BY SARKIS RSHDOUNI
Special to Asbarez
Every culture on this planet has their own ethnic cuisine, however, it is hard to believe that there is one type of food represented by one specific culture, in this day and age.
As I, being part Armenian, part Assyrian, and part Greek, born and raised in the eastern part of Syria; the Lower Mesopotamia, and Aleppo, the heaven of Middle Eastern cuisine, literally, I had the chance to eat wholeheartedly all types of food and national and ethnic cuisines, such us, of course Western Armenian, Assyrian, Levantine, Arabic, Mediterranean and more. Even with all these options at my disposal, I chose to become a vegetarian at the age of 14, perhaps a very rare commitment in Syria.
Since my graduation from Yerevan State University, Faculty of History, it was my obsession to find the origins and etymology of not just language, but actual titles and colloquialism of all the dialects of Armenian used today. Hence, I started with one of the most popular and loved foods of the Armenian culture: LAHMAJO(UN).
I have come across several blogs, articles, and personal testimonies regarding “Lahmajo,” with the word being of Arabic in origin, whilst the actual food is not. I have concluded in my extensive research that the food that we call “Lahmajo(un)” has spiritual pagan origins dating back to the late Iron Age 900-650 BC, at the very least. Allow me to explain further starting with:
Flour, water, salt, ground meat, baked into a thin crust in a pit oven, known as Tandoor or Tonir.
It is very obvious that the thin crust was inspired by Lavash itself and the meat was beef, to be more specific, it was HEIFER (young cow, not calf).
The reader must wonder, why Lavash and why heifer meat?
The Answer goes back circa 2100 years ago, during the Artashesian reign (Artaxiad Dynasty).
Why Lavash? Lavash is the most sacred food among the Armenian people through out history. Making Lavash is a sacred ritual that requires a lot of dedicated physical work and back in the ancient times it was committed only by women. Armenian women solely dominated the Lavash making tradition, and the reason behind it is simply very obvious; women represent the Godess Anahit’s elements, traits, and divine feminine energy, where the Tonir oven represents the womb creating and birth-giving in this world and thus they have the blessing of Goddess Anahit to prepare the main part of their food, which is the bread of life. Lavash also used to be given as gifts and offerings to Goddess Anahit during rituals and holidays as a symbol of fertility and prosperity and even protection.
Armenian Historian Hamazasp Khachatryan explains this in his book titled “A Form Of Worshipping Goddess Anahit in Ancient Shirak,” where he states firsthand accounts of Greek Historian Plutarchus (1st century AD) witnessing the heifer as the main animal sacrifice to Goddess Anahit in the province of Shirak. The other provinces where temples of Goddess Anahit existed had similar types of sacrifices.
We can conclude and assume that this specific type of sacrificial meat that was only used in Lahmajo(un) was a ceremonial food. Taking into consideration, ancient Armenians’ daily nutrition was majorly based on grains, bread, dairy, and herbs, meat was exceptional, consumed mainly by the noble class and during rituals and holidays for commoners.
LAHM bi-Ajeen (Arabic), LAHM-ACHUN (turkish) literally means meat with dough. If “Lahmajo(un)” was an Arabic/Levantine invention then why wouldn’t they have a proper name for it? Example, Italians don’t call their Pasta “boiled dough,” they have a name for it. If we think “Lahmajo(un)” was translated directly from an Armenian name, we would be wrong, because in Armenian it would have been “khmorov mees or meesov khmor”, that just doesn’t sound right, Armenians are more traditionalists with their food and names.
Taking into consideration, “Lahmajo(un)” was introduced to northern Syria, state of Aleppo in the late 19th century, and that was mainly through the Armenians of Aintab and Urha and Cilicia regions who moved to Aleppo for merchant businesses, trade, and work, where Armenians became the masters of crafts and the food industry in general. It’s no surprise that Armenians started naming “lahmajo(un)/lahmajeen” for their Arabic and turkish speaking clients to make their product more appealing and easy to order.
