Nor Tari

Nor Tari is over and I survived. My arteries are hardened, my liver waves a white flag, and my stomach is still trying to process meat from 3 days ago. It didn’t help that today is Christmas here, so I just ate their Christmas dinner. It consists of rice yellow with fat and raisins and a soup of apricots that is way too sweet even for me. I’m sorry body; please forgive me.

Cigarettes don't cost $5 a pack here

Quick observations:
-All the families prepare the exact same food
-There wasn’t a potato to be seen anywhere, despite being the foundation of their diet
-I’ve never had so much vodka and meat in a 4 day span

How do they celebrate the new year? On December 31st at midnight they go outside and shoot off fireworks. The sky was lit up with the multiple firework displays. Then the families gather for the first feast of Nor Tari. The table is prepared with 8-12 settings, baskets of fruit, a variety of drinks (drinks are always kept on the table while dining), cakes, nuts, dried fruit, cold cuts, mayo-based salads, and lavash.

Meals are served in a certain way. First, they ask what you want to drink. If you’re a man, probably vodka. If you’re a woman, usually wine (gini). There is also a token beer on every table, just in case someone is difficult and requests beer, but as far as I saw, no one actually drinks this beer. Keep in mind the drinks are served in little mini wine glass shot glasses.

Next comes the kyufta. This strange meat is ubiquitous during Nor Tari. I think I had 8 pieces in a 24 hour span. It’s basically pounded minced meat that is combined with onion and egg to make a very dense meat globule. It is then sliced in long “filets”, sometimes topped with butter, and eaten wrapped in lavash. The best way I can describe it is somewhere between bologna and a thick cured ham, but maybe squishier.

After kyufta there is actually a tad bit of variety. Some houses serve boiled meat. Perhaps they all do, but it seemed after the 2nd day there was no more boiled meat. It could be chicken, or pig. Other houses serve blichik (not sure if that’s right), which is like a little taquito. There is a spongy crepe-like wrapping, inside of which is a finely ground meat with a few other flavorings. These are pretty good, but extremely greasy.

As if the guests didn’t already consume a month’s worth of protein, the next dish is always dolma. Dolma is minced meat, rice, and onions wrapped inside a grape leaf (winter dolma) or a cabbage leaf (summer dolma). It is served with matsun (sour yogurt). I like to wrap mine in lavash and pretend it’s a mini burrito.

I hope you’re not full yet, because it’s not over. Now they bring out a plate of homemade cakes. The families prepare multiple square cakes and cut them into parallelogram pieces. A platter might have 5 different kinds of cake. Many are layer cakes that resemble some sort of graham cracker cake you might have in the US. A few of the families had paklava. It’s just like it sounds – baklava but a little less flaky, but quite possibly more delicious.

Now it’s time for fruit. They cut up several pieces of fruit, including oranges, persimmons, apples, bananas, kiwis, and if you have an awesome host son like me, pineapple. Remember, this whole time you are also drinking juice, soft drinks, or mineral water along with your alcohol. There will be several similar toasts for a happy new year.

Sometimes there is dancing during the meal as well. It depends on the family and the elation level. I’ve found that they could care less if you can dance well, they just want you to dance. While I am not a dancer, I always oblige and make a fool of myself. Luckily it’s easy enough to imitate the simple arm movements they make, so I can passably dance Armenian.

Finally, it’s time to leave before the next guests arrive. The family will clean the plates just in time for the new guests to come in. Then it’s the same thing all over again. Armenuhi! Go reheat the kyufta!!

So that’s the meal part of it. Families visit each other during these 4 days. They also spend time with friends and coworkers. I think that if someone comes to your house, you usually go to their house too. I’m not quite sure how it all works…to me it seems like a scheduling nightmare. It is definitely a hard holiday for the women in Armenia, as they are constantly either serving food, heating food, or cleaning up the food. People do not bring gifts to each other’s houses. When you enter a person’s house, you congratulate each of them on the new year, even if they already came to your house and congratulated you.

I love the pump dispenser!

