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Stick a Fork in It: David Sharyan’s Ghapama

Danica Glazier
Bánh xèo is a savory pancake-like dish originating from Central Vietnam. It is most often found as a street food, typically filled with various ingredients such as pork belly, shrimp, bean sprouts, and more.

Welcome to the first edition of Stick a Fork in It, the column where we explore the foods that La Salle loves. Each week’s edition features a different dish volunteered by La Salle’s students and staff.

This week’s dish is ghapama, a rice dish beloved by the Armenian people. It’s an essential part of their culture and plays an integral role in their music, literature, history, and feasts.

For La Salle sophomore David Sharyan, ghapama is a dish that’s very important to his childhood and his family. Alongside being a food he grew up with, Sharyan also says that ghapama is one of his favorite foods. 

One would start making ghapama by boiling rice and gathering spices. Assorted dried fruits and nuts are mixed in with the rice, sometimes with honey, sugar, or cinnamon. The rice soaks up the flavors from the fruits and nuts and makes it sweet and tangy. 

The rice mixture is then baked in a hollowed-out pumpkin until the pumpkin is soft. The rice can be eaten out of it or the pumpkin can be sliced to let the rice spill out. There’s no one correct way to eat ghapama.

Likewise, there is no one correct recipe for ghapama. What one puts into the rice varies from family to family depending on personal preference and traditions, but the pumpkin and rice are always present.

This is one of Sharyan’s favorite dishes for a variety of reasons. “Rice with dried fruit? That’s just a mouthful of flavors. You’re getting sweet. You’re getting tangy. You’re getting rice,” Sharyan said. “I mean, who doesn’t love rice?”

He also says that to an Armenian family, ghapama is very sentimental and dear to their hearts. It’s a food that is eaten as a family and made with love. In Sharyan’s family, the elderly ladies are the ones who make the ghapama.

Ghapama is often made at home, rather than bought at a restaurant or market. “It’s hard because there’s no Armenian restaurants. It’s mostly in LA you might be able to get it,” Sharyan said. “It’s also a big process to make it.”

Alongside the family’s love for the dish, ghapama is very important to Armenian culture. It came with the Armenian people when they fled modern-day Turkey. Turkish was the lingua franca of the Ottoman Empire, which is why many Armenian foods are still referred to by Turkish names. Ghapama itself is a word that means “closing” in Turkish.

There is a Turkish dish similar to ghapama called Kabak dolması, which is a squash or zucchini stuffed with rice, meat, and veggies. Although the exact origin of ghapama is unknown, it is nevertheless an Armenian cultural staple.

Ghapama moved around with the Armenian people throughout their history and is heavily entwined with their heritage and tradition. “I really think this dish encompasses Armenian culture,” Sharyan said. “It tastes very unique to Armenia.”

“Of course, in any culture, there are some dishes you’re like, ‘Oh, which one is that?’ Every Armenian knows what ghapama is,” Sharyan said.

Over the years, ghapama has been featured in Armenian dance, music, art, and literature. Ghapama is so beloved by the Armenian people that it has a song to go along with it called “Hey Jan Ghapama,” by Harout Pamboukjan, a very famous Armenian singer. His song about ghapama is well-known by Armenian people everywhere.

“If you want to, you just play it in the middle of a family dinner. People will get up and start dancing,” Sharyan said. He compared “Hey Jan Ghapama” to “Party In the USA” for Americans.

Sharyan also described a dance that Armenians do with the ghapama along with Pamboukjan’s song. They lift the pumpkin over their heads and dance while singing the song. “It’s kind of just basic; it’s just going with the flow. Armenian dancing is a lot like what you’re feeling, though it has some specificities,” Sharyan said.

Ghapama is a staple at every Armenian event, featured at Armenian gatherings, feasts, and wedding celebrations. At wedding celebrations especially, ghapama is part of the tradition.

At an Armenian wedding, a ghapama is made in front of the bride and groom. Then, they take the first bite of the ghapama to begin the wedding feast. “It’s like, ‘Eat this food, because everything else is coming,’ and when I say a lot, I mean a lot of food is coming,” said Sharyan.

It’s also traditional to have a ghapama at an Armenian New Year’s celebration. According to, “It symbolized the end of the year for Armenians. The empty pumpkin is the ‘bin’ in which the last year’s results, the harvest and the good that the Armenian family has received are summed up.” 

It is eaten during the fall as well, and that is the season that Sharyan’s family eats ghapama the most.

On a scale of 1-10, Sharyan would rate ghapama at a nine. He describes it as one of his favorite dishes, and if you would like to cook one at home, he puts the difficulty at five out of ten.

If you would like to try making a ghapama, this is the recipe that Sharyan’s family uses! The song, “Hey Jan Ghapama,” by Harout Pamboukjan, is attached here.

If you would like to volunteer a dish of your own, this is the link! All I will need from you is a brief interview about your personal history with the dish and a recipe. Signups are open to students and staff alike.

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  • R

    RubyNov 9, 2023 at 8:18 am

    Thank you David for perfectly describing the dish, and the traditions it holds for Armenians! Bravo!

  • M

    Marina MgebrovaNov 9, 2023 at 8:10 am

    Well done, you wrote it very correctly. Indeed, this is a very traditional dish that is served during major holidays and during family dinners. It’s tasty and healthy! As an Armenian grandma, I approve.

  • D

    David SharyanNov 9, 2023 at 7:52 am