Developed over the centuries, Georgian cuisine includes influences from neighbors as well as invading nations both from the east and west and because of its location on the Silk Road, from herbs and spices traveling from great distances to the east. Georgia has been producing wine for thousands of years to accompany the great range of dishes for which it has become famous.
There are few better ways to sample Georgian food than by attending a traditional feast, the Supra which is conducted by a toastmaster and includes several dishes as well as song and dance, and that wine. Be prepared for the Supra to last quite a few hours; the time will fly, and you will never forget the experience of one of our greatest traditions.
There are opportunities to sample Georgian cuisine outside the nation’s boundaries but if you are new to things Georgian, here is a guide to some of the things you are likely to find on a restaurant menu or which you may receive if you are enjoying Georgian hospitality.
Pkhali is Georgia’s equivalent to a Spanish tapa or a Turkish meze. It is traditionally vegetarian although one using chicken as an ingredient is sometimes served. It consists of chopped vegetables such as cabbage, beans, spinach and eggplants that are mixed with garlic and herbs, onions, vinegar and very importantly walnuts made into a sauce.
Pkhali which comes in different shapes might be boiled or fried and in order to give it a slight taste of acidity, pomegranate seeds are used as a garnish.
Georgia’s cheese bread is a real classic. It varies from region to region with the most striking version one shaped like a boat with an egg dropped into the middle which is served on the Black Sea coast.
Khachapuri may be the main part of breakfast or a side dish later in the day. It can have a fairly thin crust or one that is thick. Khacha means cheese in the Georgian language and puri means bread and it has been around for so many years that no one is absolutely certain of its origin.
The most famous of Georgian soups is Chikhirtma which the locals think is a great hangover cure. It is chicken-based with ingredients including onions, eggs, a range of seasonings, flour vinegar and water. The flour helps give it a thick consistency and the flavor is slightly sour due to the vinegar.
Elarji is similarly thick and if you visit the Samegreto Region of Western Georgia, you are certain to find it on the menu. The ingredients are cornflour and cornmeal as well as sulguni cheese. Locals will eat it together with a traditional sauce called Bazhe made from spices, garlic and walnuts.
Khinkali might remind you of Chinese dumplings and they come in a range of fillings. Lamb is the favorite filling in the mountainous regions where sheep are plentiful but elsewhere beef or pork may be substituted. It is thought that Khinkali were first made up in the mountainous parts of Georgia and they are regarded as one of the top Georgian dishes today. No Supra is complete without Khinkali on the table.
Nuts are a popular ingredient in Georgian cuisine and Satsivi is a paste made from walnuts together with garlic, coriander, cinnamon and hot peppers. It gives flavor a range of Georgian dishes, more commonly meat which is put into the sauce, but its use has spread to fish, vegetables and even boiled eggs.
Kuchmachi is an offal dish using kidneys, livers, lungs, hearts and spleens of chickens, pigs, or beef. The ingredients are cooked in butter together with onions, garlic, bay leaves, coriander, salt and pepper. You may also find the ever-popular walnuts added as well while pomegranate seeds are regularly used as a garnish.
There are regional and seasonal variations to this grilled dish of meat on skewers. Old grapevine is used to create flavor and once the meat is taken off the skewers, it is put into a pot containing onions and pomegranate juice which blends nicely with the juices of the meat. Lamb, pork and veal are the three meats commonly used.
Shkmeruli is a traditional Georgian dish from the Rachan Region. Chicken in a garlic sauce is a popular part of Georgian cuisine and regularly appears on restaurant menus. The name is also a village in Racha where the dish was thought to have originated.
Kubdari, a bread filled with beef, pork, or a combination of the two, originated in Svaneti, the mountainous region in north west Georgia. Spices such as coriander, dill, cumin and blue fenugreek join red pepper, salt, onions and garlic to make a dish full of flavor. The dough is made in the usual way with eggs, flour, yeast, water, sugar and salt. The meat is cut into pieces rather than minced.
Mixed Mushroom Stew in clay pot
Georgian cuisine has a number of meat stews cooked very slowly but this Georgian dish is purely for vegetarians or for those wanting a change. It is particularly popular during lent with the main ingredient, mushroom, known as Khis Soko which is grown on tree trunks. It has a distinct strong flavor with the mushrooms retaining a firm texture.
Kharcho with Gomi
Talking about slowly cooked meat stews, Kharcho is another with the flavor primarily coming from tomatoes, spices, aromatic herbs and something that is unique to Georgian cuisine. Khmeli Suneli is a marigold.
Gomi which comes from Western Georgia is centuries old, a dish made from millet initially but now from maize.
In contrast to Kharcho, Chaqapuli is a light stew, using springtime herbs that blend well with local white wine and tkemali sauce whose main ingredient is whole green plums. Traditionally, this dish was made with lamb, but it is also available with other meats, especially beef. One word of advice; be careful not to swallow the plum stones.
This dessert depends upon hazelnuts, walnuts or both which are put on a thread and coated with a heated mixture of grape juice, honey, sugar and flour. The strands are then left to dry in the sun, becoming crispy and looking similar to candles.
Churchkhela can be kept for several months without losing flavor or quality. Before you eat a ‘’candle’’ remember to pull the thread out.
This old recipe combines walnuts with caramelized sugar to produce bite-size sweets that can finish off a meal or simply be eaten anytime during the day. They are widely available and extremely addictive once you try them. Their nickname is ‘’Pearls of the Sun.’’
Qada is something that everyone remembers eating as a child. It is fairly heavy, containing plenty of butter and sugar and is available in bakeries, cafes as well as on restaurant menus.
Georgians love their cheese. No one has actually made a definitive decision about how many different varieties are produced in Georgia, but the figure is certainly over 100 and there are many specific to particular regions.
A cheese plate is commonly available in restaurants and if you are lucky enough to attend a supra, there will be cheese on the table towards the end of the feast.
One farm in Teleti run by Ana Mikadze-Chikvaidze who founded of the Georgian Cheese Association produces 53 different varieties. Its proximity to Tbilisi guarantees that any visitor to our Capital will have plenty of choice when visiting a local restaurant. It is impossible to try too many so here are four favorites to try.
Sulguni, is a semi-soft cheese similar to mozzarella and produced from whole cow’s milk. Normally white, you may also find it in a slightly yellow color because of the cow’s diet. As a moist cheese, it does not store well in a refrigerator so try to eat it fresh. The best Sulguni is made in the mountainous region of Svaneti. It also comes in a smoked variety, regularly eaten with Gomi.
This distinctive cheese comes in threads. Which are boiled, placed in brine and stretched. Before being dried and dipped in cream. They are put into pots that are inverted to lose all liquid. This cheese vis ideal for storage and locals can keep it for special occasions several months hence.
Kalti is the most expensive cheese you will find in Georgia. It originated in the mountainous regions of Georgia as food for shepherds. It is ideal for nomadic shepherds who live a fairly nomadic life and when aged, it is similar to parmesan.
This cheese from the region of the same name is a white cheese made in brine which develops porous bubbles in its texture. It is arguably Georgia’s most popular cheese, often eaten with a salad. When it comes fresh without salt, it is chewy and stringy. As it ages, it becomes grainy and a little sour. The closest equivalent is probably Greece’s feta cheese.