Georgians are inextricably linked with food. OK, I reading it now, I see that this statement is valid for each nation. Still, it can´t be denied that the food plays in the Georgian culture a very important role. The feast is not just a pretext to stuff one´s belly but mainly a social event and a kind of a ritual with a special set of rules (which I won´t elaborate on here, a lot has been written about them already).
Georgian cuisine reflects the dramatic history of the country - looking at it, it´s possible to recognize the influence of the local superpowers (mainly Persia and Russia), which for a long time fought for the control over this region. Still, it has managed to retain its original character. It can be recognized especially by its widespread usage of walnuts - the Georgian cooks are able to put these ingredients virtually everywhere.
Apart from that, the Georgian cuisine is quite "heavy", it uses lots of meat, cheese, and leavened dough. That is balanced by vegetable salads, which are often eaten as side dishes. For the seasoning is used (except of the omnipresent walnuts) mostly garlic and also herbs such as coriander, tarragon or dill.
Disclaimer: Cuisines of the Caucasus region serve not only a source of pride, but often also as an excuse for bitter arguments. Since none of them developed in isolation and there are only so many ways to combine ingredients available there, you can sometimes find similar dishes also in Armenian, Turkish or Persian cuisines. Naturally, people tend to believe that their dish is the original ones and the other ones are just some bland knock-offs. As a result, sometimes I get emails with complaints that I am a thief since I list also dishes which are not 100% Georgian.
So, to make it clear - the aim of this guide is to provide the information about dishes which have some tradition in Georgia, both native and adopted. So people understand those weird words on the menus. I don´t want to get into arguments about who invented what. I even don´t care that much on which side of the then non-existent border stood the first winery. If the dish is widespread over the larger region, I tend to mention it, but not always - I want to provide useful info, not flood you with unnecessary details so no reader in offended. Thank you for your understanding, now let's get to those dishes ;)
Probably the best-known Georgian appetizer and also a safe bet if you want to introduce this cuisine to the newcomer as almost everybody likes it. Badrijanis are grilled slices of aubergine, covered with walnut-garlic paste, seasoned with ajika and coriander. Zealous cook will also roll them and decorate them with pomegranate seeds.
Traditional Georgian appetizer which kind of a reminds me a vegetable tartar steak. It is made of grounded vegetable (usually aubergine, spinach, red pepper or beetroot) seasoned with walnuts, garlic, onion and various herbs. This mix is served in the form of small buns.
However, I have to admit that pkhali is kind of a mystery to me. It has an interesting taste but I can´t imagine eating the whole plate of it. When you will order it, one portion should be more than enough for the whole table.
Another one of my favorite dishes - imagine something like chicken paprikash where the cook put grounded nuts instead of the pepper. The word "satsivi" means something like "a cold dish", but in the broader meaning, it means all dishes based on the nut sauce.
The most common is chicken satsivi but it can be prepared also from fish or vegetables. Another variant is the satsivi made from turkey which is a traditional Christmas food.
Cheese rolls filled with mint and green ajika. Coming from Samegrelo region where they were considered to be a meal of the Gods. No surprise, the idea is simple and yet brilliant. Being one of my favorite appetizers, I order it whenever I find it on the menu. Ideal summer appetizer.
The preparation is simle - boil the cheese in the water until you get some kind of a dough. Then apply the roller to shape it into a square about 0,5 cm thick. Cover the dough with chopped mint and green ajika, then roll it and cross-cut into small pieces. These are served cold and poured with a mixture of nadughi (Georgian version of cottage cheese), matsoni (yoghurt) and mint.
The Caucasian alternative to the ratatouille. This cold vegetable stew consists of aubergines, tomatoes, potatoes and red pepper, further seasoned with garlic and various herbs. Sometimes it is also served hot as a soup or the main dish.
To taste jonjoli, you will have to visit a market or a homestay - this appetizer is only rarely served in restaurants. This dish consists of pickled sprouts from a bush called "Caucasian bladdernut" - locals often collect them and pickle them with salt and onion. Jonjoli has interesting bitterish, but quite pleasant taste.
To prepare this traditional salad, one needs only a few minutes. Cut cucumbers and tomatoes, add few rings of red onion, some parsley and it´s all done. It is very simple, but the true appeal of this salad lies in ingredients. I am not sure if it´s caused by Georgian climate, soil or exact variety but tomatoes in Georgia taste much better than those I eat at home. They are more red, meatier and overall tastier.
If someone finds this salad to be “not Georgian enough”, he can order it also with the walnut-garlic paste.
