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Taleen Voskuni: Armenian Food Is Resistance

Taleen Voskuni: Armenian Food Is Resistance

I am a romance writer, one who tries her best to carry out a weighty goal: preserve Armenian culture, in whatever large and small ways I can. The plot of my latest romantic comedy novel, Lavash at First Sight, is lighthearted and hijinx-heavy. It also is a love letter to Western Armenian food, the cuisine I grew up with, and the ones my ancestors have been cooking for centuries.

For Armenians, food is not simply tradition wrapped up in delectable smells and tastes. The cooking and consuming of Armenian food is also a form of resistance. The governments of Turkey and Azerbaijan have attempted to exterminate all Armenians, and even today, there is a movement trying to actively decimate Armenian people from the earth. This erasure is not just of our lands but of our culture. It’s nearly impossible to fight back, but I hope that my book is one step in the right direction.

Cultural erasure is quiet, slow, and insidious. Anything Armenian in origin, from food to dances to musical instruments, is being rebranded as Azerbaijani or Turkish (seriously). So when I include the dish manti—tiny meatballs wrapped in phyllo dough and baked or fried to perfection—in my book, and rightfully call it an Armenian dish, I am reclaiming this food as ours. Sharing our traditions with a new set of non-Armenian readers.

At the center of Lavash at First Sight is a cooking competition where brands need to showcase their foods. I had such a wonderful time detailing fresh lavash, sweet and sour sarmas, crispy manti, and more in these scenes. Both women in the book love Armenian food as much as I do, and the book is almost as much a love letter to Armenian food as it is a romance between the two women!

I am hoping that focusing a romance novel around food can be my small contribution to fight cultural erasure. It is one stake in the ground, planting an Armenian flag in this corner of romancelandia.

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It would be wonderful if my book coaxes readers of Armenian and non-Armenian origin to make manti and other Western Armenian foods themselves. They will know the origins of these dishes, and they’ll be in for a real treat.

Lavash at First Sight is published by Pan on 9 May 2024

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