This weekend marks the 60th anniversary of the annual Armenian Food Festival, the longest-running event of its kind in Richmond. Held at the St. James Armenian Church at 834 Pepper Ave., the festival has expanded and evolved over the years to include music, entertainment, a gift shop and Armenian wines. The food, however, hasn’t changed much.
“They’re old family recipes that go back years and years,” says 91-year-old John Baronian, who’s been involved since the festival’s inception six decades ago. “One person’s mother may have done it differently from another, so they combined and came up with the recipes we use today.”
Items on the menu include pilaf (which Baronian recommends pairing with lupia, Armenian-style string beans), ground sirloin and lamb burgers, stuffed grape leaves and chicken and pork kebabs. Baronian’s favorite is the lahmajoon, an Armenian meat pie, and fellow organizer Leiza Bouroujian says she loves the boreg, which is phyllo dough stuffed with cheese and spinach. For dessert you’ve got paklava, a sweet layering of philo and walnuts that bears a striking resemblance to the Greek baklava, but with a lighter syrup. Other classic Armenian sweets like sugar cookies, tea cookies and holiday bread are on the menu. And to wash it all down? Beer from Kotayk Brewery and several Armenian wines, including Shushi, a dry pomegranate wine.
“We never stop cooking,” Bouroujian says. “We operate like a restaurant, so the meat, veggies pilaf, it’s all being prepared while you’re walking in.”
Bouroujian says Richmonders “seem to crave” food-centric events like this, and last year’s festival saw record numbers: about 10,000 people over the course of three days.
“We take a lot of pride in it, not only to bring Armenian cuisine but also to expose people to Armenian culture, history and music,” Bouroujian says.
The festival runs 11:30 a.m. - 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon - 7 p.m. Sunday.