Not a traditional Georgian food, but nonetheless quite popular with locals (in Russia itself, this salad is known as "Korean"). It is made of grated carrot, seasoned with garlic, roasted walnuts and softened by a few tablespoons of yogurt or mayonnaise. Plus few other ingredients such as salt, sugar, olive oil and ground coriander seeds.
For me, this salad was a true revelation - before I discovered it, I was used eating grated carrot only with apples, sugar and lemon juice. But this recipe is just as good and it is one of the dishes I prepare also at home.
No blog post about Georgian cuisine would be complete without referencing the local bread (puri) since it is an inseparable part of many meals and many restaurants serve it as a side dish even without asking. Traditional Georgian bread is canoe-shaped and is prepared in the clay-over known as tonne (something like an Indian tandoor).
To prepare puri, the baker slaps the raw dough against the wall of the tonne, closes the oven and heats it. Then he uses iron skewers to get the fresh bread out of the hot over. Regarding taste, it´s the same as with Slovak bread - fresh one is fabulous but I don´t like the old one too much.
Mchadi are small, crispy loaves made of cornflour, milk and water. They are especially popular in the western Georgia, where they often serve as a replacement of bread. They are traditionally eaten with lobio and cheese.
Mchadi differ depending on the cook - some people like them thin and soft, others prefer them to be more crispy. There are also regional differences - in Racha, they are often stuffed with famous Rachuli ham. People in Svaneti use the cheese for the filling - the result is known as "chvishtari".
Kharcho is a very thick, hearty soup, ideal to warm you up in a cold weather. Traditionally, it´s prepared from beef meat but you can use also lamp or pork. What sets it apart from the other meat broths are its sour ingredients - Georgians are using plum tkemali or tklapi, but you can cheat it also with vinegar. The soup is further thickened by rice and chopped nuts. Georgians use many herbs and spices to enhance the flavor - real kharcho must be really hot and spicy.
Chikirtma is a light soup especially suitable for summer, the exact opposite of "heavyweight" kharcho. It is something like a chicken broth where you carefully mix in egg yolks so they don´t toughen. It´s flavored with garlic, cinnamon, coriander and a lemon juice.
Khashi is a smelly soup widespead all over the Caucasus and Middle East (known there as pacha or kalle-pache) It is prepared from "less valuable" cow or sheep parts such as intestines, tripes and hooves. These are cooked with the salt, pepper and garlic. There are also some optional ingredients such as carrots, onions or bread soaked in milk.
Traditionally, it was a dish of the peasants who didn´t have access to the real meat and had to cook with leftovers. Since then it became very popular and is often named as a "most loved soup in Georgia". The title is well-deserved - it cures the most widespread disease in the Caucasus, the hangover. That´s also why it´s usually consumed in the morning.
3. MAIN DISHES
Probably the most traditional Georgian dish. Translated, it means "cheesy bread" and these two words sum it all up. It is a flatbread made of leavened dough, filled with cheese. Available in restaurants as well as a street food and tastes really well - the dough is often oily and pleasantly crunchy, cheese (usually cow "sulguni") is smooth and salty.
It seems that almost every Georgian region has its local variant of khachapuri - the one described above is the basic one, coming from Imereti (Khachapuri Imeruli). We also know Megrelian "Khachapuri Megruli" which has the cheese not only inside but also on the top. Famous is the Adjarian variant (Acharuli Khachapuri) which resembles a boat with an egg yolk, cube of butter and lots of cheese floating inside. Solid calorie bomb.
Another variant is kubdari coming from Svaneti - this one is smaller, thicker and stuffed with minced meat with herbs. Very popular is also lobiani coming from Racha, which is stuffed with a paste made of kidney beans, usually flavored by herbs, fat or pieces of bacon.
Another traditional dish is khinkali. These are the dumplings stuffed with meat, potatoes, mushrooms or cheese. They can be bought virtually everywhere, but according to the general consensus, the best ones are made at their place of origin - valleys lying by the Georgian Military Highway.
Consumption of khinkali has its own set of rules - tourists usually violate all of them almost immediately and learn the proper way only when the locals sitting nearby can´t bear watching it anymore (that´s my case, too). You should take them from a plate with your hands, use of cutlery is considered rude. Georgians grab the dumpling by the top (called kudi), turn around and sprinkle it with pepper. Then they carefully bite into it, suck the juice and only then they start eating. The upper part is not for eating - they are discarded to the edge of the plate so everybody can see who ate the most. But I am not sure if its purpose is to guarantee that everyone gets his fair share or it´s good only for bragging.
