mandag, hornbeam, gadavil, tatig, etc.) would be preserved for use throughout the year. Not only were these served as pickles, but they were also used as ingredients in soups, fried dishes, pilafs, etc.

Some pickled berries were used as medicine, and their brine was enjoyed as a beverage. Similarly, apples and pears were preserved in lightly salted water and consumed as a delicacy, while their brine was enjoyed as a semi-salty beverage.

To make the pickling brine, the Armenians of Dersim used karagh (coarse salt), a mixture of chickpeas and barley, and grape bunches. Each family had large, medium, and small jars that were used exclusively for pickled foods. [34]


The Armenians of Dersim were a hospitable people and observed the traditional conventions of hospitality. For example, when visited by an honored guest, they would prepare dishes worthy of such a guest – biran, babuko, and, if appropriate, saj-ghavourma. The meat of animals slaughtered as divine offerings was only used to make khashlama, pilaf with groats, and gradz soup cooked in broth taken from the animal. For a funeral repast, depending on whether it fell on a Lenten or non-Lenten day, either a meat or non-meat dish would be prepared. The funeral repast was served in large plates, on the basis of “one portion for seven souls.” The attendees would sit in groups of seven, on rugs, around low tables. Each would bring his or her own spoon. Notably, to steal a spoon from the home of a host on joyous or mournful occasions was an accepted custom. The stolen item was considered lucky, and people believed that it would bring fortune and promote fertility.

During public feasts and celebrations, men had the job of slaughtering and cooking the meat of the animal. In other cases, women cooked, and though they sought help from acquaintances, neighbors, and relations, they always consulted elderly women, who were well-versed in “babenagan atat” [ancestral tradition] and the appropriate customs. [35]

Special Holidays Meals

Khuyma: Locals would pound raw meat against a stone slab; mix it with finely chopped onions, garlic, hot red peppers, and spices; and continue pounding. Once the mixture was homogeneous, fine groats were added. This mixed paste was kneaded with wet fingers, then shaped it into balls/morsels, arranged on a plate, and sprinkled with chopped herbs and onion.

Biran was the name given to a sheep or lamb roasted whole in a tonir and served with pilaf. This meal was prepared only in honor of respected guests. The sheep was skinned, cleaned, and rubbed (both inside and out) with oil and yogurt, then suspended in a lit tonir. At the bottom of the tonir, the locals would place a pot filled with groats and water. The mouth of the tonir would be shut with a metal lid, with the cracks stuffed with mud, and a ball of mud placed on top of the lid as a timing device. Once the mud was dry, the meat was cooked. The meat would be poured into a large tray, pilaf would be added on the side, and oil dripped on top. According to tradition, the guest of honor would cut the meat with his own hand and then serve the others. The meat and the pilaf were scooped up with morsels of bread. [36]

Saj Ghavourmasi, like the previous dish, was prepared in honor of respected guests. The difference was that in this case, the meat was cooked on a saj, which gave the dish its name. Mutton was diced into small pieces, salted, and drained of blood. Then, it was placed on a saj, and seasoning and oil were added. The saj was placed in a lit tonir and covered with a metal tray to allow the meat to fry. Meanwhile, tan was boiled, and garlic was mixed into it. Once the meat was cooked, it was served on a khoncha, and the boiled tan was poured over it. This dish was served with saj or lavash bread. A khoncha was a sufra – a wooden, circular, low eating table, around which people sat cross-legged. [37]

Ormani kebab was a kebab prepared outdoors on holidays. People would go to the forests or the highlands, with family and friends, and dig a pit in the ground, which would become a barbecue. They would light the fire, and affix two strong branches across the pit, each tapering into a V shape. They would skin the sheep, rub the entire carcass with spices and salt, impale it from the neck to the hooves with the branch of an oak tree, and place it across the branches above the pit, constantly rotating it so that the meat was fully cooked. [38]

Shepherd’s or chobani khorovadz: To prepare this dish, the shepherd would slaughter the sheep in such a way that its skin remained whole and undamaged. The meat was chopped, then seasoned with salt, thyme, and wild mint. Then, it was stuffed into the sheepskin, and the legs were tied like a parcel. Another way of preparing this dish involved stuffing the meat into the skin without chopping it first. Each shepherd had a fire pit beside his hut, under a stone slab. He would light the fire, place the sheepskin filled with meat on the slab, and cover it with burning ashes. Once the skin began burning, the meat was roasted. [39]

Gdjoudj khorovadz: This dish was prepared in the home tonir. The meat was chopped (still on the bone), and seasoned with salt, pepper, sumac, thyme, and wild mint. If necessary, a small amount of oil was also added. Then, pots were filled with this seasoned meat, shut tight, and sealed with bread dough. The pots were lowered into the tonir, and the meat was roasted in its own fat. [40]