What did we do, you ask? Well, New Year’s Eve the dad’s 2 brothers came to our house, since my dad is the youngest and thus lives with his mom. We all ate and danced in our house. Then we made our way next door, to one of the dad’s brother’s houses. They had one of the biggest bottles of vodka I’ve ever seen in my life. The next morning, we went to the other brother’s house. From there, I left to meet up with my friends at my co-worker’s apartment.

When I came back home, I asked if I could invite my friends over that night. They told me the third would be better. Okay. Then they asked me if I was hungry. Yeah, I guess…why? Well you can eat what’s on the table, because we’re going to grandma’s brother’s house and you’re not going. Oh. ::Family all leaves:: Well, so much for tagging along with the family the rest of the time. I’m home al..-KEVIN!- Yeah? ::The mom runs back inside the house:: Come shovel the snow on the porch while we’re gone. What?! So I found myself shoveling snow using some sort of fire-oven pizza spatula wooden contraption. After I gave you January’s money early when you asked? After I appeased the dad’s advice that I should bring them presents for the New Year? I hate you guys.

The next several days were all very similar. I went to bed late, woke up to go eat lunch at a co-worker’s house with my friends, came home usually to a big party of people that I didn’t know, ate, drank, ate drank, etc. Yesterday things wound down nicely. I went to my language teacher’s house, which I was a bit nervous about because it was the only place I went alone. I didn’t know if it would be awkward. And the idea of going to someone’s house to eat all their food is not really my nature. But it was a great time. Like a language lesson with great food.

Overall, it was extremely cool to see this unique celebration. A lot of the volunteers went to Tblisi for some reason. While their facebook statuses all proclaimed that Tblisi is God’s gift to the Earth, I still can’t understand an absence during what has to be the coolest time of the year here. The hospitality was again dumbfounding. And I had multiple instances where I almost overflowed with appreciation for some of my Armenian friends and their families. Like the girl who walked through the snow to meet us at the Y, take us to her house, feed us, entertain us, and give us gifts. The coolest thing of all was just to be welcomed into these families as a lifelong friend. It certainly makes me feel more at home and gives the place a special feeling.

Now I’m off to Martuni. I hope to move out soon, but am still waiting on PC. The rest of my break will be spent recovering, digesting, studying, relaxing, and saying goodbye to Ula. She leaves on the 14th.

Did you have a good New Year’s? I want to hear about it! Let me know in the comments or with an email. Thanks for reading and here’s to a wonderful 2011 for all of us.

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5 Responses to “Nor Tari”

  1. Peter Says:

    What kind of music exposure have you had over there? Are people listening to CD’s, tapes, 8 tracks (hehe)?

    Also, what kind of live music, if any, have you encountered? I know they have some instruments over there you don’t see around very much in the western world.

  2. icenugget Says:

    Good questions. People listen to a lot of CDs. For instance, my family loves to blare questionable music from a stereo they have. In cars, lots of the stereos are USB. It’s funny to ride in a 40 year old Lada with a USB stereo.

    I have encountered little live music. I went to a couple concerts with traditional Armenian music where they play the duduk. Also I have seen a couple street performers, one playing accordion, and another some type of Armenian clarinet. The focus though is usually on the vocalist. The singing here is quite different. It comes off as very middle Eastern due to the amount of trilling (not sure if that’s the right word).

  3. Wayne Burt Says:

    Your’re definitely getting (got) treated much more Cinderella ish than I did. Right on with your other blog regarding Tatik. What she does for that family might be called elderly abuse in our country

  4. icenugget Says:

    I like the Cinderella comparison! I knew it felt like something when it happened, but I couldn’t think what.

    Wayne, I just came from Martuni and all those guys (myself included) miss you. Whenever your name is mentioned, we all lament your absence.

  5. Nor Tari 2: Kyufta’s Revenge « IceNugget's Blog Says:

    […] won’t go into so many details this time around since I’ve already covered the basics of Nor Tari before.  This year is different for me of course.  First of all it’s hard to buy food right […]

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