Where to eat in Georgia?
It’s up to you – the choice is great. Typical restaurants with a traditional menu are almost everywhere and the prices are relatively low. The so-called “Fusion” restaurants are a certain mixture of local culinary traditions and modernity, more expensive than typical restaurants but absolutely worth visiting – these types of restaurants are located in large cities such as Tbilisi, Batumi and Kutaisi. Foreign restaurants are also not rare, especially in the capital. The “Fast food” restaurants of large chains such as McDonald’s. Burger King etc. are available in major cities. Small bakeries are almost in every corner with quite a variety of patties (sweet or salty) and traditional bread called – Shoti – very comfortable when moving from place to place. There are also small roadside taverns for those on the way who want to eat quickly but not fast food products.
King of pastry
Khachapuri – a typical empanada
Khachapuri the cult dish for its cultural significance is a simple combination of wheat flour dough and local cheese. To knead the Khachapuri dough, flour, water or lukewarm milk and baker’s yeast are used. From the well-inflated dough, we form small balls, roll out them and fill with cheese. The preparation is finished in the oven. Golden khachapuri leaves the oven and is covered with butter, only after it is ready to be served. There are several types of Khachapuri – each region has its own little secret on how to prepare an ideal Khachapuri. This dish is so important and loved by the locals (but not only) that it has obtained the status of a monument of intangible cultural heritage. Khachapuri is widely present almost in every restaurants despite of their quality as well as in small bakeries.
Khinkali is a typical dish from the mountainous regions of Georgia. Small pockets of wheat flour dough filled with minced meat (usually beef) with or without local herbs, onions and garlic. Khinkali is very similar to oriental dumplings and Italian dumplings but it is juicier. Khinkali is eaten very hot, with your hands, immediately after preparation. It is so popular that there are special restaurants where only dish is Khinkali, but know that the best is the one prepared at home in the mountains in the north of the country. If you are vegan or vegetarian and want to try this dish – Khinkali with cheese and vegetables (Mushrooms, potatoes etc.) is for you. Khinkali culinary workshops are organized in guesthouses and it is very fun to prepare and then share it with others. Eating Khinkali is an act of socialization among friends.
In Georgia poultry meat is very popular and you will find it in different forms, accompanied by a variety of sauces. Shkmerouli is a roast chicken in garlic and milk sauce. Name of dish comes from its place of birth – Shkmeri village which is located in the mountains of western Georgia. A roast chicken cut into pieces is placed in a pan, covered with the sauce based on milk and garlic and simmered for a few minutes in order to take it to the table. This dish is especially good with local bread and a glass of Khvanchkara – one of the best Georgian red wines. To taste the most authentic Shkmerouli, you have to visit its region of origin, but you can also taste a good Shkmeruli in ordinary restaurants in the other regions.
Traditional festive dish
Another dish with poultry meat. Usually, it is the turkey that is used in this dish but sometimes it is replaced by chicken. First, we boil the whole turkey, we put aside the broth for the sauce. The turkey goes to the oven to roast. To prepare the sauce we need a good quantity of white walnuts, a few cloves of garlic, onions and spices such as coriander powder, a mixture of local spices and red pepper powder. Walnut oil received from minced walnut we will keep for the final point of the preparation of the dish. We fry the chopped onion in the fat of the broth and add the rest of the broth, the walnuts and the spices. We cover the pieces of roast turkey (chicken) with the sauce and place them in the fridge for 4 – 5 hours. Before serving the dish, it is decorated with walnut oil. Satsivi is a festive dish which is mostly presented on the New Year’s table but can be tasted in the ordinary situation. The best Satsivi is prepared in the western regions of Georgia (Samegrelo and Imereti).
Tastes of spring
Chakapuli is a typical seasonal dish particularly loved by Georgians. The best Chakapuli is prepared in the spring time because ingredients such as green herbs and plums are better at this time of year, but in restaurants the dish is prepared during the whole year. Chakapuli is mandatory on the Easter table. The meat of veal or lamb cut into pieces is simmered in a pan with a large quantity of very young green herbs, with green plums and a glass of local white wine. To season the dish, all you need is salt and red pepper powder. This mixture of flavors of meat and herbs as well as the acidity of the green plums give us a perfectly balanced and very interesting taste. The juicy and very tasty dish arrives at the table with white wine and Shoti bread. There is a vegan version for this dish where the meat is replaced by potato or mushrooms.
