What is Lahvosh?
Lahvosh is a thin, crisp bread native to Armenia. When fresh, lahvosh is like a very thin flatbread, and it is soft and flexible. As the bread ages, it becomes more crisp and cracker like. Some producers make lahvosh which is soft and flexible for use in sandwiches and wraps, while others skip the soft stage and make a bread which comes straight out of the oven as a crispy cracker. In markets, lahvosh can also be seen labeled as "Armenian cracker bread" or lawosh. This food is very common at Middle Eastern markets, and some stores with a selection of gourmet foods may carry it as well.
Traditional lahvosh is made from just flour, water, and salt. These ingredients are mixed into a dough which is rolled out into thin sheets; the sheets of dough are slapped against the wall of a traditional wood-fired oven to cook. When the bread is cooked, it naturally drops from the oven wall, allowing the baker to collect it. This traditional method for making lahvosh is still used in some parts of the Middle East.
Modern lahvosh may also include yeast, especially thicker versions which are made for wraps and sandwiches. Lahvosh of this thickness is actually rarely seen in Armenia and the Middle East, although it is popular in the United States. Cooks in other regions may also add toasted seeds such as sesame seeds and poppy seeds to their lahvosh before baking. The seeds add a crispy crunch and some flavor to the finished bread.
In crispy cracker form, lahvosh pairs well with an assortment of dips and sauces. It can also be used like an eating utensil, which is a traditional use of flatbread in general in many countries. Wineries may also keep a stock of lahvosh on hand, since the bread is relatively simple and it can be eaten between wine tastings to clear the palate. Lahvosh is also sometimes used for appetizer platters, since it holds up well as a base to hold pate, tapenades, and cheeses.
Soft lahvosh can be wrapped around ingredients to make a sandwich, and it may also be set out at table for the purpose of scooping up food. Some bakeries produce it in large sheets and cut off sections as needed for various foods. The soft form of this bread may also be flavored with ingredients like spinach or sundried tomato and used as a wrap for appetizers. Incidentally, hard lahvosh can often be turned soft by being sprinkled with water and left in a plastic bag for a few hours.
I've tried the store brand Valley Lahvosh, which is a good alternative if you can't find fresh lahvosh nearby. I keep a bag or two at home to eat as snack with cheese and dips, but it can never replace the lahvosh I had in Armenia as a kid. The retail brands are also coming up with new ways of using lahvosh and making sweet and salty packaged snacks from them. This might be a good way to introduce Americans to lahvosh but these products are very different than the original lahvosh that Armenians eat everyday.
I'm convinced that unless lahvosh is cooked in a wood fired clay oven, it cannot be called lahvosh. I've eaten lahvosh in restaurants in the U.S. but two years ago, I traveled to Armenia and visited several Armenian villages. There I tasted real lahvosh, cooked in an open wood fired clay oven. It tasted so much better than the ones I had before.
The oven is a deep circular clay structure that is made outdoors. They put firewood in the very bottom and wait until the fire becomes very hot. Afterward, the dough is rolled out thinly and placed on a circular shaped tool which is used to slap the dough onto the wall of the oven to cook. The whole process is so interesting. Women from neighboring houses came together to cook the bread. They made everything look so easy that even I tried to slap the bread onto the oven wall but failed miserably! I miss eating lahvosh, its so hard to find restaurants who use a real clay oven to make it.
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