Saturday, 25 November

Mongolian Cuisine in an Armenian Village: Bayina and Family Are Officially Citizens


Bayina is a woman from Mongolia who lives in Antaramej, a village in Armenia’s Gegharkunik Province.

Hetq visited Bayina’s house two years ago. To celebrate our revisit, Bayina treated us to buuz, a Mongolian steamed dumpling filled with meat.

The family moved to Armenia, because Bayina’s husband Hrahat, a native of Armenia, was ill. He died in 2015 of a heart attack.  

During our last visit, Bayina and her two children, Varsik and Arshak, had no Armenian citizenship. The issue has since been resolved.

Bayina holding her new Armenian passport

Antaramej is difficult to reach. Road conditions make reaching it by car a real challenge. The alternative is going by horse or a donkey, or on foot. The village is in a forest. People say, in winter, they’re completely cut off from the rest of the world because of the road. There are 39 families living in the village.

Varsik meets us. We walk across the forest to reach the house. Varsik tells us about her school. She and her brother are in the seventh grade. She says she has already decided what to become, a singer and a nurse.

She explains the logic of combining such different professions. "Well, if I'm a singer, I can make a lot of money, and then I'll be able to treat people for free," Varsik says. Bayina hears the conversation and smiles, interjecting, "I say, Varsik, you won’t manage like that."

In Mongolia, buuz is prepared mainly in the lead-up to holidays. It’s prepared in hundreds, frozen, and quickly cooked and served to arriving guests.

Bayina has already prepared the meat filling and dough. "It is quick to make. When we have guests, it takes maximum one hour to prepare and cook, "she says. We just wanted to talk, and didn’t want to burden Bayina with preparations, but the cooking process becomes more and more engaging.

Mother and daughter preparing buuz

Bayina cuts the dough into pieces and starts rolling them. She moves her hands so smoothly, as if playing an instrument. It’s not easy to repeat her deft movements. "I'm used to it, I’ve started making them since I was seven or eight years old. We make at least 500-1,000 pieces on New Year’s Eve,” Bayina says.

Buuz dough consists of salt, flour and water. Bayina says the water should be warm, otherwise the dough will crack. Buuz are filled with minced mutton or beef, which is flavored with onion, black and red pepper, salt and greens. Adding greens is not traditional in Mongolia, Bayina does it specially for Armenians, as people in Armenia love greens.

The smoke emanating from the wood stove imparts a delicious smell.  

They do not have firewood for the winter yet. Bayina and Arshak will go to the forest soon to collect wood. Buuz is usually cooked on a liquid gas cylinder. They fill the cylinder when somebody goes to the city. There is no natural gas in the village.

Bayina, her son Arshak, and daughter Varsik

As Bayina promised, we smell the cooked buuz in twenty minutes. "I love making various and new meals. I want them to be tasty and appetizing,” she says. Then, she takes the dumplings out of the saucepot and arranges them in a bowl.  “Use your hands to eat them”, Varsik advises us, “the juices stay inside.”

To prepare buuz, one needs to have a right pot. Bayina got hers as a present from one of her relatives in Mongolia. She says it's hard to find the right one in Armenia. Depending on how many you want to cook, the buuz can be arranged in layers. Water boils on the first layer, and steam cooks the others.   

"Arshak, you haven’t told us what you want to become," I ask. Bayina immediately replies instead, saying he will become a psychologist, since he can immediately “read” a person.

A Mongolian dish made in Antaramej

Arshak used to keep a diary, but one day Varsik discovered it and took it. Varsik justifies her action saying she wanted to protect Arshak’s thoughts from potential thieves.

Arshak says he is often embarrassed. He’s thought of a method to overcome that feeling. He holds a leaf and thinks about things that embarrass him the most. He thinks long and hard. So much in fact, that there’s nothing left to think about. In the end, if he hasn’t squashed the leaf, then the next time he doesn’t need to worry about thinking the same thing.

After dinner, Bayina shows us their Armenian passports. Bayina says they have already received the other documents that required citizenship papers.

