Is Georgian Cuisine from Heaven?

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!

 

Alexander Pushkin
Alexander Pushkin wrote that every Georgian dish is a poem

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.

Qvevri store Georgian wine
Qvevri are vessels that store Georgian wine under the ground until ready to serve

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!

Georgian wine is amber colored
Georgian wine is orange in color

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.

Georgian toasting
There’s always toasting and a lot of food at a Georgian dinner party!

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
  • wine

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.

Khinkali are Georgian dumplings
Khinkali are little dumplings in Georgia cuisine

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!

Georgian Khachapura is cheese bread
Khachapura is a cheese bread in Georgia

Photo by Wikipedia

Georgian pizza topped with vegetables
Georgian pizza is sometimes topped with mayonnaise

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!

Georgian Badrijani
Fried eggplant never tasted so good!

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!

Georgian Churchkhela Candy
Who knew walnut candy could taste so good?

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.

Georgian American Breakfast
Our Georgian hosts served us their version of an American breakfast each morning.

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;

 

 

 

Toast to Tblisi

Toast to Tblisi

I’ve been catching up on my Parts Unknown shows.   I loved the show. It took me to places that are off the beaten path…..not in the mainstream.  Bourdain’s conversations and interactions with different cultures were so interesting and captured a more human side, versus just a typical travelogue.  The episodes were always filled with a lot of characters, but characters in a good way.  We experienced the unexpected!

Anthony Bourdain filmed Parts Unknown In Georgia
Anthony Bourdain filmed Parts Unknown in Georgia in 2016

Photo by CNN

I ran across a show that was taped in Tbilisi, Georgia.  It struck me that Bourdain was able to bring all the warmth and friendliness that I encountered when I traveled to Georgia.  The people were so welcoming, and I still talk to many of them to this day.  Facebook makes it so easy to stay in touch with people from all over the world!

I was able to travel to Georgia through a partnership with the US Department of Energy and the State of Kentucky.  Georgia needed expertise in developing their natural energy resources, such as hydropower shown below, as well as management of consumer issues.  It was a reciprocal arrangement, we went to Georgia and they came to the United States.

Hydro power dam in Georgia
Hydro dam on the border between Georgia and Russia is much bigger than the Hoover Dam. Can you see the armed Russian guards at the border?

While traveling to Georgia we had a layover in Munich, Germany.  The trip was in late September, around the time of the annual Oktoberfest.  On the flight to Tbilisi, many people boarded the plane in Germany that had been to the festival.  They served beer on the flight, even though it was 6:00 AM.  I will never forget that…..and, it certainly foreshadowed things to come!

 

 

When we arrived at the Tbilisi airport, I was struck by the warm greeting we received from our energy industry counterparts.  It was gratifying and reassuring to be welcomed by people who were genuinely glad we were there and appreciated our willingness to share and exchange our knowledge with them.

Georgia is a country at the intersection of Europe and Asia, and their neighbors include Russia, Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.   The population of Georgia is about 3.7 million, so as a whole its population equates to that of Oklahoma and geographically is about the size of West Virginia.   It’s a former Soviet republic state that has mountains, the Black Sea, and a mix of the old and new country.

Georgia border map
You might think you have difficult neighbors!

Photo from Thewaywomenwork.com

Tbilisi, which is the capital of Georgia, is known for its diverse architecture, high-tech features, and its traditional cobblestone streets.   I believe the photo below well illustrates the old and the new of Georgia.

travel views from Georgia
The old meets new in Georgia

Georgia and Russia have a long history of disputes.  The latest conflict happened in 2008 and as you travel through the country you can still see the ravages of the war.  Bombed out buildings and bridges remind you of the tumultuous history the two countries share. The United States came to the aid of Georgia to the tune of $1 billion, and to this day they are extremely grateful and appreciative.  Georgians love Americans.

As you travel into the city you can’t help but notice the high-tech designed bridge that connects old Tbilisi with the new city.  It’s a very modern suspension bridge that is called the Pedestrian Bridge of Peace.  It has glass panels and is shaped like a bow.  At night the bridge lights up with many different colors.  Every hour 30,000 bulbs broadcast a message in Morse code. It is said that the message is composed of the names of the periodic table of elements that make up the human body. According to the architect, “the message a hymn to life and peace among people and nations.”

Tblisi modern bridge of peace
Tbilisi Bridge of Peace
Tblisi Bridge of Peace
Glass panels give the bridge a very modern look
Bridge of Peace in Georgia
LED lights change colors at night broadcasting Morse code message

The bridge is not the only modern twist to the city.  Public art installations are located throughout the Tbilisi.  It was awesome to travel to a city that has such strong beliefs about the benefits of public art.

