Yerevan-based Marianna Grigoryan finished 2013 off with what might be Eurasianet's wildest story of the year: an article about one Armenian supermarket that is offering up an entire smoked crocodile as an item for the traditional New Year's feast.
Here's a taste of her great article:
Situated on a bed of lettuce and lemons on a counter in SAS supermarket’s meat department, the 12-kilogram, 90-centimeter-long crocodile, imported from the United States, weighs in at the staggering price of 380,000 drams, or $940; roughly twice the amount of the average monthly salary.
“Who can afford such luxury?” fumed 48-year-old Yerevan dressmaker Silva Alexanian. “Once the markets used to be full with people before New Year’s nowadays; now they are empty. People have either left the country, or cannot afford celebrating New Year’s. Most of them hope for the money their relatives working abroad send them.”
With roughly one-third of Armenia’s approximate population of 3 million people now officially living in poverty, for some, the crocodile symbolizes all that has gone wrong economically with this South Caucasus country since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Migration has increased by 12 percent this year, while remittances increased fivefold in the first six months of the year to $1.2 billion, according to official data.
Grigoryan's smoked crocodile tale was so intriguing that I followed up with to get more details about the story and some of the economic and sociological background to it. Our exchange is below:
How did you come across this story?
I first saw it in a supermarket ad. The "glamorous" advertisement about the smoked crocodile was not only surprising but also disgusting for me. The disgust grew even more as one Facebook user shared the picture of the crocodile in the supermarket: a huge smoked reptile spread on the table with its predatory teeth. The ad made me think about the New Year’s feast and about showing off, and also inspired me to go see the crocodile on the spot.
Were you surprised that a supermarket would be offering a smoked crocodile for New Year’s?
No, this was not a big surprise, since I've already seen a smoked crocodile in the same supermarket in 2005. However, the reptile offered back than was at least several time smaller and hence much cheaper.
So, is there a particular class of wealthy folks in Yerevan for who having a smoked crocodile on the table would seem desirable?
Indeed, many perceive the Christmas and New Year feasts as a way to surprise others with their meals and dishes. In addition to large-scale advertising pushing other foods, the import of crocodiles aimed to reach this goal.
From your story, it sounds like even without crocodiles, the New Year’s feast in Armenia is a big deal. Is that the case?
Yes, New Year is a large and long awaited family holiday for Armenians. During these days even remote relatives visit and congratulate each other. Ahead of this holiday, most people are getting ready to present a lavish table with expensive food and alcohol. Even those who cannot afford abundant dishes borrow money and celebrate the holiday with a hearty meal, since many believe that a plentiful table on the eve of the New Year will bring prosperity to their home. In addition, for many people the New Year feast is an opportunity to demonstrate their financial "well-being".
Has anyone tried to outdo the supermarket selling the crocodile?
Yesterday another photograph was circulated across the internet demonstrating giraffe meat allegedly sold at another big supermarket, costing 280.000 (more than $690 ) dram. This picture sparked heated discussions, too, along with the advertised crocodile. However, I cannot say whether this other exotic "dish" is truthfully being offered for sale or not because I have not seen this one personally.