Words by Hourik KazarianWords by Katy LanceleyPhotography by Victoria Harley
Hourik Kazarian moved to America at the age of 12. Now 49, and with a keen interest in food, Hourik shares with us how she always goes back to her roots when she’s in need of a delicious, wholesome snack, and how she credits her late grandmother with her love of good food.
“I moved to the United States when I was just 12, yet my roots were already set deep in the nourishing soil of grandma’s kitchen. Even to this day, when I’m in need of a quick bite to eat, I still return, time and time again, to one of the many snacks grandma used to hand to me. They brought such comfort and pleasure to my body and soul at that very young age, and still have the same effect today.”
Hourik’s Grandma lived in the beautiful city of Beirut, Lebanon. A survivor of the Armenian genocide, perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire around the turn of the twentieth century, she’d had to survive on the precious rinds of what her oppressors threw out, and, tragically, had watched her fifteen year old sister die of starvation. “To her, having food to cook was never a chore, but a luxury which she cherished and made the most of. She planted, she harvested, she preserved and she pickled. She appreciated and loved food and she knew how to make the most ordinary dish explode with flavour”.
“The perfect grandma”, is how Hourik remembers her. “She was an excellent cook, a loving mentor and a sage”. Hourik’s memories of her grandmother are centred around food,
“I honestly don’t remember my grandmother in any other setting than her kitchen. She was always busy, and mostly busy cooking”.
The snacks which Hourik’s grandmother lovingly prepared have stuck with her through distance and time “They were an occasion to celebrate the bounty in grandma’s kitchen. Enormous, fresh pita breads, lined with cheeses and aromatic cucumbers, rolled tightly into long wraps, which were handed to me the moment I walked into the kitchen. If it were a cold winter’s day, she would stuff the pita bread with Armenian string cheese and toast it on the fire which warmed the kitchen. The cheese would gradually melt as the pita gently toasted, resulting in a grilled cheese sandwich like no other.”
And that was just the beginning. Hourik’s grandmother experimented with an array of fillings for her pitas “Grandma cured her own olives, and as delicious as they already were, she elevated them further with her simple marinade. These would be placed in rows in the pita bread, along with slices of fresh, red tomato, mint from her garden and young green onions. They were rolled tightly and handed to me, boasting flavours I’ll never forget”.
Another favourite was the selection of homemade pickles; cucumbers, tomatoes, jicama, beets, cauliflower and cabbage – all pickled and displayed beautifully in her kitchen, ready to be wrapped in pita bread with some sort of mortadella, ham or salami. “The store bought charcuterie was a delicacy that she only served occasionally, but in grandma’s hands they transcended into the most delectable of treats”.
For Hourik’s grandma, food was the language and instrument of love, and Hourik grew to feel the same way. “My response to any situation is food – good food. Food that takes me back to the wonderful memories of grandma’s kitchen”