Elarji is a traditional meal of Megrelian shepherds. Its preparation is quite simple - you need to boil the cornflour in the cauldron and gradually add cheese until you get some kind of a dough. It´s one of those meals I wouldn´t order at the restaurant - it tastes best in the mountains, right at the shepherd´s hut. Interesting is also the serving style - shepherds just pour the content of the cauldron onto the bench, cut it into strips and you can eat.
Preparation of elarji
Ojakhuri is a safe bet when I don´t want to try anything new. It contains everything I like - pork meat, potatoes, onion, garlic, all roasted together and served in a clay pot. Nothing for promoters of healthy eating - it often swims in fat.
Ostri / Chashushuli
Ostri is a spicy beef stew resembling an European goulash. The beef is cooked together with tomatoes and mushrooms and further flavored with generous amount of garlic, spices and herbs. It´s a hearty, filling dish ideal for chilly evenings.
On some restaurant menus, you will find also a similar dish named chashushuli. As a culinary layman, they both looked same to me. Only later, a friend explained me the difference. During the preparation of ostri, ingredients are cooked together from the beginning. But in case of chashushuli, the meat is first briefly fried and then cooked in its own oil - tomatoes and mushrooms are added only much later.
Lobio is made of kidney beans, flavored with herbs and garlic and braised in a clay pot. Simple, tasty dish which is hard to spoil - so far, each lobio served to us was great. Usually eaten with the mchadi bread.
Shkmeruli is a traditional dish coming from a Racha region. It´s a roasted chicken further boiled in a garlic sauce. It´s served in a clay pot and is usually one of the more expensive dishes on the menu, costing at least 20 lari (8 EUR).
Generally, I really like it, that garlic has a pleasant, sharp taste. But I need to warn you about one thing. When we ordered it for the first time, we asked how large is the portion and the waiter said it was the whole chicken. Great, that will be enough for four people. Well, to cut it short - it wasn´t, the portion was barely large enough for two people. At first, we were wondering why are the chicken in Georgia so small. Only later we realized that maybe they are completely normal and unnatural are chickens sold in our supermarkets...
Very popular, but quite modern dish - it was invented by Georgian chef of the legendary Moscow restaurant Aragvi. To prepare this one, you need to flatten the chicken - open it, using its spine as some kind of "hinges" and then put some weight on it. OK, this sounds quite morbid and explain nothing, you better check some videos of Tabaka chicken preparation. Once the chicken is flattened, marinate it and roast on the pan from both sides - so you will need either a really small chicken (500 - 700 grams) or a very large pan.
This is one of my favorite recipes - the chicken is crispy on the outside and soft inside. It´s usually consumed with tkemali sauce and vegetable salad.
"Meat on the stick" is one of the oldest dishes in the history of mankind and therefore it´s no surprise that it´s very popular also at the Caucasus. No matter whether we are speaking about the Russian shashlik, Azeri shish kebab, Armenian khorovats or Georgian mtsvadi - it´s essentially the same lambpork or veal barbecue. Historically, it´s been the fare of highlanders and hunters, but also Georgian kings indulged in it. Nowadays, it´s a popular dish at the family celebrations.
Behind this peculiar name hides the veal meat baked with mushrooms and potatoes in the clay pot, generously covered with cheese. Not a very traditional dish, rather a "Soviet" one. Still, I can only recommend it.
Meat stewed with the leaves of tarragon and a sour additive (usually tkemali, but a better cook will use sour plums). The meat is soft and has an unusual, exotic taste. True chakapuli should be cooked from veal or lamb meat, but common is also one made from chicken or mushrooms.
First, to avoid some misunderstanding - Georgian kebab doesn´t resemble doner kebab popular in Europe (for this dish, Georgians use the Arabic word shawarma). Just like on Balkans or the Middle East, the word kebab describes small rissoles made of ground meat, grilled on a barbecue. It's not bad, but I rarely order it because when I want a meat on the stick, I pick mtsvadi.
Svan salt (svanuri marili) is a popular seasoning mix. The recipe originates in Svaneti but nowadays it can be bought virtually everywhere and it´s a popular and practical souvenir. It is a mixture of sea salt, dried garlic, fenugreek, coriander, chili pepper, dill and several other herbs. It goes nicely with roasted potatoes or chicken meat.
Another popular seasoning, but this one is based on red peppers and the remaining herbs serve primarily to soften the taste and to make it more interesting. It exists in two variants - dry and wet one. Dry ajika is a seasoning mix used on raw meat while the wet one has a consistency of a thicker mustard and is used to give more flavor to the already roasted meat.