100% vegan colorful dish
Dishes made with vegetables and herbs are widely spread in Georgia. Especially in western regions. The basic ingredients such as an eggplant, a pepper, a carrot, a spinach, beans, a pumpkin, a beetroot and many others are added the chopped walnut (hazelnut) and seasoned with local spices and herbs. Vegetables are generally cooked or boiled then cut or chopped. In the preparation of Phkali a good amount of onion and garlic are used. The dishes that come together under the name Pkhali – are 100% vegan. Among visitors to the country the most popular is eggplant rolls with walnuts, but we advise you to taste everything that will be present on a platter of Pkhali. Pkhali is often accompanied by small corn flour pancakes and it is a perfect combination.
It is a dish from the Samegrelo region which is a mixture of corn flour and fresh cheese. Elarji requires only 3 ingredients but the dish is rich and has great nutritional value. The name of the dish is not yet studied. We are talking about two versions: according to one of these versions the word Elarji comes from a French verb “to widen” (the dish stretches a lot) because the French language was not strange for the region thanks to the marriage (end XIX century) between Achille Murat (from French royal family) and local Princess Salome Dadiani. According to another version Elarji comes from a Mingrelian word (a language of the Georgian language group which is spoken in the region of Samegrelo). To prepare the dish a special cast iron skillet is needed where water and corn flour are boiled. Once the base is ready, the mass is sufficiently homogeneous, we add a less salty local cheese which is recently prepared from cow’s milk. Slices of cheese gradually go into the pan and in order to dissolve the cheese, it is stirred constantly with a special spoon. Once the cheese is well melted in the mass, we let Elarji rest over a slow fire. Elarji is eaten hot as a main dish but sometimes as a garnish in meat dishes.
Georgian pudding made with grape juice
It’s time to introduce Georgian desserts. Georgian cuisine does not have a wide variety of desserts, but there are still some authentic typical recipes. Grapes are one of the central products in Georgian gastronomy. Along with wine, which is the sacred drink, certain dishes and desserts are prepared using grapes. A kind of Pudding is made from grape juice throughout the country. The only difference is that in the western regions they use more corn flour and the dessert is called Phelamushi and in the east (Tatara) with wheat flour. The preparation is simple, in a cast iron skillet we pour the grape juice (whether white or red) bring it to a boil and add a mixture (prepared in advance) of flour (corn or wheat) sugar and a little grape juice. Stir it for a few minutes and let it boil. Once the preparation is finished, we share it on the plates and decorate it with chopped walnuts or hazelnuts. In general, this dessert is eaten cold. The dessert is also based on a Georgian delicacy Churchkhela.
Traditional dessert for Christmas time
A dessert that is inseparable from the New Year’s table. Its golden color and softness create a warm and festive atmosphere. To prepare a good Gozinaki we need honey (rather light than dark) and nuts such as walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, almonds etc. but the traditional recipe is made using blanched walnuts, cut into tiny pieces and mixed with boiled honey. The mass is spread on a wooden cutting board using a wooden rolling pin. After a few minutes it is cut into small pieces and left to cool before consumption. Gozinaki preparation process takes some time and requires a lot of concentration. For most families, its preparation is like a real ritual involving the whole family, especially the children. In general, Gozinaki is not on restaurant menus. For those interested, it will be available in stores, but the best Gozinaki is the one prepared at home.
Cheese is a very important product for the Georgian cuisine. Cheese is not considered a dessert, rather it is the accompaniment to a dish or even the main ingredient for certain dishes. The roots of Georgian cheeses lie in the distant past. The Archaeological Museum of Mtskheta (former capital of Georgia) has in its collection a special jar for cheese that is at least 28 centuries old. On the territory of the country there are more than 30 types of cheese, among these varieties some are more widely consumed such as Imerouli and Megrouli Soulgouni, but each region also has its own particular cheese, especially the mountainous regions. The cheese is made mostly from cow’s milk, but sheep’s and goat’s milk are also used, especially among shepherds. Almost everywhere in the restaurants you are offered a cheese platter but there are also small cheese-makers or small producers, especially in the regions, who will welcome you into their homes to let you taste the cheese and show the cheese-making process.