the STRANGEST food I’ve ever eaten and other Nor Tari wonders

Yes, we’re already good and settled four days into 2010.  Yes, my American family and friends are already back to work.  BUT NOT HERE!   No no, Nor Tari celebrations are still to be had.  There are hours still to fill with visiting friends, with eating Nor Tari salads, meat pastries, and copious amounts of chocolates and dolmas (not in that order).  It will be 10 days or so until the Hayastan world is back into it’s regular swing, and I am quite enjoying the quiet, hangist way we’re ringing in 2010 here in my currently wet and cold little town.

My friend, Z, came down for a visit, and December 31st found us outside my door banging pots together like I once did with my 3rd grade best friend.  We wrote resolutions and talked about what it will be like in the next year in Armenia as Peace Corps Volunteers.  THAT conversation, with all it’s daunting realizations and exciting possiblities, took hours, so in the morning we let the sun get up first.  After it had already shown brightly for a few hours, we got up to one of the best January Firsts of my life (despite the way it ended).  I’m a sucker for bright blue sky, and all of the sudden we bustled into productivity (I AM SO AMERICAN!).  We dug around in the shed attached to my house and found a paint-chippy old  table.  It was a wild puzzle getting it out of the shed past old doors, ladders, stacks of wood and old rusty barrels, but after rubbing it down and covering it in used flip-chart paper, it now holds my horde of books (yes, Mom, I’ll NEVER grow out of this hording habit of mine).  We carried my mattresses out into the sun to air out, and openned all my windows.  Z then commenced making homemade applesauce (the current and wonderful trend among Armenian PCV’s) while I handwashed a few weeks worth of laundry.
After hanging it all out to dry over the courtyard deck (which overlooks a crowded cemetery), Z and I took a sunny walk to my coworker, Alvart’s house.  Alvart is one of the jolliest Armenians I’ve met.  She jokes with me, scolds me when I do shameful things (like trying to wash dishes or telling people I don’t have money to buy extra things), and dances like someone who’s seen enough to know she shouldn’t hold joy back.

Alvart’s house was the best place to go for our first Nor Tari experience.  Walking into her house, it was as if we were honored guests with an extravagant spread set out just for us.  Of course, that’s the whole idea behind the tradition, behind the days spent in preparation to give a feast to any and every passerby.  We ate two kinds of dolma, blinchi, three types of salad, three peaces of cake each, fruit, nuts, chocolates and toasted with champagne.  We lauded our friends and family, hoped for our health and happiness in the new year, and smiled and smiled and smiled.

We visited other houses, made our way back to my house and settled into what would be a raucous evening for our bellies.  Indeed we were both sick enough that the next day we split most of our waking ours between the armchair and the toilet, watching movies and 30 rock and reading a 8 month old Conde Naste Traveler, respectively.
We did have enough gumption to make my Dad’s pancakes (although I mixed up the measuring cups THAT MY PARENTS SENT ALL THE WAY FROM THE US and ended up making a ridiculous amount of batter).  AND we washed the cat.  That actually made my day.  I mean, look at this rat:

And finally, on the third day of the year and of the Nor Tari celebration, I ate THE STRANGEST FOOD I’VE EVER EATEN.  Now I’ve been to 19 different countries by now.  I’ve eaten a lot of weird things, forced down some unwanted ‘delicacies’ in the name of comeraderie.  But this one,  I do believe, takes the cake… or should I say, takes the pig-head jell-o:That’s right.  A jell-o like mold of contents-of-pig-head. Of course, let’s get the praise/disclaimer on the table, you’ve got to hand it to a culture that has figured out a way to use/enjoy every little bit of something.  The dish takes quite a lot of preparation and is enjoyed by many Armenians (although… this mold remained whole throughout the 8 person meal). However, I interviewed the family who offered me the delicacy, and something that is made from brains, jaw muscle, cartalidge and various connective tissues just doesn’t suit me I think.  Believe it or not, the dish was accompanied by cheese wrapped in slices of pig ear and a little snack made from coiled slivers of pig skin wet with garlic and salt.

I didn’t try its dinner partners, but I did have a go at the pig head jell-o.  It was everything I thought it might be, gelatinous with a taste of pepper and ligament (which I’ve also eaten a lot at Nor Tari tables… I REALLY don’t like meat on the bone).

However, it did inspire me to grab up my shot glass of vodka and offer a toast to my wonderful Armenian friends:

“To Armenians, who know how to enjoy everything.  May I learn from you, and may we keep finding ways to enjoy the world in the New Year.”

The same to you, too.


  1. Oy, I hate this stuff so much and was almost certain that this is what you were talking about from the title (this or khash is what I was thinking). Since last year’s Nor Tari I have avoided this dish like the plague and was quite happy to not see it on the Armenian tables that I visited this year.

    I just substituted other dishes to drink copious amounts of vodka with. :-D

  2. Wow. Pig’s-head Jello…you’re braver than I am.

    That little soaking wet kitty is SO cute.

    Happy 2010 to you, Brento.

  3. CintusSuprimus

    Nice optimistic look at something that sounds absolutely disgusting.

  4. gross.

    really. but i love you. everything else was beautiful.

  5. ok that is just plain crazy! pig’s head! you are brave, my friend! very brave! (and i’ll email you soon!)

  6. […] hope to recreate it and likely never will. Just under that, I’d have to say, is Armenian Nor Tari.  The hospitality is wonderfully overwhelming; days and days of being an honored guest feels […]

  7. […] April 2, 2010 by breadtobeeaten First of all, let’s satisfy this need right now.  I know you’re all waiting for shriveled wet puppy pictures similar to those of the departed/possibly-eaten Sanity. […]

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