During my research, I came across of two Armenian colloquial terms that could be close to “Lahmajo(un)” which are “M’salosh – Մսալօշ and M’sashot – Մսաշոթ”. With that said, the two titles are still a direct translation from “Lahmajo(un),” “mees” is meat and “losh” is Lavash, and “shot/շոթ” couldn’t find an official meaning for it which still explains the ingredients rather than the concept.
Let’s check with Arab of the Levant and those who turkified the Arabic word “Lahmajo(un).” In Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine “Lahmajo(un) is not consumed by the main populations, only by the minority Armenian Diaspora. From Aleppo is where the “Lahmajo(un) got its unique style that became more popularized with the greater Diaspora community around the world that now use pepper based spices and etc. Aleppo is famous with its chili pepper flakes and paste, and in Beirut is made little bit differently, but overall it is the same style and concept of the same ancestral “Lahmajo(un)”. In Damascus, probably in late 40’s “lahm bi-ajeen” became a popular street food, as a matter of fact, Damascenes have a similar food, similar in concept and ingredients but smaller in size, called “S’fiha – صفيحة” (meaning flat), where I, personally think that is a gentrified version of the Armenian product.
The Proper Naming Solution:
Taking into account the popularity of “Lahmajo(un)” and its roots in Armenian History and heritage, the community at large should come up with an original name. Until a proper Armenian title of the beloved meat and bread combination is named, I suggest at the very least start calling it “M’salosh or M’sashot”, by doing so one would be removing the turkified Arabic title that is commonly used everyday.
When Armenians proudly introduce and feed “Lahmajo(un)” to their non-Armenian friends in their hospitable nature and tell them of its Armenian origins and maybe even call it an Armenian Pizza and be proud and all that, but that pride shatters down as soon as the non-Armenian person asks, what does “Lahmajo(un)” mean? And you stumble and sorrowfully say, it is Arabic or turkish. How ironic.
I call to all Armenian Historians, Historical Linguistics and Anthropologists to collaborate all together and find the original word for “Lahmajo(un)” and free our heritage from the unauthentic elements.
Yes, lets collectively find a new name or dig deep to revive an old name for one of our most popular foods!
It is so strange few days ago there was discussion on social media I did respond Arabic lahmajoun as all call it is different I make now and then and I do call my American friends its Armenian pizza thank you for lightening the origin I will share
Total nonsense. Lahmajo is a Russian Armenian concoction. No one outside of current day Armenia calls it “lahmajo”. It’s simply a colloquial misunderstanding of the word. Besides, almost every western Armenian food is named with Turkish descriptions, e.g., dolma (to fill), sarma (to wrap), boreg (patty), kufta, mante, etc. Coincidentally, Greeks call sarma as dolma to. They’re equally misinformed as to the origin and meaning of the word. How can sarma be filled? Shawarma is another mangling of the descriptive word. It’s çaverma in Turkish. literally meaning to shred. But somehow, it has evolved to shawarma in Arabic. In Germany locals there know lahmacun as Turkish food because of the large Turkish population. Since food can not be patented, all food is local until it enters a new geographical area. Only then can it be claimed by the first culture to introduce it.
I don’t agree with your statements.
Let’s not forget that Turkish is a very mixed language. They’ve borrowed a lot of words from Armenian and Arabic. They also have lots of modern words in French (mid half to end of 20th century). They use the French word and most Turks wouldn’t even know the words they use come from the French language. Lately, new terms from the 21st century are being copied from English and presented and used as if they were native Turkish words in Turkey.
Take for example, the words for appetizer in Turkish (taken from Greek), or words for pepper (taken from Armenian), for a Turkish native, they claim Greek/Armenians copied those words but they are ancient and old words in their respective languages. Just because you borrow another languages word and have a meaning for it in your language doesn’t make what it represents your own.
Another example not related to food, is that Turks use the word khatch (cross in Armenian). They’ve Turkified the spelling of the word and used that word for centuries and claim its a Turkish word since they’ve used it for 800+ years. However, we all know that it is in fact an Armenian word dating back millennia.
If you study etimology, you’ll understand what I’m trying to say.
