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Armenians Greet Their Guests with a Mouthful

As merry Armenian wanderers, the long and winding road usually leads—to someone’s kitchen.

By that, I mean, no outside guests gets a cold shoulder unless it’s on a plate served up with plenty of side dishes.

Food is the Armenian staple and it’s usually offered in large doses to guests who happen to drop by for conversation and get a mouthful instead. Any conscientious Armenian cook—myself excluded—prepares a table sagging with chow. To beg off would be improper protocol.

For when it comes to eating, it isn’t so much what’s on the table that matters, as what’s on the chairs. How quickly I found that out.

It was a long weekend and I suggested taking a trip to the Mid-Atlantic region to visit old friends with whom I’d lost contact. These would be Armenian friends I’ve made over the years in New York and New Jersey.

Seems the only time we ever see these people is at weddings and funerals, I maintained. Every year we say we’re going to get together and nobody takes the initiative. I was prepared to take the first step.

I sat down with a directory and jotted down six families we would visit at random. Not to put anyone out, we would stay at motels along the way, though that thought appeared inane. What Armenian would let you spend the night in transit and not give up their bedroom or a spare?

We spent a week mapping out our itinerary. We’d visit with the Hagopians on Friday night, then meet up the next morning with the Kazanjians. From there, we’d head off toward the Boyajians, then spend Saturday night with the Ohanians. On Sunday, we’d call upon the Mooradians, then conclude the junket with a visit to the Sohigians.

Granted, we could have multiplied that list by 10 and still had families to spare, given our various associations and contacts. This would be an ideal and long overdue mission.

It sounded perfect. Because I didn’t have everyone’s e-mail, they all received a personalized letter, confirming time and date of arrival. As luck would have it, nobody cancelled out. Our visit to each home would be met cordially, even if it meant cancelling a previous commitment.

What I didn’t tell them was that we would be visiting five other families in the process. It was more personable this way.

After a five-hour drive from Haverhill, Mass., we arrived at the Hagopian home just in time for chicken and pilaf, along with a display of rich Armenian delicacies.

“You guys must be famished after such a long drive,” said the hostess. “Dinner’s on the table. Can I pour you some wine?”

It turned into a gourmand’s feast with appetizers to boot. The more we ate, the less we spoke. An empty plate received a quick refill.

The Kazanjians were at the door when we arrived the next morning. So was the fare. Egg omelets with basterma and cheese, big black olives, cheorag, and assorted sweetbreads.

“Eat! Eat! Eat!” they rejoiced. “There’s plenty for everyone.”

Feeling stuffed as pigs, we dropped by to see the Boyajians that afternoon. “Just in time for lunch,” they said, even though it was close to 3. My guess is, they waited for us to arrive before setting the table.

“Nothing fancy, just the usual,” the wife announced.

On came enough cold cuts and salads to stock a deli counter, along with garnishes and other palatable choices as my stomach sent out gastronomic warnings. I left the bread alone and filled my plate sparingly. Nobody complained.

That evening, we pulled up to the Ohanian home and waddled to the door like a couple ducks. The last thing on our minds was food but they had other intentions. The menu called for lamb, wheat pilaf, okra, and the best eggplant stew this side of anywhere.

“Nothing too fancy,” the host remarked. “Sona’s an excellent cook and enjoys displaying her talent.”

On it came, more food for our dining pleasure. Who could resist such an offering? We ate as much as our tapeworms could handle and even a morsel more. The dessert waited its turn.

The next morning, off we went to meet up with the Mooradians, just in time for coffee and homemade blueberry muffins. Seems they’re both light eaters, much to our relief.

On the last leg of our journey, we arrived to an empty table at the Sohigian home, except for a bowl of waxed fruit. Thank goodness, someone was giving us a break.

“C’mon,” they said. “We made reservations at this great Middle Eastern restaurant in town. Hope you brought your appetites along.”

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