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A Short History of Khash, the Love-it-or-Hate-it Hangover Treatment of Armenia

A recipe for the Armenian soup called khash, at its most basic, goes something like this: Simmer cows’ hooves overnight. Serve. Gelatinous beef trotters—flavored tableside with sinus-clearing add-ins like lemon, salt, vinegar and raw garlic—may sound like the last thing you’d reach for when nursing a hangover, but Armenians swear by khash’s panacean powers, particularly in the winter, when it’s customarily eaten. Across the small Caucasus nation, friends gather for morning-after khash feasts complete with ritualistic toasts and—as Anthony Bourdain discovered while shooting a Parts Unknown episode set to air in March—punishing hair-of-the-dog vodka shots. Offal soups are quintessential hangover fare across many cultures, from Mexican menudo rojo to Albanian paçe to Korean haejangguk, but none, perhaps, is as much of an event as Armenian khash. “Khash parties are all-day affairs,” said Samvel Hovhannisyan, owner of Bureaucrat Café and Bookstore in Yerevan. “After you’ve eaten the soup in the morning and made the accompanying toasts—to the day, to the cooks, and to the guests, in that order—you drink and sing and dance like crazy. When people get hungry again, you might have a barbecue, followed by coffee and tea and sweets.” Even the soup’s preparation is a production. The hooves must be plucked meticulously of any stray hairs and soaked in water for a day to remove impurities and funky odors. Then comes the cooking, an eight-hour simmer requiring hourly check-ins, lest the pot dry out. Khash-fueled breakfasts start around 9 a.m., which means cooks often literally lose sleep over the dish. “It’s a sacrifice,” said Hovhannisyan. “That’s why the toast to the cook is so important.” For the broth to remain white and nearly transparent, the mark of a well-made khash, Armenian cooks don’t add salt to the pot during cooking: It’s up to the end user how much salt and other traditional flavorings to mix into the finished soup. Armenians are known to add up to eight cloves’ worth of garlic to each portion. Two types of lavash, or flatbread, always grace the table: dry, for crumbling into the broth, and fresh, for draping over the bowl to seal in the heat. Purists, like Hovhannisyan, insist that fresh lavash—torn and folded for easy scooping—is the only acceptable utensil for eating khash, and that vodka, never wine or beer, is its only worthy sidekick.

Traditionally, khash feasts were restricted to men, who also presided over the preparation of the soup — a novelty in a region with a culinary tradition dominated by the females. The pungent aromas of the soup, and its associated vodka troughs, were once deemed unacceptable to women. In addition, men and women traditionally eat separately in Armenia, so considering the ancient origins of Khash, it is no wonder the division persisted.

Khash lovers in present-day Armenia are young and old, wealthy and poor. But it goes without saying in a world where almost one-third of the population lives in poverty that not everyone has the resources to throw lavish feasts.