You know how, in America, food is kept in the kitchen?
Well, it’s not like that here, in Armenia. Kitchens exist, and food exists, but one cannot, with certainty, predict that one will be found in the other.
I didn’t understand it when I first arrived. As one who likes to feel fairly independent, and one who likes to cook her own food, I considered trying to help my host mom out at mealtimes. But her kitchen didn’t contain a fridge, it didn’t contain dishes, it didn’t have any cupboards, and there was no food to be found anywhere! Miraculously, when it was time to eat, the food appeared! I’m no magician; there is no way I could have helped procure food out of thin air like she did. So I took a back seat and let that marvelously hard-working woman perform her tricks alone.
Over the course of the three months that I lived with the family, I grew to understand the system—a little. For one, they were remodeling a different room that would become the kitchen, so I contributed the majority of the confusion to that. Dishes were in the china cabinet in the living/dining room. Fine. The fridge and many baking supplies and canned goods were in a separate building outside, in the same building that had the old bathroom. (The old kitchen was remodeled into the new bathroom once the new kitchen was completed.) I figured they would probably move everything once the new kitchen was done. Leftovers were kept either in a pan on the stove or inside the tabletop oven. Strange (and in my American-raised brain, hazardous to the health), but convenient for re-heating…
When I moved to my permanent site and lived with my next host family, I had to play an entire new game of “Where’s the food kept?” Again, the correct answer did not start with a “K” or rhyme with “Stitchen.” There was a refrigerator in that room, and some food was contained therein. There were also cupboards and drawers that contained dishes and silverware. But I had to rely on my host mother to feed me once again, because I couldn’t figure out where to get all the ingredients to make a proper meal.
Then she left, for almost two weeks, to see a doctor in Yerevan. While she was gone, I had to do some exploring around the house, to figure out how to keep from starving.
Here is what I found:
There was a huge empty room that was just used for storage. In that room there were:
- Green peppers and eggplants drying on the floor
- Onions in a sack on the window sill
- Garlic bulbs on another window sill behind a curtain
- Flour in a huge canister in one corner
- Sugar in a smaller plastic container in another distant corner
- Sacks of grains along one wall
- A big tank full of Armenian cheese along another wall
The house was big, and I still needed a few more items.
- In one bedroom I found beverages, stacked nicely on the floor against the wall next to a wardrobe.
- On top the wardrobe was homemade canned fruit juice.
- In another bedroom I found nuts, bay leaves, and dried fruit.
- In the bathroom I found a sack of potatoes.
- In the living/dining room, on the window sill, I found drying cherries.
- In a root cellar under the house, I found crates of apples, pears, more potatoes, cabbages, and pumpkins.
It was a game of hide-and-seek, between me and the food. Fun for awhile, but ultimately pretty frustrating. It didn’t make sense to me why it wasn’t all just kept in one place, for easy access.
I still don’t have all the answers, but now that I live on my own, it makes a little more sense. There are no pantries here. Counter space is extremely limited in these old Soviet houses/apartments, and cupboards are also scarce. You just put the food wherever you can find room. Also, for the sake of food staying edible for the winter months, you need a root cellar, and that’s where a lot of the food is “hidden.”
Here is how far I have integrated into this new mindset: My kitchen has 1 cupboard and 0 drawers. (In fact my entire apartment has 0 drawers.) There is one small counter area that is 2/3 taken over by my portable gas stove top. There was one table in the kitchen. And that is it. Barely room for anything.
In my entryway, there was a little rack/shelf thingy for shoes. I cleaned it up and hauled it into my kitchen, where it now holds my dishes, silverware, some spices, and a few food items. (And, occasionally, my small electric oven.) Some overflow goes in my “refrigerator,” which is the coldest part of the floor, near my drafty balcony door.
In my cupboard under my stove, I filled the one shelf with a few more food items. I also put some things in a cardboard box and made a second shelf of sorts under the first shelf.
Where do I store the rest of my food? In bags next to my bed, and on top my wardrobe. Where else?
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