In the heart of the Adams Morgan neighborhood in Washington, D.C. lies a café and market called Yerevan. An area deprived of our cuisine, Yerevan, teeming with life, is a staple for the Armenian community in D.C. and beyond.
As a Los Angeles native, I have grown accustomed to my Armenian bubble: seeing storefronts written in Armenian, being greeted in our language unprompted, smelling a variety of pastries from an Armenian bakery on every corner…the list goes on. Now, I’m spending the summer on the east coast, where even the concept of “Armenia” — let alone “Armenian food” — is foreign. There are restaurants that are reminiscent of home, as D.C. has its fair share of Mediterranean food. However, it was not quite what I was looking for. So, I decided to dig deep and ask people around me where I can find a slice of home. I received the same response from anyone I asked: “You have to go to Yerevan.”
You can imagine my relief when I stepped through the doors of Yerevan. The smell of soorj (coffee) and gata (cake) greeted me with a smile as did owner Stella Grigoryan, who invited me into the space with the proverbial Armenian hospitality that we all know and love, and even went further to ask, “Would you like a coffee? How do you take it?”
Grigoryan and her husband are not restaurateurs by trade. In fact, Yerevan is the couple’s first time running a café. The two moved to D.C. from Yerevan in 2012 and were – like me – shocked at the lack of Armenian cuisine in the area.
“We realized that there weren’t any Armenian cafés in the area,” says Grigoryan. “We wanted to change that. To my knowledge, we are the first ones.”
The space is warm and cozy with Armenian art and pictures adorning the walls. There is also a “market” section, where customers are able to purchase Armenian goods straight from the source: Armenia. They offer various items, ranging from wines and juices to fruit preserves and books. The menu is stacked with favorites, including lahmajun, zhingyalov hats, khachapuri and kufta. If you have more of a sweet tooth, you won’t be disappointed with the baklava and mikado. The café’s best offering is their Armenian coffee, prepared authentically with finely ground coffee beans in the traditional Armenian coffee pot, the jezveh.
“A lot of non-Armenians love coming to Yerevan,” remarks Grigoryan. “They appreciate our culture and cuisine and are interested in finding out more about the Armenian people.”
The beauty of the space is that it connects Armenians to their culture. Beyond that, it introduces the intricacies of our cuisine to non-Armenians. Coming to Yerevan during my stay on the east coast was truly a highlight of my trip. Creating spaces for Armenians to sit around a table, eat their traditional foods, drink their traditional drinks and engage in thoughtful conversations is important; it drives us forward. We have a deep connection to our food. It is a way of preserving the essence of who we are…regardless of how far from the motherland we may be.