This April, a restaurant called “Babylon” opened in Yerevan. Babylon is the first restaurant to introduce the Iraqi cuisine in the city. It represents a large international chain of Iraqi restaurants. Ara Christo Anderias, the co-founder of Babylon, told us about the exclusivity of Iraqi cuisine and about the restaurant.
What makes Babylon restaurant special?
Ara: Babylon is the first restaurant in Yerevan to specialize in the Iraqi cuisine. It is undoubtedly different from the widely offered Levant-oriented cuisines. Unlike many other Middle Eastern restaurants, we don’t offer fast food. At Babylon, we only serve professionally prepared fresh food of the highest standards.
What makes Iraqi cuisine special?
Ara: Going back thousands of years and searching in the routes of the ancient Mesopotamian history, we can clearly see the vast marriage of nations on the land of Babylon. This was a result of Babylon continually being a conqueror or being occupied.
Due to this blend of nations, people mimicked and developed many of the neighbors’ cultural aspects, including the plantation of food and the cooking traditions.
The Tigris and Euphrates have offered to the Babylonians one of the major reasons of human settlement: Water. This natural resource was the significant mean of life over which many nations fought. The contribution of Tigris and Euphrates in driving the nation’s culture was remarkable. Along with the irrigation of lands, the rivers provided the main ingredient of the Babylonian food, the Fish.
In simple words, ancient Babylon was the starting point of the human civilization. At that time the city was a crossroad of all known cultures where their traders, farmers, poets, artists, etc. exchanged and developed their knowledge and ideas.
How are the dishes served? Is there anything special about serving meals in the Iraqi culture?
Ara: The most outstanding aspect of the Iraqi cuisine is generosity. An Iraqi meal includes a unique food tasting experience, starting with lentil soup, hot bread, and colorful hot/cold dishes prepared with multiple fresh products from green plantations and all types of meat.
Is the Iraqi cuisine connected to the Indian? How exactly?
Ara: Iraq and particularly the city of Baghdad has been a cultural and trading hub for centuries. As a result, the traders introduced the Indian spices to Iraqi cuisine. This introduction led to some limited influences by the Indian cuisine taking into consideration the particularity of the Arabic cooking styles and methods inherited from centuries.
In which cities does the restaurant chain of Babylon also have branches?
Ara: The restaurant has many branches: Dubai (U.A.E.), London (U.K.), Toronto (Canada), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Muscat (Oman), and recently Yerevan (Armenia).
Why and how did you decide to enter the Armenian market?
Ara: Most of the foreigner-dominated restaurants in the Armenian market were originally from the Levant region (especially Syria & Lebanon). And as a result of the diaspora Armenian owners’ background, we envisaged that the market was dry for new cuisines and food concepts. This niche was free due to the partners’ origin, reinforced by their experience in different parts of the world. So we decided to be the first to introduce the Iraqi food in Yerevan and take the challenge by offering a different cooking approach and cuisine to the people of Yerevan.
What difficulties did you face in Armenia?
Ara: Most of the difficulties were average and resolvable by our partners in Yerevan. We’ve been amazed by the food supply and the quality of the most offered ingredients in Yerevan market.
Tell us about the grand opening.
Ara: We held a lovely opening ceremony on April 20. Local musicians were playing traditional Iraqi music for our guests. The guests, including Armenian celebrities, got a chance to try exclusive Iraqi dishes. Their delighted feedbacks were encouraging, and we promised to maintain and improve the quality of our food and hospitality.
What atmosphere did you try to create at the restaurant? How did you pick the decorations? Are there Iraqi or Arabic traditional ornaments or other typical elements?
Ara: The food quality is not enough to complete the experience of dining, the full human senses shall be sharing the said experience to deliver integrated outcomes. We’ve approached the mixture of many cultural eras occupied Iraq starting from ancient Babylon throughout the Islamic States and the rich tradition of architecture ending with the postmodern architecture embraced by the ornaments and colorful finishing elements.
What kind of music will sound at the restaurant? Oriental Iraqi music? Is there any live music at specific hours?
Ara: As I mentioned above, the atmosphere of the restaurant shall offer full human senses experience. This also applies to the music played in the background. The sounds of the original oriental music instruments increase the value of the mesmerizing and charming decorations. By listening to a mixture of traditional Iraqi/Arabic music, the visitor will gradually integrate into the atmosphere and start his personal experience which will be ended up with the food offered and the friendly serving approach.
Tell us about your chefs. Are they from Iraq?
Ara: Our multi-background chefs work hand in hand to deliver the right food taste of the Iraqi cuisine no matter if they belong to the said culture or not. Each Chef contributes his cultural aspects embraced by the great expertise of preparing the original taste of the Iraqi food. It is also worth to mention that with the close follow-up of the management along with no toleration in standards, we deliver the great taste of the Iraqi food to our clients.