 

The statute below is in honor of the “tamada”.  A tamada in Georgia is the assigned toastmaster for formal dinners.  This is a very important function in Georgian hospitality.  Every formal dinner has a tamada that is chosen to preside over the toasts of the evening.  It’s not uncommon to have a 4-5 hour formal dinner with numerous toasts.  I didn’t keep count at our dinners but there had to be at least 25 toasts, and probably more.  The tamada is also in charge of hospitality.  They make sure that everyone is having a good time and has enough to eat and drink.

Public Art in Georgia
The statute is a piece of public art named for the Tamada

The tamada begins the toast and then each man at the table is responsible for a toast throughout the evening.  These toasts are very emotional and heartfelt.  It’s not unusual for there to be tears of joy, laughter, and sadness. There are toasts to family, Georgia, and during our dinner, to America.  I believe there was even a toast to President George Bush!  Only men in Georgia drink to each of the toasts.  Women are not expected to drink each toast (that’s a good thing!).

 

Tamada toasting in Georgia
Traditional toasting in Georgia
Traditional toasting in Georgia
Cheers!
Traditional toasting in Georgia
Here’s to Georgia and the United States!

I recently read an article on Georgian toasts that described the 10 basic toasts that are traditional to formal banquets.  I remember that most of them were included in our dinners.   According to Transfersgeorgia.com, the toasts include:

  1.  To our meeting- this includes celebrating the event that brought everybody together.
  2. To our parents- this toast thanks parents for life and raising.
  3. To those that passed away- good qualities are toasted and their souls are wished peace in Heaven.  It is customary that during this toast, everyone dips a piece of bread into their wine and then puts the bread on the edge of their plates.
  4. To the children- this is a toast to the future of families and the country.
  5. To Georgia- Georgians are proud of their country and always toast to it.  It always includes any countries of foreign guests at that the table as well.
  6. To women- thanks are given to the women that have prepared the food on the table.  Georgians hold women in high regard and are treated as special creatures to be admired and respected.  I was very impressed with their courtesy towards me.
  7. To Peace- peace is very important to Georgia due to their long history of conflicts and wars.  Peace is treasured by Georgians.
  8. To someone celebrating a special occasion- birthday, graduations, anniversaries are all highlighted in this toast.
  9. To those who could not be at the table, but are present in everyone’s thoughts- if someone is ill, or unable to attend, they are remembered and toasted too.
  10. To the host family- this toast usually signals the end of the dinner.

 

For special toasts, there’s an item that is brought out that is called a Khantsi, which is a ceremonial drinking horn.  This is an important accessory in the culture of ritual toasting in Georgia.  You have to drink it all, it’s considered rude not to finish the wine.  Georgians only toast with wine, not beer.

 

Photo courtesy of En.wikipedia.org

I really enjoyed my trip to Georgia….we experienced such warmth and genuinely friendly.  Tune in next week for the Georgia food and wine blog post!  Until then xoxo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cool Space, Great View

Cool Space, Great View

The Mane on Main could be the most unique event space in Lexington, Kentucky.  It is located on the 15th floor of the Chase Bank Building on Main Street.  The sweeping views of the city give it an exciting, big-city vibe.

Views from The Mane on Main in Lexington, Kentucky

You might remember this 12,500-square-foot location as the Lafayette Club, which was a private lunch and dinner club, or more recently as Bakers 360, which was a restaurant and nightclub. There’s a reason that it continues to be a popular location for events and dining.  From the floor-to-ceiling windows you can see the twinkling lights of Lexington.

Fine Dining and Event Space at The Mane on Main

Dupree Catering, which is co-owned by Azur chef Jeremy Ashby and Tom Evans, along with their business partners, operates The Mane on Main.  Both the catering expertise and the location make it a great option for private events.

The farm-to-table concept has become very popular these days.  The Mane on Main offers the concept for catered events.  You don’t find many catering operations that offer farm-to-table options.  That’s a really nice touch.

Tom Evans, who is the Owner/Chef Operating Officer at The Mane on Main is no stranger to the hospitality industry.  He worked in his family’s catering business in Washington, D.C. for more than 30 years before coming to Lexington.  Tom was instrumental in opening Azur Catering and later merging operations with Dupree Catering.  The Mane on Main is their newest venue space.

Diners at The Mane on Main enjoyed fine dining in Lexington, Kentucky

Last week The Mane on Main presented a pop-up dining experience.  The idea was to recreate an iconic restaurant from Lexington’s past.

Dining has always had a rich tradition in Lexington.  You may remember the New Orleans House from the mid-80’s.  The restaurant was open for a little more than 10 years.  It was first opened in the Southpark shopping center and later moved to Griffin Gate Plaza in 1989.  The New Orleans house featured a signature seafood buffet.