Now for the article, it is very interesting and plausible. Let’s not forgot that a lot of history was lost during the genocide. We’re still finding documents and historical data for things we never even knew we had.
enjoyed reading your point of vue !
I have a better suggestion: Let’s all boycott eating Lahmajo / Lamajo / Lamajun until the Armenian government denounces these foreign words and declares February 29 “Day of Me-sa-shot”! Take a step!
I am afraid you would have to boycott everything and starve to death. 😛
I love learning about the origins of food and the etymological lineage of words! Thank you for this article and its timely publication, as today’s episode of Armenian Enough’s podcast features a discussion of this very topic!
Thank you for your supportive feedback and can you share with me a link to that discussion?. I’d love to share it with my folks as well.
Better not to change its original name …
“Lahim-be-ajeen” …never Turkish it is Arabic …
from the Middle East, Lebanese or Palestinian mostly not Syrian
as far as I can tell…
What do you mean ?
it’s neither Arabic nor turkish – it’s Armenian.
An absolutely great point, we (Armenians) MUST “free our heritage from the unauthentic elements.”
Let’s begin by renaming our foods and MOST importantly make Western Armenian the official language of the Republic. Every time I hear our fellow Armenians using the Russified and Farsified version of our precious mother language, I get jittery.
I’m all with you 100% ! I couldn’t agree with you more. I have thinking and saying this for long time. I personally don’t find Armenian spoken in Armenia very attractive or pleasant sounding to the ear at all. Specially, when spoken rather harshly with heavy emphasis on the letter “R”:) too rough and rude sounding. Nothing pleasant about it at all. And while we are at it, we should also make a great deal of efforts to change our Turkish derived names. Which I frankly think some of the last names are downright ridiculous and embarrassing. Armenians want to be identified more with Europe and boost tourism? Then, they must try to simplify our names and learn and master these two languages, English and French better than any of their neighbors.
Dolma, sarma, suboreg, ishlikofte… Tshpaghtapar mer ampoghch djasheroun anounnere odar lezvov ge gochenk.
Nouynisk aboukhd ou yershik eselou degh basterma soujoukh gsenk…
Please visit our webpage and find Armenian Food Culture monograph, would be helpful.
For any question and support pease fill free to contact me Dr.Armen Mehrabyan
I’m Sarkis Rshdouni, the author.
Can you exchange contacts with me? Please drop me an email with your webpage.
I love this article
You had me at
Why Lavash? Lavash is the most sacred food among the Armenian people through out history.
I allways thought it’s called mesashot
Very well said, and what a great idea. Thank you for the Armenian words replacing the Arabic /Turkish word for our beloved Armenian food. As of today I’ll start using “msalosh”. It’s easy enough to remember if one speaks Armenian. I always wondered why our food had Arabic name, it was explained to me this way: after the Armenian genocide when the survivors settled in Syria in big numbers, some of those survivors went into bakery business, and that’s why all bakery (fourn) owners , were Armenian, because msalosh was baked in the same bakery (fourn) where bread ( pitta) was baked daily, somehow they-bakery owners named it lahmajeen.
Thank you very much for
Clarifying the origin of
Lahmajoun I was always
Curious where did it come
And how did it get the name.
Thank you for your kind and supportive feedback.
LAHMAJUN (LAHEM WA AJEEN) MEANS= MEAT AND BREAD-DOUGH THE ARABS CALL IT SFEEHA BUT THEY MAKE IT DIFFRENT WITH THICK DOUGH MEAT AND PINE NUTS THE ARMENIAN VERSION IN VERY THIN DOUGH AND SPICY MEAT WITH TOMATO MY FAMILY IS ORIGINALLY FROM AINTAB AND THEY LOVED TAKING THE DOUH AND PREPARED MEAT TO THE LAHMAJUN BAKER TO BAKE IN HIS SPECIAL LAHMAJUN WOOD OVEN IN JERUSALEM THE WAIT WAS WORTH IT IT WAS DELICIOUS
Who cares how you and your parents cooked it – the point is that it’s not called “lahmajoun”.
