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On coffee, culture, and being a vegan

Toronto-based nutritionist and cookbook author Lena Tashjian talks all things travel

Lena Tashjian with a pomegranate in Greece.
Lena Tashjian with a pomegranate in Greece.Handout

Toronto-based nutritionist and cookbook author Lena Tashjian is looking forward to resuming her book tour and coming to Boston once the pandemic is over. In the meantime, she has teamed up with Boston-based Oldways, in a heritage cooking webinar, to highlight some of the recipes from the recently released “The Vegan Armenian Kitchen Cookbook.” Tashjian, 34, said she has been getting “really positive” feedback on her cookbook — especially from younger Armenians who are veganizing traditional Armenian recipes for their parents. “One of the things that I wanted to show in this cookbook is that you can be an Armenian who loves your culture, who loves your traditions, who loves eating delicious food with family . . . and can do so without animal products,” she said. “Most of the recipes have stories and traditions associated with them, which I write about, and people seem to really like that.” We caught up with Tashjian (whose cooking demonstration can be found here) to talk about all things travel.


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Favorite vacation destination?

Armenia. Even though I lived there for quite some time and continue to visit, there is still so much more I want to see and do. The nature and ease of getting around makes it ideal for hiking, camping, and just being outdoors in general – even during the colder months. The kindness and warmth of the people also adds so much to the experience, and that along with all the hidden gems, beautiful architecture, and rich history make it truly an unforgettable destination every time.


Favorite food or drink while vacationing?

I love to learn about and try the local staples of any country I visit, but I do find myself particularly excited about the traditional breads and seasonal fruits. The latter tends to be hydrating and refreshing, which is usually very much needed after a long plane or train ride.

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Where would you like to travel to but haven’t?

I would love to visit and travel throughout Romania. It’s a country I’ve been naturally drawn to and curious about for so long, and when looking at pictures or seeing aspects of it in documentaries or movies, it looks so beautiful in terms of nature and architecture, and is full of so much culture and history. I am also particularly interested in visiting Gherla, formerly known as Armenopolis, due to the Armenian influence on the city.


One item you can’t leave home without when traveling?

Among the essentials are my notebook and pen. I always have a small notebook handy when I travel — including on day trips within a country, as I tend to write about my travel experiences and don’t want to rely on memory alone to document. Some of the best insights I’ve ever heard, as well as sayings or quotes, are . . . from my travels, and I love jotting them down in the moment and reflecting and/or writing about them later. Some of the articles I have written were based on notes such as these; when I visited an area with no intention to document it, but ended up with pages upon pages of notes that I felt compelled to turn into a story. I learned to simply keep a notebook with me at all times, and it has become an essential item in general.

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Aisle or window?

I always prefer the window seat. It’s nice to have the option of seeing the view on daytime flights, and based purely on comfort, I enjoy being able to lean toward or rest in a corner, and, if possible, try and sleep.


Favorite childhood travel memory?

When my entire family — including aunts, uncles, and cousins — would do day trips in local parks and spend the entire day there. They were day trips that were so memorable since we were all together, surrounded by the beauty of nature (usually around a lake), enjoying music, and having an epic barbecue.


Guilty pleasure when traveling?

Giving myself caffeine-induced energy, especially for the first bit of the trip to make up for the jet lag. I enjoy coffee occasionally, but do limit it, since it can make me feel jittery and very thirsty. However, on trips – especially in countries where I enjoy the preparation method — I tend to give in to the coffee temptation and enjoy it quite a bit.


Best travel tip?

Try and learn some of the language, get to know locals instead of just fellow travelers, and make sure to try the staples (both food and drink) of the country you are visiting. It can be tempting — especially when traveling with friends or family, to remain somewhat in a bubble, but getting to know a location or country’s “feel” is so essential and can make the trip all the more genuine, memorable, and impactful.

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