In Armenia, the daily bread is called lavash. It is a flat bread about half a meter by a meter (sometimes bigger, sometimes smaller) that is traditionally and still frequently baked in a brick oven that is built into the floor and heated with wood. When not done in a wood fired oven, they are baked under a grill on a flat, metal drawer that pulls in and out. Bakers (almost always women) make the dough the day before they bake. They then divide it into pieces about 125 g big, and form each piece into a ball. After resting again, the balls are rolled by one person, flung to another person who stretches it over a big pillow and wumped against the side of the oven in the ground or wumped on the metal tray that is then pushed under the flames of the grill. The wumping is important, not only to make the bread stick to the side of the oven in the ground but also to ensure the dough does not shrink when it is baking. It takes about 45 seconds to bake each lavash.
Many people in villages still bake at home and when they do, they will light up the oven once a month and they will bake all day – enough loaves for the family for the month. The loaves are stacked up and covered. They dry out (which explains why they do not go moldy) and they are simply hydrated with a little bit of water before they are eaten – and they are eaten at every meal. A typical family will go through about 47 kg of bread in a month: 25 kg of flour and 22 kg of water plus a tiny bit of yeast (most people bake with yeast now as it is more convenient than using sourdough to leaven the bread) and a bit of salt. The speed and skill of these bakers – Fatima and her mother at home – as they roll, fling, stretch and wump is amazing to watch. More on the incredible kindness and generosity of the Armenian people in a later post. For now, just enjoy!