Sorry but this is incredibly stupid. Are we going to go through our lexicon and start removing all the words whose etymology rubs us wrong? Let’s not even begin to discuss the topic of the Russification of Armenian… Armenian, like ALL living languages, has a rich vocabulary for a reason. Take a minute to study historical linguistics if you need. If you take out every word from Armenian that is not Urartian in origin, you will be close to left with just the most rudimentary vocab and some mostly ancient place names in Armenia… I am 100% Armenian and adore our culture and especially our language – and speak it fluently – but I am not going to start messing with words like Lahmajoun… Freedom fries anyone?
Great, that’s absolutely your right. For some lahmajun naming is more Armenian than msalosh.
Good research. Thanks for the article.
If the names you came across during your research are Msashot or Msalosh, it might mean that this the way it was called name. Therefore I do not see a reason why we should invent a new name.
P.S. My mother called it Msashot and I learned that name from her.
Thank you for your supportive feedback and yes I agree with you, but however I’m sure there was a short slang or dialectic name for it and why not to find it, or recreate it.
Really interesting research! Would you share the recipe for the vegetarian lahmajo
Thanks your for your supportive feedback. I apologize I can’t sahre the ingredients with you for 2 simple reason, first, I don’t know what are the exacts ingredients and scales and second, it’s only passed to female family members of the family.
I have always called it “Hyepie!” Authentically Armenian
Great research article, but I am not entirely convinced that lahmajoun is Armenian by origin. If it had been, then it would have had an original Armenian name for it. Unless, the Armenian creators of it didn’t speak any Armenian. It’s possible, but who knows for sure!
Thank you for your kind words and I understand your point of view and to be frank I thought the same when I was still a scholar but however, the majority of our folklore heritage got lost or destroyed during the centuries by so many events and it wouldn’t be surprising if we lost the proper original naming then. Also, the nations and races neighboring ancient Armenia did not have tonir nor lavash, hence that makes it more unique and original to the Armenian kitchen.
The Italian word pasta means ʿaǧīn عَجِين, or dough, so the argument is not valid. The called that kind of food just “paste” or dough. It is interesting that the Arabic ʿaǧīn عَجِين turns up in Turkish as “lahmacun” (pronounced lahmajoon, not “LAHM-ACHUN”). The Redhouse dictionary explains that “lahmacun” has an older version “lahmül’acîn” لحم العجين, without the bi بِـ of modern Arabic. This suggests that it’s an older Arabic word in Turkish, and these almost without exception were borrowed from Persian without direct contact with Arabs. Conclusion: this analysis is thought-provoking, but not well enough researched for publication. A lot of additional linguistic and historical analysis is necessary.
One I comment on this article but nobody contact to me.
If you really want to help to rehabilitate or rediscover Armenian Food Culture, then you should support to your local Armenian Communities, Food Epicurean and Enthusiast make it happen.
Now the real name of Lahmajo : Armenian call it Bdjig and yuo can find it in many regional Cook Books where aremania lives (unfortunately Genocide change the history and our culture too), but you can find it in many cookbooks too. One of the beautiful source I like about Armenia is compatriots of Armenia who developed http://www.haushamadyan.org. The link for Lahmaju recipies is https://www.houshamadyan.org/mapottomanempire/vilayetofmamuratulazizharput/kaza-of-arapgir/lochal-characteristics/foods.html
You can also find in my book about several type os Armenian Breads (out of 120 varieties of Armenian Breads we rehabilitate 80 with full recipes and history, including origin of grains that were used for flour….) You can find the Armenian Food Culture in y slideshare page for free
I totally agree with you!!
Hmmmm….. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I totally understand the thought process… but what happens 50, 80, 100 years down the road, when Armenians don’t know what “Lahmajun” is, and they’re reading books, family or village histories, reading about Medz mama’s journal about being in the kitchen making “Lahmajun” or Medz hayring having a well known corner shop making “Lahmajun”, and no one knows what it is?
As a genealogist, I tend to look at things from the perspective of the future. Our histories are already hard to trace — and not just from the death and family separation caused from the genocide. The changing of surnames has a lot to do with it, too.
