Trays of sticky, nutty baklava lure customers into Nina’s Bakery, in Fresno, Calif. On a large wooden table in an adjoining room, two bakers deftly spread out layers of phyllo dough and brush them with clarified butter.
The owner, Nina Tashchian, says she learned how to make baklava from her mother-in-law, who was a housekeeper and a cook in Yerevan, Armenia. At 33, Tashchian left Yerevan and moved to America. Ten years later, in 2001, she started her own bakery.
Tashchian recalls special occasions in Yerevan, when neighbors and family gathered in homes to make phyllo dough from scratch and assemble the distinctive dish. Now she buys ready-made phyllo dough from a baking company. “You have to be smart,” she says with a smile.
Baklava’s origins are Middle Eastern, but more than one country claims it as its own. “The Greek people say it’s our baklava, the Arabs say it’s ours, the Turkish say we made it!” Tashchian says. And where does she believe it originated? “Armenia, of course!” she says, pointing proudly to a picture of people making baklava in her home country.
—Alice Daniel, a food writer in Fresno, Calif.