Khash

MT
Shashliks, kebabs and khachapuri may be the most widely known dishes of Caucasus cuisine but, in the colder months, a rather more unusual delicacy takes its place at the table.

Khash is a traditional dish of disputed origin -- some say it was invented by the rural poor in Armenia's Shirak region, while others claim it is Georgian or that it has roots in Azeri cuisine. The main ingredient in this thick bouillon is lower beef shanks, hooves included, although offal is often added. Eating it is as much a ritual as a meal, so it's important to get things right.

The first thing to remember is that this is a morning meal. The preparations start the night before, said Narek Avagyan, the Armenian head chef at the Cafe Ararat at the Ararat Park Hyatt hotel.

"The cow hooves are stripped of hair and cleaned, before being left to boil for seven to eight hours," Avagyan said. By morning, the soup is a thick broth. The meat is separated from the bones, and these can be thrown away, he added. The dish is then ready to be served hot.

Many other ingredients are essential to the meal: small pieces of unleavened lavash bread are soaked in the soup; garlic sauce is added; radishes, peppers and cheese are served on the side, along with mineral water. The most important ingredient of this ritual ceremony, however, is undoubtedly vodka.

"Khash should really be eaten using your hands," Avagyan said, showing how to use a large piece of lavash to pick up the smaller pieces now soaked in the soup. "When Armenians eat here, they usually tell us to take away the spoons."

Khash is known for its healing qualities: Not only is it said to provide the stomach with a soothing layer of fat -- which helps that vodka slip down -- its ingredients are supposed to help heal joint injuries and alleviate arthritis.

Places to try khash include:

Cafe Ararat, which serves khash from 9 a.m. to noon on Sat. and Sun. until the end of March, 1,350 rubles a portion.
4 Neglinnaya Ul., 783-1234, M. Lubyanka/Teatralnaya.

EdEm Cafe, where guests can make an advance booking for a special "magnificent khash" meal for groups of 10 or more on Sat. and Sun. from 8.30 a.m., 230 rubles a portion.
4 Krzhizhanovskogo Ul., 125-0090, M. Profsoyuznaya.

Banketny Zal na Planernoi, where a khash party for up to 60 people can be organised on Sat. and Sun. mornings. Hall rental starts from 10,000 rubles.
4 Planernaya Ul., 626-2992, M. Planernaya.