Even though the house was theirs, they couldn’t register the property because of the lack of citizenship. Now, the house is officially theirs. Varsik and Arshak receive state allowance, and Bayina works as a school guard.

Photos and video: Saro Baghdasaryan, Hrant Galstyan


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Comments (3)
1. Hagop01:43 - 10 November, 2017
Lets get a little bit into history here. Khinkali is supposed to be Georgian, but the dish apparently originates in Cental or East Asia, or perhaps more correctly in China then Mongolia and into the Caucasus. Now this brings us to "Manti" from western Armenian cuisine, which of course the Turks claim as "Turkish". However, the Turks have no claim on Manti, it is purely an Armenian dish which they have copied like everything else. How do we know this? Well because of the way it is cooked. In the western provinces of historic Armenia which came under Turkish occupation, Manti came in two forms: baked and as a stew. In contrast to Armenian Manti which is cooked and tiny in size, Central Asian or Mongolian Manti, Dumplings, Mandu,, Khinkali, or whatever you want to call it are usually large sized and steamed. This is how we know that the Turkish claim is a fraud: they do not employ their "ancestral" technique of making Manti, but use the Armenian method. If Manti was "Turkic" then the Turks would stick to their own tradition from Central Asia and make their Manti in a similar way as Mongolian and Chinese. Armenian Manti merely got the bad luck of having it exist among Turks, similar to Dolma/Sarma and so-called "Keshkek" (Harissa). Where food is concerned, Turks brought nothing into Armenia, and in fact they stole all of Armenian foods and are now trying to pass it off as "Turkish" simply because the Ottoman Empire forced Turkish food names on all the people it occupied, and this includes "Manti".
2. Viken05:20 - 10 November, 2017
That's right Hagop. ...Armenians living in Ottoman Empire built walls around their houses to keep out cross-cultural influences. What rubbish!!! As if there was nothing of the sort. Are you a cuisine anthropologist? Get off your high horse, already and keep your childish rants to yourself. Next, you'll claim that lahmajoun is purely Armenian. That this half Mongolian family has resettled in Armenia, and filed for citizenship,should be welcomed and serve as an example for diaspora Armenians who spout their armchair nationalism from afar. Talk about cross culturalism,indeed. Let them cook whatever they want! Ooof!
3. Hagop03:23 - 11 November, 2017
"Next, you'll claim that lahmajoun is purely Armenian"... LOL. Yeah and after that I might even claim that King Tigran was an Armenian too. I might even go so far as to claim mount Ararat is an Armenian mountain! Imagine that. Seriously where do you turkophile snowflakes come from? Yes Lahmajoun is 100% of Armenian origin, and precisely with further proof because Turks are also claiming it, simply because the genocide they perpetrated in Aintep successfully got rid of the Armenian culture and they replaced it with an imitation Turkish one. You know nothing of history and on top of that you must be a simpleton for making excuses for nomadic turk migrants from Central Asia, suggesting that Armenians "learned their cuisine"? Get outta town, you are just delusional and denying simple common sense instead of accepting facts. And you know why the Lahmajoun *NAME* is derived from Arabic? For the same reason that Dolma is from Turkish. Wherever Armenians lived and were occupied by, the names of the occupiers came to be used and spread enough where the original names fell into disuse. Dolma most definitely didn't come from Central Asia, and Lahmajoun most definitely didn't come from the deserts of Saudi Arabia, nor the "Levant", because Armenians brought it into the Levant after the Armenian Genocide, which is why most of all the Lahmajoun bakers in the Levant were Armenians, and when they went to the USA, it became known as "Armenian Pizza" and NOT - "Arabic Pizza". Stop spreading false snowflake ideas about "we all need to love one another even if they want to kill us and steal our culture". Get real. And also you are trying to falsely suggest I was negative about this story and this family. On the contrary, I was glad to read this, because It clearly shows why Manti is NOT Turkish. You don't understand this? I know, now go eat your "Turkish Pizza" and be gone.
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