A taste of Armenia in Jerusalem at the Inbal Hotel

The Armenian festival at the 02 restaurant is her way of teaching people about the Armenian kitchen.

THE ARMENIAN CELEBRATION at the Inbal Hotel offers a choice of delicious delicacies. (photo credit: Courtesy)
THE ARMENIAN CELEBRATION at the Inbal Hotel offers a choice of delicious delicacies.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Foodies get very excited when they get to taste a cuisine that they’ve never tried. The Armenian Celebration at the 02 restaurant at the Inbal Jerusalem Hotel offered a great opportunity to taste this cuisine for just two weeks.
Chef Arpineh Demirjian is an Arab-Israeli Armenian Christian from Haifa. She owns Arpineh Sweets in Haifa. Her grandfather came to Israel from Armenia at age seven as an orphan after the genocide. He had 10 children, including her father, who died a few years ago and was always proud of this Armenian heritage.
“My father always said we had to do something to help the Armenian people,” she said. “I want everyone to know about the Armenian kitchen.”
The Armenian festival at the 02 restaurant is her way of doing that. She herself was fasting for Lent, the period before Easter, meaning she abstained from any food that isn’t vegan, so she couldn’t taste most of her creations.
The menus are printed in Armenian, Hebrew and English. The meal is served in Armenian pottery, much of it made by the chef’s sister who lives in Jerusalem.
The special Armenian menu is one printed page, and we tried a good section of it. We started with cocktails from the non-Armenian section of the menu, made with Israeli gin. The Hand Made Pink Lady Gin and Tonic (NIS 50) was made with gin from the Pelter distillery in the Golan Heights and had “fruit and botanics.” It was sweet, and had slices of Pink Lady apples in it. The second was an Etrog Golani Gin and Tonic (NIS 50) with slices of etrog and spices. It was cool and refreshing.
For appetizers, Arpineh suggested we try the Armenian lavash and mezze (NIS 89). To be honest, the lavash, the Armenian bread, was our least-favorite part of the meal. It was a square flatbread somewhere between a pita and a matzah, and was very bland. The mezze included our favorite bite of the evening, a perfectly seasoned piece of grilled eggplant wrapped around ground chicken with spices. The other big winner of the mezze was roasted kohlrabi with spicy pepper on top. We’re not usually big fans of spicy food, but this caused us to stop talking and concentrate on the unique flavors in our mouths.
Another interesting mezze was the Basturma, very thinly sliced Armenian pepper-crusted beef pastrami. It is filet mignon that is aged for 10 days, then covered with coarse pepper and aged for another few days.
Spices are important in the Armenian kitchen. Arpineh said that on a trip to Ethiopia she saw 300 types of spices in a local market. Many dishes also include dried fruit and meat together.
After the appetizers, we tried Havi Mesov Gargantag (NIS 68), a Sambousek of chicken and spices that was similar to a burekas, and lamagoun (NIS 68), small round flatbreads with a lamb and pepper mix on top. Both were good, but we preferred the Manti (NIS 88), beef and lamb stuffed dumplings served in a chicken and herb broth. Arpineh said that in some dishes like this one, kashrut presented a challenge. They would normally be made with yogurt, but she used chicken broth instead.
The small meat-filled dumplings were like matzah balls on steroids, and were really delicious. We would happily eat a plate of these every Friday night.
Our last dish was the Khashlama (NIS 142), slow-cooked lamb with dried fruit and yellow peppers. The lamb was very tender and falling off the bone. The mixture of the flavors was also unique.
The only other main dish we didn’t try was the Ghapapa, a pumpkin stuffed with rice, nuts and dried fruits, which is also vegan.
For dessert we had Gata (NIS 42), an Armenian nut and spice cake served with Earl Grey ice cream. We only wished we weren’t so full, so we could have managed more than one bite of dessert.
The writers were guests of the restaurant.
Armenian Celebration (until March 16)
Inbal Hotel, Jerusalem
Phone: (02) 675- 6666
Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 6 p.m.-10:30 p.m.
Kashrut: Jerusalem Rabbinate