Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, my family and I had a multitude of Armenian markets at our disposal. From the grocery stores to the meat markets my mom would drag me to as a kid, they all have a certain energy that brings me back to my childhood when I walk in.
If you’ve never been to one, here is your guide on both what to expect and what to buy.
Renaissance-styledThis is going to sound crazy but every Armenian market makes me feel like I’m in Venice, Italy. They have the most over-the-top interior that is both comical and charming. In my experience, I’ve seen two main design plans. The first is the most beautiful Renaissance-styled paintings all over the walls complemented by grand archways. The second is a more subtle Venetian city literally being brought to life, with fake pop-up windows and balconies all over the walls. I’m waiting for the day that one of these North Hollywood markets gets featured in Architectural Digest.
Now, when you enter the meat/deli section, say goodbye to Venice because you’re entering the boys club. Nothing is more comforting than a deli full of men who look like your uncles. That charm carries on as we see a difference in design as well. We go from grand to musk, as the walls are designed with the most unique Armenian caricatures. The caricatures also look like my uncles if you were curious.
Now when you enter the market, just know that you are entering the lion's den. You have to walk in there like you are the most important person in that store because all eyes are on you baby, so don’t mess this up. The staff isn’t the most… friendly. They will speak to you with an attitude so you just have to return the favor and they’ll ease up on you. Don’t take this part of the experience personally, it’s just the culture. If you go there enough times, they’ll know your name and before you know it you’ll be invited to the butcher's sisters friends sons dogs engagement party. Fun!
I have to mention this food/beverage item first because this is the crème de la crème of what you can get at these markets. I know it may not sound appealing, but this is the best soda you will ever have. It’s sweeter than you would think, being that tarragon is an herb, but the taste is almost indescribable. This is a staple.
They usually come in big jugs or singl glass bottles. The drink used to come in bottles with the design on the right, but I haven’t seen that brand in a while. Don’t know what happened but sending them my love. Nowadays they usually come in bottles like the one on the left.
I had to scour the ends of the internet to find and explain this one. These are called corn sticks, allegedly. A super sweet snack that has the same consistency as a Cheeto puff but if they were anilla flavored. The first time I had these was a long time ago when my cousins came back from Armenia and got these bad boys in bulk, I soon told my mom to find these the next time she went to the store and she did! We’ve been eating good since.
The mascot kind of looks like if Tony the Tiger and Puss in Boots had a Russian love child.
Now we Armenians love to barbecue, rain or shine. And yes, we’ve done it in literally the rain and the shine. So what we need more than anything is charcoal and lighter fluid, and the party range can go from 4-400 people so we need lots of it. Luckily, every store is equipped with an apocalyptic amount of them, so much that there just might be a designated aisle for it or they’ll conveniently be near the cash register. No zombie attack is gonna stop us from having our xorovats.
Have you ever seen your mother grab just one pack of lavash? Couldn’t be my mom. Like the charcoal, there is usually an ungodly amount of fresh lavash in the bakery section if not all around the store. This bread is so light and versatile in use, perfect for any kind of wrap, or of course our favorite, xorovats. There is usually enough at the market to feed an entire village. So if some hippy store with an owner named Joe ever decides to make their own version of this, if they haven’t already, I urge you to stick to the good stuff at your local Armenian market instead.
Now you can’t buy lavash and not grab a canister of Piknik Cheese with it! That is blasphemous. Piknik cheese is a staple in any Armenian household. You can have this in the morning with some lavash and tea, or as we say “hats, panir, chai”, or at dinner time as a side. This brand has all sorts of cheeses, but Piknik is the superior choice. So salty and just breaks apart in your hands, very similar to feta. I personally like to pair this with some cucumbers or even watermelon. Don’t knock it till you try it.
Priyaniks are my kryptonite! Another snack item that you can have at different times of the day, whether it be breakfast or dessert. They are dense yet soft in texture, and also have a satisfying crumble to them with some powdered sugar on top. I’ve seen many variations of this cookie, but this specific one takes me back, it has my heart.
Now this is childhood. I had to save the most nostalgic for last. We were not a frozen yogurt or ice cream sandwich kind of family, we were a Dadu household. Nothing makes me remember my past more than this ice cream. Don’t know if it’s the distinctness of their vanilla or if it's because they haven’t changed their packaging since the Soviet times. They also come in chocolate and probably more flavors nowadays, but the vanilla is classic.
I hope this was a good rundown of what you can buy and expect to see at your local Armenian market.
Most of these markets are small family businesses so if you live near one, please go and support them. All of the things I’ve mentioned on the list provoke a nostalgic feeling for me one way or another, so whether these are all new to you or give you the same memories as they give me, try them out and don’t forget to invite me to the dog’s engagement party.