Shashlyk po-karski (Kars-style shashlyk) is a rather mysterious dish. Every time I’ve ordered it in restaurants, I’ve been served either a rack of lamb or individual grilled lamb chops. What made either version specifically from Kars, a Turkish town that once belonged to medieval Armenia? Why not call it chalakhach, another dish of mysterious origins that seems to consist of grilled lamb chops?
Pokhlebkin sheds some light and gives a pretty different definition of the dish — and unlike Brighton Beach restaurant owners, he was a food historian. In his essential Cookbook of the Soviet Peoples, he explains what distinguishes a shashlyk po-karski from other kebabs:
- The dish requires round chunks of lamb loin of similar shapes, each weighing about a pound.
- The marinade is different from what you use in Georgian mtsvadi (Georgian kebabs tend to be minimally marinated).
- The shashlyk is cooked progressively, and thin pieces are cut off the outside while the rest keeps grilling.
This still doesn’t explain why Kars Armenians decided all of a sudden to invent this Turkish-sounding dish, but I think I have a theory.