And to make it even more complicated, there is also green ajika. This one is prepared from green pepper and generally is less spicy compared to the red variant. I would compare it to some kind of spicy pesto.
Khmeli suneli (literally “dried spices”) is to Georgians what masala is to Indians. This universal seasoning mix represents the essence of flavors of Georgian cuisine and is used in numerous recipes. It is a mixture of typical local herbs and spices such as coriander, marigold, fenugreek, dill, mint, parsley or marjoram. Another great gift to bring home.
Tkemali is a sour sauce of red or green color. It is prepared from wild plums - those are cooked, ground and mixed with garlic, dill, coriander, and chili. It has an interesting taste and I would take some bottle also home, but I haven´t yet found out what to pair it with. Georgians often use tkemali instead of ketchup and consume it with meat or roasted potatoes but I didn´t get used to that taste yet.
Churchkhela is a traditional Georgian sweet with a shape resembling that of an overgrown pea pod. It´s made of nuts put on a string and repeatedly dipped in a mix of grape juice, flour, and honey. The most common are churchkhelas made of walnuts but sometimes are used also hazelnuts, almonds or para nuts.
Churchkhela doesn´t have a too striking taste but since it´s light, durable and nutritious, it´s worth it to take a few pieces to the mountain treks - it´s no coincidence that it´s called "Georgian Snickers". After all, it was a favorite meal of Georgian warriors riding into battles. And it´s also a very popular souvenir.
Behind this word hides dried grape juice, thickened with flour. It´s spread thinly onto a sheet and then dried in the sun until you get something resembling a cloth, but edible. I must admit I never got too fond of tklapi since it´s even less sweet than churchkhela and contains no nuts.
Pelamushi is essentially a "grape pudding" - a dessert made from condensated grape juice thickened with corn flour. Usually served with walnuts or pomegranate seeds. It´s a traditional festive meal, often served during New Year's celebrations.
The most popular alcoholic drink in Georgia is wine. Here are located some of the oldest wineries in the world and Georgians often argue with Armenians who was the first to invent the winemaking. The wine here ages in kvevri - huge clay vessels buried in the ground. Georgians usually let the wine ferment together with grape skins which gives it a pleasant amber color and for a foreigner not so pleasant sour taste. But everything is a matter of a habit - you may not like the first glass but the more time you spend in Georgia, the better that wine tastes.
The largest wine-producing region in Georgia is Kakheti lying in the east - here originate some of the most common Georgian wines such as white Tsinandali or red Saperavi. At the western part of the country are grown white grape sorts such as Tsolikauri or Tsitska.
But the most famous Georgian wine is semi-sweet Kvanchkhara which is produced in the vicinity of the village of the same name in the Racha region. It owes its popularity also to Joseph Stalin - Kvanchkhara was his favorite brand. Can´t say I appreciate it products favored by Stalin benefit from his name even today.
Speaking of the beer, in Georgia are brewed mostly relatively low-alcohol, bottom-fermented beers. They are decent, but nothing to write home about. The most prevalent brands are Natakhtari, Zedazeni, and foreign Heineken. I favored Kazbegi beer, but for some reason, it almost disappeared from the market in the last few years. Also, in the past year emerged in Tbilisi first micro-breweries such as Shaovi Lomi, targeting with their production the more demanding hipster clientele.
If you will be lucky enough to attend supra, you probably won´t be able to avoid spirit called chacha. This term can be used for any fruit distillate, but in Georgia, it usually means grape brandy. But since the most of the production comes from home distilleries, its quality varies quite a lot.
The more luxurious type of chacha is Georgian cognac. Even though in Georgia it doesn´t have a long tradition (it´s manufactured here only since the end of 19th century), compared to many European cognacs it offers pretty good value for money. The most prominent brands is Sarajishvili. But to taste even better cognac, one has to visit neighboring Armenia.
Georgia is also famous for its high-quality mineral water. The most famous brand is Borjomi, strong, salty mineral water similar to our Fatra. It´s good for daily consumption but works even better as a treatment of morning hangovers. There are also others, good, but not so characteristic brands such as Sno, Likani or Nabeghlavi.
Another kind of non-alcoholic drinks are lemonades. The most popular are the local brands - virtually every brewery has a special product line of lemonades. There are numerous flavors available, from the classic ones such as lemon or orange to the total oddities such as “cream”, which tastes like a vanilla pudding. My personal favorite is the green “tarragon” lemonade.
Thank you for reading all the way down here. If you think I overlooked some dish which definitely deserves to be on this list or made some other mistake, please let me know.
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