Zaruhi Karapetyan, known as Zara, is a larger-than-life character with red hair. She is a famous Armenian TV star and at her Tasty Guest House in the village of Parkar, she taught us how to make two traditional Armenian dishes – Gata and Arishta.
We donned floral aprons before Zara introduced us to the Tonir, a very hot oven in the ground which was similar to a tandoor. It was originally designed by ancient Armenians to resemble and symbolise the sun and deity of their Pagan culture at the time.
The first task was to roll out pre-made dough into a circular shape to make the Gata, a sweet Armenian pastry. This was filled with a mixture of butter, sugar and flour, along with a silver coin. I then folded and pleated the pastry over the filling until it was fully enclosed, before turning it over to hide the folds and rolling it into a disc again. It was brushed with egg yolk, pricked and imprinted with the tines of a fork before being placed on a silver tray on a chain, and lowered carefully into the Tonir to bake.
For the second dish of Arishta, a traditional homestyle Armenian pasta similar to fettucine, I rolled more dough until it was very thin, and Roy used a spaghetti rolling pin, weighing 7kg, to cut the dough into thin strips. These were separated and placed on a rack in the sun to dry overnight before being browned in a dry frying pan to give it a pinkish-golden hue.
Once we had safely removed the Gata, it was time for an alfresco lunch. Zara had laid the table with a red and yellow pepper salad in a spicy tomato dressing with apricots, a dressed cucumber and lettuce salad, two types of cheese and two of bread. She then presented us with a dish of kofta and vegetables and arishta she had made earlier, with a liberal sprinkling of grated cheese. Dessert was Matsoni yoghurt which ferments at room temperature and is good for the gut.
We finished with the Gata and Zara insisted it was accompanied by a home-made walnut liqueur, Armenian coffee served in small cups and churchkhela, a traditional candle-shaped candy we’d first tried in Georgia.
It was a fabulous experience and meal, and as we said our farewells, Zara presented us with home-made cutlery holders and the silver coin from the Gata in a pencil case – both items had been made by her elderly aunt.