Sarigyugh: The Tradition of Armenians and Bread
“In the past, when baking bread, neighbors or relatives all gathered together to help one another, and women in the village who were in need would also help and be paid with bread they baked,” says 22-year-old resident of Sarigyugh David Yeganyan.
As soon as I stepped into Melik-Yegan bakery, the smell of baked bread immediately made me forget what I was going to say or think. That’s probably why David tried to quickly bring me back to reality with a freshly baked sweetroll. And then he started to tell his story and how the idea of opening Melik-Yegan bakery in Sarigyugh came about.
“After the Soviet era, Sarigyugh in Tavush province did not have its own furnace. Local residents were forced to get bread from nearby villages. Today, this problem is solved and there is no shortage of hot, fresh bread.”
In the meantime, I nibbled on the sweetbread, baked with a secret recipe that is also the bakery’s signature dish. The young businessman informed me that he had never thought about baking bread before. Ever since he was a child, he dreamed of becoming an actor, which explained his long signature and the star at the end. Years pass and the wish to become an actor fades, but the signature remains.
To the question of why bake bread, he said that bread has a closer connection with his homeland than anything else. “Do you know that in ancient times Armenians swore in fealty to their country on lavash because it was considered sacred? By swearing on lavash, it was assumed that if someone were to not honor their oath he would be deprived his main food source – bread,” he added.
David bakes bread when they’re shorthanded, thus helping his staff. He distributes the bread throughout the villages himself, and raw materials used to prepare the bread, apart from the yeast, he buys from small businesses, thereby supporting his partners.
Melik-Yegan bakery prepares a unique type of stone bread. It is baked not in a brick oven, but rather in a ‘tonir’ (Armenian tandoor oven) built and used by their forefathers. Both the taste and the quality of the bread is different.
Quoting from the traditions of ancient Armenians, he mentioned that the first loaf of bread taken out of the oven was given to the poor or to family. Otherwise, the lady of the home would die and the man would later change several wives. Tossing breading on the ground was considered a sin. It could not be put on the head as it would lead to infertility. It was thought that God was not pleased when a knife was taken to bread as it destroys its preciousness.
He also recalled that the first baked bread of Melik-Yegan bakery was served by the late Norik Grandpa who was ill. “One of my childhood memories is that the first bread has to be tasted by Norik, since our whole neighborhood baked bread,” he recalls.
The production of small cookies was also a new addition to the bakery. “Back in the day, when baking bread, there was always a little dough leftover, from which cookies were made for children, and that we ate with pleasure. The young people of the village would remember it well: It’s a sweet memory that always warms our hearts.”
And why is there a bakery by the name of Melik-Yegan in Tavush? Isn’t it true that the center of the famous Khamsa’s Melikdoms, an autonomous government established by the struggle of Artaskh’s five melikdoms, was called Togh. David with great pride says, “We are descendants of Dizak Melik Yegan.”
At the end of the conversation David added, “The sweet scent of freshly baked bread never leaves anyone indifferent to the bakery. When you go through the village, stop by and very promptly there will be treats in the form of “a nibble of bread and cheese.”
At the end of my trip, I had a huge paper bag in my hand and lots of secret recipe sweetrolls.
The material was prepared with the support of Berkaber NGO
Translator Alice Ananian