In the rugged Upper Azat Valley in Armenia, around the entrance to the rock-carved Geghard Monastery, you’ll notice elderly ladies clustered around roadside stalls leading to the site, selling round Gata cakes inscribed with patterns and intricate Armenian script.
The glazed pastry has a crusty texture that’s soft once you bite into it, and is stuffed with a sweet filling (khoriz) made from a fluffy mixture of flour, butter, and sugar, with a consistency of baked custard. Traditionally, the cake was baked in an underground oven (tonir) and made each year for the Christian holiday of Candlemas. Gata cake will vary between regions and villages, with variants including matsuni (Armenian yogurt), walnuts, or dried fruit in the filling. The most famous variety comes from the villages around Geghard and Garni, where locals will decorate these rotund pastries with tree-like motifs, diamond shapes, hearts, or words.
These delicious cakes, which are actually more like a sweetened kind of bread, have their roots in religious tradition. Armenia adopted Christianity in the fourth century, and many traditions follow the Armenian Apostolic Church’s calendar. Forty days after Christmas, Gata decorates the festival table when Armenians celebrate Candlemas, or Tiarn’ndaraj, which commemorates when the baby Jesus was presented at the temple in Jerusalem.
Armenian women knead their love and warmth for their family into the dough, so that each cake bestows peace and success upon their household. In addition to love and flour, a coin is usually hidden inside the bread. The person to get the coin will enjoy good luck all year.
Need to Know
Despite being a seasonal treat, Gata cake is baked year-round in Armenia, and you don’t need a special occasion to enjoy a bite with a cup of coffee.
Where to Try It
Geghard MonasteryGoght, Armenia
On the road leading to the monastery, you'll find elderly women selling their homemade gata cakes.