Marine Martirosyan

Gavar Baklava: The Queen of Local Pastries, Antidote for Holiday Drinking

Gavar, a town of some 20,000 in Armenia’s Gegharkunik Province, is famous for its baklava (pakhlava) and its inhabitants’ fondness for vodka, especially during the holiday season.

“People in Gavar like to drink. I’ll tell you something. The secret why people don’t get drunk here, even after drinking a lot, is that they eat baklava with the vodka. The honey and butter stop the vodka from making one tipsy,” says Volodya Dadoyan, boasting that he has 100% Gavar roots.

Varsik, Anahit, Volodya, Lusineh and Sophia 

Volodya and his wife Anahit turned the first floor of their house into a bakery to make the sweet delicacy. They are pensioners, but cannot imagine life without working.

Anahit is one of the few famous baklava makers in Gavar. She says that life in the town gets more difficult day by day, since there is no work. Making baklava is often a way to earn money.

Anahit goes down to the bakery at sunrise. Then, the workers arrive. When they’re swamped with orders, they work until midnight. Anahit says that one should be in high spirits when making the dough, otherwise it won’t work. That’s why there is always a cordial atmosphere in the bakery.

The “Queen’s” Recipe

Anahit has been making baklava for more than forty years. Baklava is the “queen” of Gavar and of pastries. Baklava is always served at any event held in Gavar - a wedding, holiday, birthday or baptism.

Good honey is the first important ingredient for good baklava. Anahit buys honey from the village of Saroukhan. It’s known as Gridzor honey. There are many types of flowers growing in the Gridzor River basin for making a delicate honey. The river is also famous for its healing waters.

Anahit treats us to some honey. It has a light color, and we smell the scent of flowers at once. Anahit believes that one should be picky when choosing honey for baklava.

The second important ingredient is pure oil or butter. Anahit says that since not many people like the taste of homemade butter, she prefers buying butter from the store.

Walnuts are the third important ingredient. Anahit prefers walnuts from Garni or Yeghegnadzor. To easily remove the peel, the walnuts are placed in warm water. There’s a group of women doing this chore, and are paid 800 drams per kilogram.

“Making baklava requires teamwork. One cannot do it alone,” Anahit says.

The women share their baklava recipe with us. Their baking sheet makes 120 pieces of baklava.

“We add 600 grams of butter to 1-1.2 kg of flour, mix it, and add yeast, a pinch of salt, followed by 20 eggs and two large sour cream packets. Flour is added as needed. The dough should be soft and elastic. We rest the dough for two hours. We work with our hands,” Anahit says.

They divide this dough into 24 balls, carefully rolling each out to make 24 slim sheets. They then add walnuts, sugar and butter, topping it off by pouring warm honey.

While Varsik opens the dough, Anahit asks Sophia to treat us to some baked baklava. We do not object. It’s the first time we’re trying Gavar baklava in Gavar. Anahit brings some lavash (Armenian bread). While we wonder about the connection between lavash and baklava, she cuts a piece of lavash and wraps a piece of baklava in it, saying that the bread will cut the sweetness and keep our hands clean of honey.

They sell a piece of baklava for 700 drams. Speaking about the price, Anahit wonders that tiramisu, the main ingredient of which is milk, is sold for 2,000 drams, while their baklava, with 22 layers of walnuts, is said to be expensive.

Varsik, Lusineh and Sophia have been working together in the bakery for seven years. They say they leave the house when family members are still asleep, and often return when others are again asleep. Varsik has been baking bread and pastries since the fourth grade. Lusineh, a teacher by profession, says it's difficult to find a job now. Sophia's son participated in the Artsakh 2016 “April War”.

Varsik checks the oven. Baklava must be baked at 200 degrees for one hour. After putting the baklava pan in the oven, they cover it with a piece of cardboard.

It's Volodya’s task. He makes cardboard. They change the cardboard every day.

They get many orders during the holiday season. There are people who travel all the way from Yerevan to buy Gavar baklava.

“Do you know how many tourists have come to try our baklava? The German Ambassador has also been here,” says the couple, watching the clock.

After taking out the baklava, they put it on a small table. Anahit then brings a teapot, laden with honey, and pours it on the baklava. She makes sure to pour until the last drop.

“Women, women, they need to pour until the last drop,” her husband says. We all laugh.

P.S. The reader might ask how baklava reached Gavar, near the western shore of Lake Sevan, in the first place. The answer might date to the mid-19th century. Gavar was founded as New Bayazet in 1830 by Armenian migrants from the town of Bayazet (historically known as Daroynk and Arshakavan) in the Ottoman Empire. These refugees from western Armenia probably first introduced the delicacy to the area.

Photos: Hakob Poghosyan; Video: Hakob Poghosyan, Saro Baghdasaryan