Winter ritual: The khash season is at its height in Armenia

Khash - best winter entertainment for many in Armenia.
When cold days come many people in Armenia, mostly men, would say: “It is time for khash.”

Together with their families, friends, relatives and colleagues Armenians arrange visits to taverns and restaurants where they eat khash – a substantial soup of cows’ feet and stomach enjoyed with plenty of garlic, all sorts of pickled vegetables and vodka on top of everything.

Perhaps for foreigners such a masterpiece of Armenian cuisine may seem dubious, but those in the know say it is a true delicacy.

Levon Karapetyan, a chef and khash specialist at one of the taverns in the town of Gyumri, where people are known to be khash lovers, says the culture of tasty and special meals in Armenia comes from ancient times, but khash has preserved its traditional cooking formula through centuries.

“I like cooking tasty food and using my imagination to create new dishes,” the 45-year-old chef says. “But in Armenian national cuisine there are few special meals that are very sensitive and should not be cooked differently and khash is one of them,” explains Karapetyan, cutting into pieces feet of cows for the next day.

To prepare khash a cow’s feet are stripped of hair and scraped off until they turn opaque. Then, the cow’s feet are boiled all night until the ingredients give its juice to water and the flesh flakes off the bones.

Traditionally khash is served in the morning between 7-10 a.m. Centuries ago, when rich people slaughtered animals, they used only meat and threw away the feet (as well as tails and entrails) and it is believed that poor people picked them up, cooked and ate them early in the morning so that nobody could see what they were eating.

But it is enough to have khash only once to realize that it is better to eat khash in the morning anyway, because it is difficult to digest. Some people abstain from eating from the previous evening.

Khash is no longer considered to be a meal for the poor, especially now that a portion of khash is available for a minimum of 1,500 drams (or about $5) in Gyumri’s taverns. In some restaurants in Yerevan khash is served for up to 5,000 drams (about $16) a portion.

Unlike other kinds of Armenian meals khash is served only with limited ingredients, such as garlic, salt, mineral water, greens, radishes, yellow chili peppers, lavash, and vodka, which makes it possible to digest the “feet soup”.

Eating khash requires some sophisticated skills. After adding salt and garlic the meat of feet should be removed from the soup plate, put on another plate and covered with soft lavash. Then dried lavash is crumbed into the broth until it becomes like a sponge. True khash eaters – as they call themselves – eat it with their hands, using lavash for the spoon.

Avetik Melik-Sargsyan, head of the Shirak Regional Service for the Protection of Historical and Cultural Environment, says that despite the fact that Armenians like making lots of toasts during a party, only three toasts are traditionally proposed during the “khash ceremony”, preceding a “Bari Luis (good morning) opening toast-greeting.

“The first toast is for the people who left important things early in the morning and joined for the khash eating,” the khash lover explains. “The second is for the one who cooked the khash and stayed awake for the whole night, and the third is for the khash that has gathered people around the table.”

Many people, especially women who go for khash would confess that they enjoy the feast atmosphere, the lively talks and jokes during the meal, rather than the khash itself.