I hear often about the push for people in the diaspora to continue to speak Armenian, to write in the Armenian alphabet, to teach their children to do the same for the very purpose of preserving it for future generations. And I understand that.
But EVERY language adopts words from other languages. It doesn’t always have to do with oppression and force. Half of the words in this very article are “borrowed” from other languages.
The very first sentence alone — “Every culture on this planet has their own ethnic cuisine, however, it is hard to believe that there is one type of food represented by one specific culture, in this day and age.”
“Culture” is a FRENCH word. “Cuisine” is a FRENCH word. “Type” is a FRENCH word. “Represent” is a FRENCH word. “Specific” is a FRENCH word. “Age” is a FRENCH word.
And that’s just the first sentence!! We could be here ALL DAY doing this.
Should we come up with our own “uniquely” English words for all these? For what purpose? Moreover, 100 years from now, if we DID change all those words, would any English speaking person understand that sentence?
My grandmother was 100% Armenian. She spoke Armenian. She called it Lahmajun. Her mother called it Lahmajun and she ONLY spoke Armenian. If those who LIVED through the atrocities called their own beloved food “Lahmajun”, even when they were speaking Armenian, and didn’t feel some compelling drive to change the name to something else, then who are we– 100 years later, completely free from the troubles they endured, free from anyone “forcing” us to speak a different language- to change the name of a BELOVED food tradition that THEY THEMSELVES embraced? And how will the generations AFTER us be able to read and understand our histories, much less the histories of those who’ve gone before us, if we’ve changed half the vocabulary out of spite?
Guys I have to be honest with you all and the topic starter. If we go by the name used for the dish it’s obviously Arabic. You need to source your statements that Armenian sellers chose the Arab variant to sell the dish, this is just a sad attempt and pure nationalism that clouds the judgement. It’s obviously a Levantine Arab dish. Just like Dolma is Turkish in origin. Names for dishes almost most of the time give away their origins. Even many Turks agree it is Arab in origin and that it before becoming widespread in Turkey it was only known in South Eastern Turkey around Urfa and Gazientep where many Arabs live.
Your comment does not make any sense. The etymology of a word does not always correlate to the origin of a dish, it gives a hint, but no historian would use it as a definite evidence of its origin. Vinegret comes from French vinaigrette, yet it is a salad which you will find only in Russia, Croatian Rafioli come from the word Ravioli, but it has nothing to do with Italian Ravioli and just because the word köfte/kafta comes from Persian, does not mean that Balaban köfte, Malai kofta or chiftele de ciuperci mutate into a Persian dish, because they differ significantly from the Persian kofteh recipes. Dolma refers to anything that is filled and the fact that Armenians lived for so long under Turkish rule, it is not a surprise that they have adopted the word, however the Lebanese and Egyptians call stuffed vine leaves warq anab or mahshi, even though they were also ruled by the Ottomans. Bulgarians say for money “pare” which is from Turkish, this does not mean that Bulgarians did not know what money is prior to the Ottoman conquest or that their money is Turkish, lol. Sorry, but stuffed cabbage, stuffed peppers, stuffed aubergines, stuffed tomatoes exist in so many countries across the globe under different names and Turks did not introduce neither cabbage (lahana is a Greek term), nor aubergines (patlican is an Arabic term), nor tomatoes (which are from South America and the term is Italian) nor peppers (from South America where they also make stuffed peppers and the word biber is a Greek term). There are also different variations of dishes called “dolma”. Vişneli dolmasi is definitely Turkish (even though vişne is a Slavic term), pasuts tolma is definitely Armenian, sirin kelem dolma (kelem and sirin are Persian terms) is for sure Azeri and Dolme ye Beh is for sure Persian, why? Because those dishes are only to be found in those respective countries, the word “dolma” or “vişne” or “kelem” are irrelevant there.
I disagree with the author on one point. We don’t need to change the name to make it feel like our own. The name that is a Turkified Arabic name also tells the story of our people. It’s a part of who we are.