Serving it properly: NGO advocates promotion of national cuisine also as tourist ‘product’

Armenian tour agencies cannot fully utilize and serve Armenian national cuisine as a tourist ‘product’ to incoming tourists, whereas thus they would have contributed to the recognition of the country’s cultural values, specialists say.

Development and Preservation of Armenian Culinary Traditions NGO head Sedrak Mamulyan thinks that the field is used merely for making money, but cultural values, culinary traditions, are put aside.

“Tourists arrive exhausted from a tour and the meal is served as simply food intake, and the guide sits separately. Yet the guide must understand that the tour is going on, and s/he must sit and explain the food served, its history of origin and cooking method, etc. However, they agree with khinkali (traditional Georgian dish) houses of their friends, acquaintances, relatives and take the tourists there, or else, they take them to eat bughacha and kebab,” Mamulyan said.

The well-known chef says that biologically humans are made up in a way that the memory of taste sustains the longest, and after visiting a country they identify the country and its culture by its very cuisine.

The Development and Preservation of Armenian Culinary Traditions NGO cooperates with tour agencies, those that have more or less realized the importance of presenting culinary traditions, but the problem, according to Mamulyan, is in the systematized approach.

“They say, what does the government do, and I reply, so what, do we only make money, we must spread, popularize, have dignity ourselves and grant an opportunity to tourists visiting our country to get in touch with our cultural phenomena, and not only take them to places that find representation in our country, that are representations of other nations’ cultures which have become rich by the money of our society,” Mamulyan said. “What can the Ministry of Culture do? Shall it encourage tour agencies to include all branches of culture in their packages? We even organized free training courses regarding Armenian culinary culture, but still few attend the classes, and only the young.”

The NGO suggested tour agencies that the tourists be presented the procedure of baking Armenian lavash. Many consider it a rural phenomenon and have refused. According to him, some are even ashamed of introducing village traditions, but when you do not show a phenomenon you cannot know whether there is demand for it or not.

“We presented tour packages to all tour agencies, there we wrote a famous rural dish named ‘khonchol’, whoever from tour operators saw it, asked what that is. We said, come see the introduction and you will know what it is. We served the ingredients of our dish separately – the soup, garlic, onion, etc. We explained the tourists that the dish has a tradition – those who eat collect what they want themselves. They were amazed, they come and order it every time,” Mamulyan said.

Regardless of the problems in the field, the organization is going to show the world the Armenian cuisine in due manner.

“We will have invitations from abroad. Without undue modesty, we say that we will develop it. And this year we will present Ani’s cuisine – 11-14th century, next – Kilikia,” Mamulyan said. “I offer tour agencies free training courses for their staff in order to introduce our national culture, cuisine.”