Although we had fairly limited time in Georgia, I somehow managed to try a whole range of different traditional Georgian food. It began with surprise tastings on the Tbilisi Hack Free Walking Tour (highly recommended!) and, with the exception of the first night where I was craving a really good steak, I tried something different for every meal. Here is what I managed:
Stalin’s Favourite Wine – Khvanchkara
Yes, I tried it. No, I’m not drunk – the picture is blurry because it was dark inside and an odd angle (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it!). No, I still don’t like wine at all ☹ Can’t really say much about the wine given the previous comment – but they tell me it is a semi-sweet red with raspberry notes. No idea what that means, but hey – I had to try it!
Traditional bakeries are often found underground, but all you have to do is follow your nose and look for the sign!
The Georgians bake a whole array of different bread and bread products, but the traditional bread is incredible – especially when eaten straight out of the “tone”. This is a clay oven where a fire in the bottom heats up the sides and the bread is slapped against the side to bake.
There are a whole slew of different varieties of Khachapuri, depending on region – but essentially the key ingredients are bread and cheese. I tried two of the most famous types:
Imeruli Khachapuri is “The Georgian Pizza” – a circular round of bread with cheese inside
It is salty (thanks to the cheese) and I couldn’t eat more than a slice!
Adjaruli Khachapuri – yet another heart-attack-on-a-plate!
As “Serious Eats” puts it:
“A molten canoe of carbohydrates and dairy, the quantity of sulguni cheese alone in khachapuri Adjaruli is enough to land a lactose-intolerant friend in the ER. But the decadence doesn’t end there. Seconds after the bread is pulled from the toné, a baker parts the cheese to make way for a final flourish: hunks of butter and a cracked raw egg.”
I actually made this one myself at a (I have to admit) not brilliant cooking class I did – only the second time I’ve been disappointed by a cooking class. And, like that previous cooking class, I didn’t particularly like very much what we cooked. Khachapuri Adjaruli is incredibly rich (as you can imagine) and I only managed to get through about half of it. The idea is that you mix the egg and butter through the melted cheese, and then tear off bits of the bread to dip into the eggy-cheesy mixture to eat it.
Another bread variation (have I mentioned how many carbs I’ve eaten in the past 6 weeks on this Silk Road trip??!!) – essentially a flatbread stuffed with spiced beans. Incredibly cheap and filling, and a staple Georgian fast food.
I’d eaten quite a few Manty as I traveled through the ‘Stans – Khinkali is Georgia’s version of dumplings.
The traditional ones are filled with meat and spices (Georgians have a particular love or coriander, much to my delight) with a “soup” trapped in the middle. I hadn’t actually read how to eat these before I tried them, so committed massive faux pas (fortunately nobody was watching) by eating the topknot and eating them with a knife and fork – which meant that the soup was essentially lost. Oh well.
A traditional pastry that is full of butter and sugar, as all good pastries are. However, the degree of butter and sugar in this one is particularly special – I only made it half way through before I had to save the other half for the next day! It was incredibly rich!
Traveling through Georgia you often see long, brownish or reddish lumpy objects hanging in street vendor stalls and shops. At a first glance, it is not at all obvious what these things are – my guesses were lumpy candles (Georgia is quite a religious country after all) or sausages – but I really wasn’t sure.
Turns out – they are something to eat – but definitely not sausages! Walnut halves (in the east of Georgia) or hazelnuts (in the west) are threaded together on a piece of string, and concentrated grape juice thickened with flour and sugar or honey is then poured over the strands. This is left to dry in the sun before another layer of the thickened grape juice is added, and this is repeated several times to build up a coating of chewy goodness. The amazing thing is that they actually aren’t too sweet!
Almost always sold by the same people selling Churchkela, Tklapi are essentially enormous fruit Roll-ups made from pureed fruit that has been spread thinly onto a sheet and sun-dried. There are many different flavours on offer, some sweet (kiwifruit, apricot) and some quite tart (for example, made from Tkemali, or sour plums).
A fantastic stew made from beef, walnuts, sour Tklapi and Georgian spices (khmeli suneli). Very tasty!
Another delicious Georgian stew with tomato and spices, and best served with fresh Georgian bread.
Georgia’s traditional chicken soup make with chicken, vinegar, egg and flour.
Badrijai Nigvzit – Eggplant Walnut Rolls
This is a common entrée in Georgia and continues Georgia’s seeming obsession with using walnuts in their food. Essentially long, thin slices of pan-fried eggplant with a paste of walnuts and spices rolled up inside. Not as flavourful as I imagine it would be, but quite good.
Unfortunately this is just scraping the top of the barrel of typical Georgian food, and it is all incredibly tasty. Will have to go back to try some more!