Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Best Thing I Ever Ate: Armenian Yogurt

Have you seen that show on the Food Network where celebrity chefs share their most exciting, unique, and flavorful food experiences so the rest of the world can bombard those restaurants with business and either love it or tear it apart?  Well, I must admit I like the show and have definitely jotted down some recommendations to try when I'm in various cities.  I thought I would share some food experiences that have changed my life, I mean really changed my life or affected the way I perceive food.  Sometimes the simplest things can touch our lives, invade our palates and make us wonder how we ever lived without those flavors in our mouths and in our hearts.  For some of these revelations I don't have photos to accompany my words.  The simple reason is that as much as I love photographing foods, both in dining situations and in my own kitchen, there are some simple experiences that are so simple, that one would never consider whipping out a camera to photograph something before taking that first transcendental bite.  You would never even consider it!

The first and currently top of my list food experience is one of those no-photo food experiences.  Last summer I had the joy and privilege of traveling to the country where both of my parents were born, Armenia.  My whole life I had wanted to go there, and my parents had last gone with my older sister when I was only 3, and too young to take along.  I stayed for three weeks with my grandparents.  To be honest, I wouldn't have remembered going with them anyway, so I can't blame them.  They did promise to take me, and it took over 20 years to finally happen.  Now I'd like to say that the food in Armenia overall did not blow me away whatsoever.  I thought the cheeses were too salty, the wines were too sweet, the beef was gray, and they used more dill in everything than should be legal (my least favorite herb, btw).  There were, however, some real standout dining experiences.  The one food that shocked my palate, made me taste something that was so unlike what I had experienced before in my life, was the yogurt I ate in a small village near Gosh, Armenia.  The photograph above is the view from a famous church in Gosh, one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.

This is where we ate, in a small private dining room by the river

Now, to tell you about this yogurt.  It was unlike any yogurt you could imagine.  I know people swoon over Greek yogurt, and I'm sure in some Greek villages they may have yogurt similar to this, but I'll have you know that as much as the Turks or the Greeks may claim fame to "inventing" yogurt, it was the Armenians who were responsible, and who brought yogurt to America.  In any case, the yogurt I experienced here was unlike any yogurt you might find in America, or in most of the world for that matter.  I was presented with something I thought must have been some type of strained yogurt because it was so thick it wouldn't come off the spoon.  I was informed that this was not strained, but regular yogurt.  It had yellow specks of milk-fat running through it, a testament to its freshness.  In fact, as we drove through these villages we encountered many cows wandering through the streets.  Any one of them could have provided us with this mind-blowing yogurt experience.

I can honestly say that I will never eat yogurt with the same affection and gluttonous lust with which I devoured that Armenian yogurt. It transcended me to a dairy Heaven where I think I saw God. The flavor was so rich and concentrated into that thick, fat-speckled, off-white concoction that if I had died right then and there, I would have gone with complete and utter euphoria.  I have never wanted yogurt so badly.  I crave that yogurt.  I think about it at night, wishing I could sleep with it at my bedside, a small comfort just knowing that it's there.  No yogurt in the world can compare.  It's incredible when something so simple, something you'd had a million times in your life, can be presented to you in a different way, a better way, a more natural and fresh way than you ever thought possible.  And your life will never be the same...

Tune in for more food revelations in later posts.  I'm hungry :)


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