As I mentioned last week, one of the factors working against the country Georgia is its name – which can be rather confusing if you happen to live close to a large American state with an identical name. Many of you may be thinking of fried food, Coca-Cola, and other (questionably digestible) nourishment but I’d like to introduce you to the cuisine of the Caucus country Georgia.
There is a Balkan and Persian influence in what I was expecting to be a rather bland Russian mix of potatoes and meat; making my stomach joyfully surprised and hopefully do the same for your hungry eyes.
1. Nigvziani Badrijani – (Fried eggplant with mashed walnuts and pomegranate)
This quickly became one of my favorite foods in Georgia and easily anywhere else in the world. It is high up on my personal list along with Chile’s porotos granados, Ecuador’s version of ceviche, and Bulgarian sarma.
2. Khachapuri – (Cheese bread; nearly countless varieties)
Khachapuri is undoubtedly a Georgian staple food, so much so that the Tbilisi State University has invented a ‘khachapuri economic index‘. In the mornings this soft, slightly greasy dough is sold as sandwiches filled with chunks of salami. Other varieties eaten at meals are usually stuffed with ground beef or spinach and generally sold in a circular pie-shape. (Stuffed with beans khachapuri becomes lobiani.)
3. Kuchmachi – (Mixed chicken gizzards, heart, liver, walnuts cooked in a clay bowl)
Admittedly, this was an accidental order on my part as I had no idea what I was pointing at on the menu. Usually that absolutely illogical methodology works in my favor; but in this case it didn’t. Gizzards, heart, are good when cooked but, well, there’s never been a liver in my mouth I’ve been fond of.
4. Satatsuri – (Asparagus soup)
Not an accident and quite the opposite this time. Satatsuri wasn’t the most common soup I found eating out but when it comes to liquid dishes, it is one of the most popular you’ll find in Georgian homes throughout the year.
5. Eggplant Satsivi – (Eggplant, sometimes chicken, in walnut sauce)
Before arriving in Georgia, my relationship with walnuts was a cordial, but not overly friendly one. I ate them because of their health benefits, mostly believing they were limited in their tasty ways. But let me tell you that Georgians know how to turn walnuts, eggplant, and some spices into one of the best cold appetizers I’ve ever had. In fact, thinking it may be a while before I have any satsivi again depresses my taste buds more than a little bit.
6. Lobio – (Kidney bean soup; eaten hot or cold)
There are supposedly walnuts in this hearty and common Georgian dish yet I couldn’t taste any. The flavor of garlic though is often quite strong and tempered with white bread (or mtchadi; a type of cornbread) to add some bulk to lobio, which is typically watery.
7. Georgian Salad – (Tomatoes, cucumber, onions, parsley)
A very common salad you’ll find throughout eastern Europe (like Turkey’s coban salatasi) the Georgian variety of this classic has a few differences. First off, it has much less olive oil, salt, and pepper; with the main ingredients largely – not finely – chopped.
8. Kharcho – (Beef stew)
There was a lot more tomato-based liquid in this common Georgian stew before I decided to pick at it, my hunger blinding me to any thoughts resembling “take a picture of this!”. Kharcho is hearty and with only hints of the spices and herbs that make up its recipe (e.g. cilantro).
This Is Just A Taste Of A Varied Cultural Menu
Part of me is still surprised to think that Georgian food isn’t all meat and potatoes. While there is certainly a lot of red meat in many of the dishes, several come in vegetarian varieties like “ispanakhi” (spinach mixed with, you guessed it, pureed walnuts). Back to meat however, kebabs (qababi) are found throughout the country in cities large and small. And no matter what dish you’re enjoying in Georgia, it’s usually washed down with some form of alcohol – from the (excellent) regional red wines or the local beer, Natakhtari.