Cuisine and Culture: UNESCO puts Armenian harisa on list of Turkish national dishes

Cuisine and Culture: UNESCO puts Armenian harisa on list of Turkish national dishes


One of the most popular dishes of the Armenian ethnic cuisine – harisa – has appeared this week on the UNESCO list of world heritage as a Turkish national dish called Keshkesk. The news has outraged many in Armenia.

Sedrak Mamulyan, heading Development and Preservation of the Armenian Culinary Traditions NGO, says harisa can absolutely not be Turkish.

“We have had two kinds of harisa: the harisa itself and kashika, which has been transformed by the Turks into keshkesh. Kashika is cooked in a tonir (cylindrical clay oven), and the fact that only Armenians have had in-ground tonirs excludes the possibility of this dish being Turkish. Turks never had tonirs,” he says.

Kashika is mutton (or chicken) and wheat cooked together in a jar in a tonir semi-buried or built in the ground (the heat is traditionally generated by charcoal or wood fire, burning within the tonir itself, thus exposing the food to live-fire giving a peculiar taste), whereas harisa is cooked in above-ground ovens, and have to be stirred constantly (for hours) until it’s cooked. The name “harisa“ derives from the Armenian word for stir - “harel” .

Mamulyan says pagan Armenians made tonirs in resemblance with the setting sun “going into the ground” (Sun being the main deity) and Armenian women even bowed to the tonir before starting to bake bread or cook something in it.

“Tonir Fest” will be held next summer, on August 11, for the Navasard holiday (the old Armenian “New Year”, which was dedicated to 7 Armenian pagan gods), featuring dishes cooked in this forefather of the modern oven.