Shish-khorovadz: This dish could be prepared at home. Large pieces of meat would be skewered and suspended in the tonir. But it was more customary to roast the meat on an open fire, using branches as skewers, in forested areas near holy sites and springs. In such cases, instead of skewers, the locals would collect branches of wild apple trees, wild pear trees, or of blackberry bushes; clean them; and skewer the ingredients – chunks of seasoned meat alternating with slices of vegetables (eggplants, peppers, onions, and tomatoes). After roasting the meat, they would wrap it in buttered lavash bread, which would keep it warm and allow it to absorb its juices. [41]

Deoner-kebab: this was a type of kebab prepared in restaurants. Fatty meat was skewered on a single large skewer, which spun around its axis. The fire would be lit on all sides, to ensure that the meat was roasted completely and consistently. Once the meat was cooked, the locals would slice it from top to bottom, while holding a loaf of bread under it. Deoner-kebab was served with onions and herbs on top. [42]

Butcher’s khorovadz: This dish was prepared exclusively by butchers and required their skills. Fatty meat was ground, seasoned, and cooked in a pot, alongside chopped tomatoes, hot peppers, onions, and garlic. Beans, okras, eggplants, and potatoes could also be added. Butchers would cook this dish in their own ovens. [43]

Roasted khorovadz: Ground or finely chopped fatty meat was mixed with finely chopped vegetables. The mixture was seasoned, then rolled in paper, arranged in a pan, and cooked in a tonir or an oven. [44]

Reddened head was prepared using the head of a sheep or goat. This dish was cheaper than roasted meat and was thus more common. It was served in its own juice, with lavash breadcrumbs. [45]

Khash was prepared on cold days, using the hooves of sheep or goats. After slaughtering the animal, its hooves were cleaned, rubbed with brine, then roasted on a fire and hung from the ceiling of the storeroom, to be used later. While boiling the hooves, the foam rising to the surface was collected. Some people boiled chickpeas in this foam. Khash was served with garlic and lavash breadcrumbs. [46]

To make bounbar, the locals first cleaned an animal’s intestines. Then, they mixed coarse groats with chopped onions and garlic, thyme, wild mint, and hot pepper. The cleaned intestines were stuffed with this mixture, and were cut into pieces measuring ten centimeters in length. Each piece was tied off, arranged in a pot, and boiled in brine. Bounbar was served with oil.

  • [1] Kevork Halachian, Dersimi Hayeri Azkakroutyunu [Ethnography of the Armenians of Dersim], “Armenian Ethnography and Lore” Series, volume 5, Yerevan, Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the National Academy of Science of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, 1973, p. 16.
  • [2] Ibid., p. 231.
  • [3] Ibid., p. 232.
  • [4] Ibid., p. 153.
  • [5] Ibid., p. 117.
  • [6] Ibid., p. 101.
  • [7] Ibid., p. 105.
  • [8] Ibid., p. 108.
  • [9] Ibid., p. 109.
  • [10] Ibid., p. 123.
  • [11] Ibid., p. 119.
  • [12] Ibid., p. 233.
  • [13] Ibid., p. 133.
  • [14] Ibid., p. 138.
  • [15] Ibid., p. 148.
  • [16] Ibid., p. 145.
  • [17] Ibid.
  • [18] Ibid.
  • [19] Ibid, p. 147.
  • [20] Ibid.
  • [21] Ibid.
  • [22] Ibid., p. 148.
  • [23] Ibid., pp. 164-165.
  • [24] Ibid, p. 155.
  • [25] Kevork S. Yerevanian, Badmoutyun Charsandjaki Hayots [History of the Armenians of Charsandjak], published by the central committee of the Hama-Charsandjak Association (Fresno), Beirut, Giragos Donigian Press, 1956, p. 478.
  • [26] Halachian, Dersimi Hayeri Azkakroutyunu, p. 216.
  • [27] Ibid., pp. 176-178.
  • [28] Ibid., p. 245.
  • [29] Yerevanian, Badmoutyun Charsandjaki Hayots, p. 74.
  • [30] Halachian, Dersimi Hayeri Azkakroutyunu, p. 238.
  • [31] Ibid., p. 240.
  • [32] Ibid., p. 242.
  • [33] Ibid., p. 239.
  • [34] Ibid., p. 240.
  • [35] Ibid., p. 233.
  • [36] Ibid., p. 242.
  • [37] Ibid., p. 243.
  • [38] Ibid.
  • [39] Ibid.
  • [40] Ibid., p. 244.
  • [41] Ibid.
  • [42] Ibid.
  • [43] Ibid.
  • [44] Ibid., p. 245.
  • [45] Ibid.
  • [46] Ibid.