There is a Russian poet from the 19th century named Alexander Pushkin who stated, “Every Georgian dish is a poem”. According to Georgian legend written about in the book The Georgian Feast, “God took a supper break while creating the world. He became so involved with his meal that he inadvertently tripped over the high peaks of the Caucasus, spilling his food onto the land below. The land blessed by Heaven’s table scraps was Georgia”……or, so it goes!
I really didn’t know what to expect when I was asked to travel to Georgia. But I am so glad that I did! Georgia is a country that is home to not only wonderful people but also to some of the best food and wine in the world!
Georgians regularly meet to enjoy a supra, which means feast. One of the most important features of the feast is, of course, the wine. Georgia has a long history in winemaking and is home to over 500 varieties of grapes. It’s one of the oldest wine regions in the world.
According to many of the historians, since the year 6000 BC, the inhabitants of Georgia were cultivating grapes. Winemakers would bury them in clay vessels called kvevris. This vessel stored their wine until it was ready to serve. According to UNESCO, ” The kvevris was topped with a wooden lid and covered and buried underground. The porous nature of the vessel allows for natural temperature shifts and aeration….and, the oblong shape promotes kinetic movement by allowing constant natural stirring and more uniform oxygen contact. This process is important for the production of amber wines in Georgia”. As we drove through the countryside many homes still had grape arbors in the yard.
Photo by Georgianrecipes.net
Today, according to wine experts, somewhere almost 500 varieties of grapes exist in Georgia. Many of those grapes were nearly extinct!
The best way to describe Georgian wine is “orange wine”. It’s not made from citrus, but the grapes taste like a white wine but have the body, tannin, and structure of a red wine. It’s a lot more complex than a traditional rose wine. And, it’s a lot better than rose, in my opinion. No preservatives are added to Georgian wine. I’ve found that many times it’s the sulfates in the wine that gives you a headache the next day and sulfates aren’t added to Georgian wine. The shelf life may not be as long, but at least you have an all-natural product!
Not only is Georgian wine bottled without any preservatives, it’s also much lower in alcohol than traditional American wine. Georgian wine contains around 9-11% alcohol compared with 11.5-13.5% in American wine. This is excellent news when you are attending a 4-5 hour formal dinner or supra, as they call it in Georgia.
We stayed in the old part of town in a hotel that was built on a hillside. It was a cool hotel. At the bottom of the hill was the old section of Tbilisi. Cobblestone streets were lined with shops, restaurants, and bars. One of my favorite memories of my trip was going to a traditional Georgian restaurant complete with a band that played Georgian music. Both the music and the food were great!
Formal banquets in Georgia can last from 4-6 hours, or longer. Multiple rounds of food, wine and toasts are the hallmarks of a Georgian supra. My post last week discussed Georgian toasting, it’s quite an experience.
According to Georgiastartshere.com traditional Georgian feasts consist of dishes such as these:
- Pkhali, which is a spinach and walnut salad
- Khinkali, dumplings stuffed with spiced meat or vegetables
- Badridzhani Nigvsit, fried eggplant with walnut sauce
- Charkllis Chogi, beets in a tart cherry sauce
- Khachapura, egg and cheese bread
- Khashlama, veal and sour plum stew
- Pakhlava, a walnut pastry
Although Georgian cuisine is unique to the country, you can see influences from eastern Europe and the middle east. The Georgian diet contains many different types of vegetables, which are often meal highlights.
On many occasions, we were served Khinkali. These are dumplings that contain spiced meats, cheeses or vegetables. Even though they look heavy, they were very light.
Photo by Wikipedia
Another dish that was served at each of our meals, and which can be found at various street vendors, was Khachapura. Khachapura is a cheese bread, sometimes served topped with an egg. It was a little like cheese pizza, only much better! No Georgian bakery, restaurant or home would be without Khachapura!
Photo by Wikipedia
Badrijani may be hard to pronounce, but I can tell you it’s absolutely delicious! The region of the Caucasus Mountains where Georgia is located is home to many delicious fruits and nuts. Walnuts, pistachios, and almonds are plentiful as well as figs, pomegranates, apricots, grapes, and mulberries. Walnuts and pomegranates are important ingredients of Badrijani. The dish is comprised of fried eggplant, spiced walnut and topped with pomegranate seeds. The classic Mediterranean and Georgian dish!
Photo by Wikipedia
Georgians don’t eat many sweets. Because walnuts are a staple there, you do find Pakhlava served after many dinners. Pakhlava is a variation on the traditional Greek dessert Baklava. Pakhlava uses a different type of dough than Bakhlava and it’s not as flaky. Ingredients can contain a variety of different ingredients including poppy seeds, ginger, saffron, and almonds.
Georgians don’t really eat candy like you and I think of candy. One “candy” that you can find on every street corner and at roadside stands is Churchkhela. I was anxious to try this Georgian delicacy. Nuts such as almonds and walnuts are threaded onto a string and then they are dipped in a sugary fruit juice, such as grape juice. The sugar from the juice dries on the nuts and it looks like a sugarplum. The finished candy is displayed on the string and looks like little sausages, but instead, they are candied nuts! As you drive down city streets or rural parts of Georgia you will find these multi-colored strands of tastiness!
Photo by Shutterstock
Kutaisi is the capital of Georgia. We spent several days there for business. It was a lovely town, not as large as Tbilisi. Kutaisi’s population is around 200,00 and the Parliament of Georgia is located there.
Our Georgian hosts wanted to be sure that we felt at home. Every morning they served us breakfast at our bed-and-breakfast hotel. They wanted to be sure that we had everything that they considered an “American” breakfast.
Next time you are looking for a place to travel, you should consider Georgia. The food and the wine are worth the trip! Until next time xoxo.
Sources used in this post: The Georgian Feast; Unesco;