The Freshest Meat I’ve Ever Eaten

Disclaimer: graphic dead pig pictures ahead.

“Nick, they’re killing the pig now, come quick!” Never a dull moment here – weeks ago I’d told my counterpart Emilia that I wanted to help out killing the family’s pig for the upcoming Nor Tari (New Year) celebrations, and I got the call out of nowhere at 2 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon. I’d wanted to help with slaughtering as well, but by the time I arrived the pig was just about dead.

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Blowtorching the pig.
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Pig carcass-cleaning implements.
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L to R: Hayk (Emilia’s nephew), Arsen (her brother), this guy.

The first step of the butchering was to remove the pig’s hair and upper layer of skin, first by lightly blowtorching all surfaces, then scraping them down with a knife. This accomplished, we charred the pig’s body a deep black and let it sit for fifteen or twenty minutes. At this point, we covered the carcass with a cloth and dumped water over everything, then scratched off the rest of the pig’s skin with the knives. Then things really got going, as Artur, Emilia’s brother-in-law, disemboweled the pig and separated everything out while we held the body upright on the table. We then carried the pieces back into their house and separated them out further, part held aside for later, part put immediately over coals to khorovel (grill).

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Artur pouring water over the torched pig, I think to loosen up the skin.
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Alik (Emilia’s husband) and Artur scraping the skin off.
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Artur taking the head off.
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Organs ‘n’ stuff.
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Helping however I can!
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Further pig disassembly.

The khorovats was absolutely delicious, but the experience was not surprisingly extremely visceral (literally, viscera everywhere). Following this dinner we went over to Emilia’s folks’ house to celebrate her brother’s birthday, where we were naturally greeted by more pork khorovats. Again, all meat consumed was very tasty, but I think at this point I need a little break to get the pork out of my system, physically and emotionally.

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Hayk, Alik, and I enjoying the meats of our labors.
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Tables set at Vartush and Lento’s house for Arsen’s birthday party.
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Said birthday party.
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Said birthday party, continued.

Other random thoughts below…

Throughout the process the other animals were naturally quite interested as well – the family’s ducks, geese, and chicken quickly came over and started pecking through the gore for I don’t know what exactly. The nearby dogs got the unwanted viscera free of charge, but Vazgen, Emilia’s family’s cat, showed no interest in the proceedings after Alik carried him over for a look.

Once or twice I thought, “well, if I injure myself grievously in Armenia it’ll be while working side-by-side with two 13-year old boys wielding blowtorches and knives whose language I know alright at best”, but Hayk and Narik (neighbor or more-distant relative, not sure which, likely both) definitely knew what they were doing and we all worked well together.

Finally, I had interesting conversations with Emilia and her family before and during the butchering process; I worried that people thought I was morbid or extra odd given that I specifically requested to help with the pig take-apart, but I explained as best I could how separate animal and meat are in (especially urban) America and how I wanted to better understand and feel the connection, and I think I got my point across.

 

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9 thoughts on “The Freshest Meat I’ve Ever Eaten

  1. Great piece here, Nick! Reminds me of my first Eid celebration in Bangladesh… It was nice to see the islamic tradition of the sharing of the slaughtered hooved animals : a third for one’s family, a third for one’s friends, and then, putting true charity to work, a third for the poor.

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  2. Thanks Nick!! Wonderful photos and text! I now know why we always sold our pigs on the hoof and I think I may just be heading for vegetarian retreat. More to the point, I love looking at your pictures for a glimpse of the people’s faces and affability and the inside of their homes – and what a lot of snow! Love, Dithy

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  3. Reading this again, Nick, your opening line is great! A friend of mine who was trekking in Nepal heard a similar line from their guide when he announced, as they were heading up a hillside, “Ah, I smell yak roasting.” Sure enough, as they crested the hill, they came upon some folks getting ready to feast on roasted yak (and joined in).

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