Lavash is a traditional Armenian large rectangular hand-made flatbread. It is baked in a stone oven called “tonir”, which is buried in the ground. Lavash has been a staple of Armenian and Middle Eastern diets for centuries.
It originates from the region encompassing present-day Armenia, Turkey, and Iran. The word “lavash” likely derives from the Old Armenian word “լաւաշ” (lawash), although the exact origin of this word is not entirely clear.
Lavash holds an extraordinary place in Armenian cuisine and culture, as evidenced by its inclusion in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2014 (the flatbread is listed as “Lavash, the preparation, meaning and appearance of traditional bread as an expression of culture in Armenia”).
The recipe for Armenian lavash is extremely simple. You only need flour, water and salt. It is unleavened, yeast-free, which is considered a great advantage. Its preparation is usually done by a pair or trio of women and requires great effort, coordination and experience.
When baking lavash, the dough is first rolled out into a long rectangular shape. Then, the dough is stretched onto a “pillow” stuffed with hay or wool.
This step alone requires great skill and experience. The long sheets of dough are then stuck to the inner side of the conical clay oven, tonir, where they bake.
After thirty seconds to a minute, the baked, puffed flatbread is pulled from the oven’s wall with a metal hook and sprinkled with water.
Note that the women by the tonir do not kneel. Next to the clay oven, there’s another hole in the ground where the woman places her feet. This allows her much more agile manipulation with the flatbread, ensuring she doesn’t fall into the tonir.
The freshly baked flatbread is soft and pairs well with any meal. Many larger restaurants have a section where lavash is continuously prepared, given its high consumption in Armenia.
Lavash is incredibly versatile. It can be used as a wrap for various fillings, such as meat, vegetables or cheeses and herbs. It’s also commonly served as a side dish to main courses, used for scooping up meals or torn into pieces and added to soups. When dried, it can be stored for a long time. Just sprinkle it with water and it becomes soft again.
In restaurants, you often get unleavened lavash flatbread as a side dish along with Armenian leavened bread matnakash. One such portion in a restaurant costs about 300 AMD, which is approximately 0.80 EUR.