Discovering a lost cuisine

Manti at Mayrig restaurant in Beirut. (Arab News)
Updated 26 September 2018

Discovering a lost cuisine

  • Armenian restaurant Mayrig is tucked away in the outskirts of Gemmayze, Beirut
  • Armenian cuisine has been described as a lost cuisine, but Mayrig proves otherwise

BEIRUT: Tucked away in the outskirts of Gemmayze, Armenian restaurant Mayrig might have been difficult to spot if not for the busy valet service. The setting, an old stone house with a garden-style walk-through, lined with plants of all sorts, indicates an effort to create a cozy, home-like atmosphere in a bustling location.
This ambience is reflected inside and out. The interior is designed like any traditional Levantine home, with oriental carpets, patterned-tile floors and stone-wall interiors. Black-and-white portraits of the owner’s ancestors line the walls, creating a warm and welcoming experience of a kind you might expect at a grandmother’s home. Our host, George, played a major part in making us feel welcome and at home with a few jokes and words of wisdom between every course.
We were sampling a degustation menu, which began with a huge selection of salads and appetizers. One of the most popular was the famous eetch, a tangy and spicy salad made with cooked bulgur and tomato paste, lightly topped with parsley. It is similar in some ways to the Lebanese tabbouleh, yet very different in taste and consistency. 
Perhaps the overall favorite appetizer was the printzov keufteh, a rice-crusted kebbe in which the sweet starchiness of the crispy rice shell blends beautifully with the savory meat-and-pine nut filling.
The appetizers ended with a selection of traditional Armenian cheese pies called sou beureg. Three flavors were offered, listed in our order of preference — thyme, sujuk and basterma. Sujuk and basterma are traditional, spicy, air-cured Armenian sausages that became popular in Lebanon after Armenians settled in the country. Thyme and cheese always pair well, but the sujuk pie was overwhelming thanks to its smoky saltiness and the basterma completely overpowered the cheese with its powerful, gamy flavor.
We were already starting to feel full as the main courses began to arrive. First to be served was the fishnah kebab, a grilled-beef kebab topped with a wild sour cherry sauce. This was the only real let down of the meal, as the kebab was dry and lacked seasoning. However, the cherry sauce was the perfect balance between sweet and sour.
This recipe was brought to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, by an influx of Armenian refugees returning to their homeland after the civil war began in Syria. As such it is a dish that perfectly embodies what Armenian food has become — an ever-changing food culture.
Next on the main course menu was the unforgettable manti. Crisp-on-the-outside minced-meat dumplings were doused in a spicy tomato sauce, allowing them to soften, then topped with yogurt and a dash of sumac to balance out the heat. This is definitely a crowd-pleaser at Mayrig and they even offer a vegetarian version made with spinach.
Finally, we came to the dessert menu, beginning with the rose loukoum ice cream, a light and airy sherbet with a fun chew due to the inclusion of mastic — a plant resin. Another must-try is the semi-dried apricot stuffed with ashta, a Lebanese milk pudding. The desserts will bring you back to Mayrig, if nothing else does.
Mayrig — which means “mother” in Armenian — pays tribute to all the Armenian women through the ages who, despite war and other hardships, were able to ensure that the traditional flavors and recipes of their ancestors endured.
Armenian cuisine has been described as a lost cuisine. However, Mayrig proves otherwise as it gathers together varieties from across the regions and generations — and now it is coming full circle by returning to its homeland, with the opening of a new restaurant in Yerevan.

Baby Talk: How to deal with fears of first time parents

Updated 09 December 2019

Baby Talk: How to deal with fears of first time parents

  • Babies are totally dependent on their parents and care-givers for all their needs
  • Learning is on the job, but you can be prepared

DUBAI: It is natural for a first time mom (and dad) to have fears and worries about the responsibility of their brand new little baby. Babies are tiny, they are vulnerable, and they are totally dependent on their parents and care-givers for all their needs. This can seem overwhelming, and as each baby is different, it is not possible to provide a text-book of answers with each new arrival. Learning is on the job, but you can be prepared.

Common worries of first time parents:

  • Recognizing your baby’s cries

At first your baby’s cries may sound similar to you but soon you will learn to recognize the difference between a hungry cry for feed, a cry of discomfort for a diaper change or other discomfort, or a more serious discomfort such as colic or something else. An unusually high pitched cry can mean illness. You will soon not only know what your baby wants but also recognize your baby’s cry among other babies.

  • Going out of the home with your baby

It can be scary leaving the house for the first time with your new baby; the outside world can seem hazardous and contact with other people give risk to sources of infection. It is perfectly natural to feel this way but important to remember that the benefits or getting out and about with your baby will outweigh the risk with planning and preparation. Take sensible precautions with safety when you are out and ensure you have everything with you that you need including a cell phone for emergencies. Strangers may wish to admire your baby but it is reasonable to not allow others outside immediate family and friends handle your baby. Keep your first trips out short until you feel more comfortable and take someone with you if that helps you build confidence.

  • Waking your sleeping baby

New parents are often frightened to make a noise during their baby’s nap times in case they wake. Naturally you have finally got your baby to sleep and will not want to wake them. It is best to carry out general house chores and conversations as usual because babies are used to noise from within the womb. Background noise of TV, vacuum cleaner, chatting or fans should not be avoided and your baby will become accustomed to sleeping through such noise. Loud and sudden noises will wake a sleeping baby but they should not wake because of usual household noise and there is certainly no need to tiptoe around a sleeping baby.

  • Putting baby down to sleep while they are crying

It is emotionally hard to put your baby in their crib whilst they are crying, particularly if they double their efforts as soon as you have laid them down. However it is also not idea to be in a situation where you cannot put your baby down to sleep for hours whilst you rock and sooth them, exhausting yourself and also possibly your baby. Babies can become overtired and if you have taken care of feeding, changing and winding and your baby is still fussing and crying they may need to sleep and will soon settle if you allow them to cry on their own a short while. The more used a baby is to settling themselves the better for baby and parents. Be brave and try to leave them briefly whilst close at hand and see if they settle by themselves. It is not wise to leave a baby to cry for too long and always seek medical advice if you have any concerns.

  • Handing over the baby care

One of the hardest things for a new mom to do is hand her baby over to another to care for in her absence, sometimes even if the person is her husband and she is only gone for a short time. This is natural and does not mean that you do not trust the person it means that you are programmed to be present for your baby at all times! However it is very important in modern society that you are able to leave your baby with your partner, trusted family members and friends. It is important that your baby leans to be soothed by others than yourself. It will become easier with time. Remember it is not important that your baby is wearing the outfit you would have chosen or if things have not been tidied away like you would have done, the important things is that you were able to have time away from your baby and that your baby is safe on your return.

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