It surprises many that far away in the exotic wedge of land separating Europe and Asia, there is another Georgia, a country whose similarities with the state next door stop with the name. One is further surprised that the country Georgia has a fabulously vegetarian-friendly cuisine, a change from its meat-loving neighbors.
A former Soviet state, Georgia is blessed with a fantastically unique history and culture and influences from Persia, Russia and the Byzantine world. The theme of uniqueness continues into its food with its array of fresh natural produce, cheeses, breads and so on. Having had the opportunity to spend 2 weeks in Georgia this past summer, I enjoyed all my meals and every opportunity to eat was welcome!
So, hungry already? Let’s begin!
Most people don’t know much about Georgian cuisine but of those who do, they would undoubtedly have heard of the khachapuri. Literally a cheese-bread, this calorie injection is essentially Georgia’s take on pizza. It is a comfort food on steroids.
The simplest— and best for the squeamish—is this variety, which is stuffed with cheese and glazed with butter and/or egg.
Of course, this is just the beginning. The most popular—and the most emblematic of the nation—is this boat-shaped (and boat-sized!) mass of bread filled with cheese. Because the cheese is surely not enough, we add in an egg and a hunk of butter too!
Enough of buttery, cheesy breads? Let’s move on!
The moment I read about it I knew I have got to try the nazuki. I chased for it around half the country before getting lucky. So, what exactly is it? A subtly sweet bread with a hint of cinnamon and raisins, this bread is baked in a special oven—similar to the one used for naan. Hot and fresh out of the oven, this bread is worth travelling across the world for. And that is what you’d have to do, because it is baked in just one small region in Georgia.
A bean stew may not sound very exciting, but give it to the Georgians for making something awesome from just some beans. Served in a traditional clay pot, lobio can be garnished with a variety of herbs, spices and vegetables like onions— making every pot of lobio unique and distinctive in taste.
No Thousand Island. No ranch. No ‘French’ or ‘Italian’ dressing. Salads in Georgia revel in their simplicity, with the quality of produce speaking through and through. A delicious tomato-and-cucumber salad is the classic, often Georgianized with walnut paste – did I mention that Georgians love their nuts?
Those sausage-like things you see in the market? Well, they’re not sausages. Churchkhela, a string of nuts coated in grape juice, is one of the most popular sweets you’ll find, and is it addictive! Made with either walnuts or hazelnuts, they give good energy—apparently, Georgian soldiers used to munch on them before going to battle. You may not be off fighting wars but if you want to hike mountains for such views as these sound advice is to enjoy some churchkhela!
Let your taste buds experiment!
If things keep you from going to Georgia, like the short duration of spring break or, you know, money, you can try Georgian food in restaurants in New York, Washington D.C. and other big cities in the country; perhaps even in the Russian restaurants around Orlando.