I can remember that when I was in college my Uncle Buddy would come in from Alabama and would take us to eat at the New Orleans House.  I got to take my best friend, Gina, and we thought we were the cat’s meow!  I always looked forward to going there.

Frog legs were one of the house specialities.  I can remember shrimp, oysters, frog legs and crab legs on the buffet.  Bananas Foster for dessert!  It makes me smile just thinking about it.

I happened to see a Facebook post a couple of months ago from Chef Jeremy Ashby asking for comments regarding The New Orleans House.  He wanted to know everybody’s favorite dish and comments that people had of the restaurant.  Of course, I replied!  How could I not share my fond memories!

The Mane on Main hosted the tribute dinner to The New Orleans House a week or so ago.  Hats off to the marketing team! I think it’s a great idea to host events like this for the community.  Not only do you get to experience great food, but you get to do it in a terrific setting!

When we stepped off the elevator to the 15th floor we were greeted by a very friendly, hospitable staff.  They welcomed us to the event and made sure we were informed about the night’s festivities.

Fine Dining at The Mane on Main in Lexington, KY

A lovely jazz band was playing in the corner of the room.  They had a great sound and were playing all the classics.

The Mane on Main in Lexington event venue

The New Orleans House was well known for specialty cocktails.  The dinner included a cocktail of your choice.  Of course, I picked a French 75! …..and, Champagne…. please!

The Mane on Main special event

The Mane on Main bar is a lovely mix of stone, glass and wood.  It’s really pretty and a nice backdrop for a reception area.  Diners mingled and enjoyed their cocktails and the live music before dinner.

The Mane on Main in Lexington, KY

The friendly catering staff passed Oyster Rockefeller and frog legs before the dinner started.  The Oysters Rockefeller were really good. Just the right amount of butter, parsley and bread crumbs.  I’m not a big frog leg fan, but you know what they say, tastes just like chicken!

The Mane on Main Special event venue

You could hear people telling stories of their dinners at the New Orleans house and the fun times they had.  Everybody was having a great time.

The event space can be configured a variety of ways but for this event there were buffet stations set around the room.  The New Orleans House was a seafood buffet, so it made sense that we eat buffet style.

Of course the first station included a lovely salad.  But it also included shrimp, oysters on the half shell, and a seafood salad.  It’s hard to beat fresh seafood!  The shrimp was really fresh, not watery like some shrimp that you may find, and the oysters were meaty and tasted like the sea.

The next station consisted of cooked seafood.  Now you might not be familiar with this dish, but it was really tasty.  The dish was a Maque Choux and Shrimp Cake that was finished with a remoulade and chow-chow.  Think about a crunchy hash brown that has shrimp in it.  It really had a splendid taste, and the presentation was great.

Fine Dining in Lexington Kentucky

On the other side of the table was a deviled crab in a cute little serving dish that was shaped like a crab.  There’s nothing better to me than lump crab!

Sepcial Events in Lexington, Kentucky

Have you ever tasted turtle soup?  Turtle soup used to be very popular and it was usually available at the New Orleans House.  But going back even further, the soup used to be one of the most popular and most sought-after dishes in American history.

Turtle soup is still a speciality and can be found in many fine dining restaurants in New Orleans.  Restaurants such as Commander’s Palace, Brennan’s and Galatoire’s still serve the delicacy.

Bubbly Horse attend the Mane on Main special event for fine dining

I didn’t try the turtle soup, but I’m sure it was delicious.   There was so much food that I needed to pick and choose.  My tablemates said it was tasty.

Crawfish is another bayou tradition.  Chef Jeremy was hard at work boiling the crawfish.  Of course, like a traditional crawfish boil, there was potatoes and corn to accompany the fish.

Did I mention that they also had baby back ribs, Trout Almondine, and smoked salmon?  Also, a dish called Angels and Devils on Horseback.  I admit I had to look it up, I wasn’t quite sure what it was.  Evidently the oysters are the angels and the scallops are the devils.  Both were wrapped in bacon (how can you go wrong!) and were in a creole mustard piquant.  They were very good.

Bubbly Horse attends a fine dining event at The Mane on Main

All of this and I haven’t even gotten to dessert yet!

The Mane on Main offered several choices for dessert.  Choices included fresh fruit (almost was too pretty to eat), strawberry almond shortcake complete with whipped cream and mint, and of course, bread pudding!  Bread pudding is a traditional New Orleans dessert.  The topping for the bread pudding had plenty of Kentucky Bourbon it.  The dessert was really good!

Following the dinner, the dance floor was full.  Everybody had a great time experiencing the bayou favorites and The Mane on Main!

See you soon. xoxo