Villagers Gather ‘Round the Pagharch

The gods on Mt. Sulbuz are smiling and pleased for a good reason.

Even after thousands of years, their favorite food, known as “the food of the Gods,” is still being prepared and shared by the Armenian people. The pagharch tradition lives on, bringing us together to dine on a gastronomic creation intended to be shared with many.

This writer’s invitation to a pagharch dinner was enthusiastically accepted when the invited guests discovered what the main course would be. Social calendars were marked and generous offers of help with bringing additional entrees for the groaning board were accepted.

They came from Michigan cities with names like Detroit, Dearborn and Dearborn Heights, Canton, Waterford, Bloomfield, and Rochester Hills.

The reality is their true roots are in the ancient environs of Keghi, Sepastia, Kharput, Gaesaria, and Van, each one an outstanding community member in their own right, bringing as much flavor to this clan gathering as did the variety of food on the table.

They came to break bread in traditional Armenian fashion. But this was no ordinary bread to be consumed. The partaking of this ancient food can bring sentimental thoughts to mind. I know that my paternal grandmother Serpouhie Enokian Apigian made it for my father before he left Tzerman, Keghi, in 1912 for the safety of the free world.

The homeland still lives in the hearts and minds of all transplanted Armenians, born of the survivor generation exiled to the diaspora as a result of the genocide.

Fourteen of us scattered Armenians united at the home of the Kessels to dip a ladle into the over 20-pound pagharch (and other fare that appears on an Armenian table) to share in an atmosphere filled with much laughter and chatter late into the night.

When one Armenian asks another, “Where are you from?” it should be understood we don’t mean “Where do you presently reside in the free world?” We are referring to the city or village they came from in Armenia.

This we believe: The Turkish-Armenia border may be divided by barbed wire and armed guards, but when reparations are accomplished it will again be the land of the Armenians dominated by the presence of our Mt. Ararat.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that only food binds us together. In us remains the thought of the sacrifice the survivor generation made to build our churches and community centers where the spirit of Armenia could live on.

To that end the host, Robert Kessel, gave the blessing, and Apigian-Kessel addressed the guests. “In some way, each of you has become special to us by various kindnesses and favors. Therefore we welcome you to this Armenian table. You honor us with your presence. It is said pagharch is an ancient traditional food served at the Feast of the Gods residing on Mt. Sulbuz in Keghi, and today we honor them, and the survivor generation who brought us to this land where we live and prosper in freedom. Raise your glasses in a toast to all our ancestors!”

Plates were filled with that glorious mélange of buttery garlic laced bread crumbs moistened with tahn.

Making this Keghetsi specialty is labor intensive, and not for the faint of heart. It fills the house with the fragrance of butter and garlic. Sharing it with appreciative friends makes all the work worthwhile. It’s like being on Mt. Sulbuz with the happy Gods. Pari Akhorjag. Eat hearty, mates.

Betty Apigian-Kessel

Betty Apigian-Kessel

Betty (Serpouhie) Apigian Kessel was born in Pontiac, Mich. Together with her husband, Robert Kessel, she was the proprietor of Woodward Market in Pontiac and has two sons, Bradley and Brant Kessel. She belonged to the St. Sarkis Ladies Guild for 12 years, serving as secretary for many of those years. During the aftermath of the earthquake in Armenia in 1988, the Detroit community selected her to be the English-language secretary and she happily dedicated her efforts to help the earthquake victims. She has a column in the Armenian Weekly entitled “Michigan High Beat.”


  1. Can you be more specific regarding the making of pagharch ? My family makes something that sounds like it, but my cookbooks say pagharch is a coffee cake and I’ve never met anyother families who make this wonderful yogurt and garlic and butter concoction. Ours is to celebrate the new year. Thanks, and happy new year to you and yours.

    • The pagharch I remember is NOT a sweet bread. It is definitely a yeast bread but no one seems to know how to make this bread. Before baking it is sliced in a triangular shape and in baking will rise in height about 2 inches. It has a buttery and yeast taste. A local middle eastern store on Central Avenue in White Plains used to take orders fir pagharch prior to the passing of the owners mother who used to make the bread. Since she passed, it no longer is available. Who has this recipe?

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