You may have realized by now, but I’m kind of in love with Georgian cuisine.
Odds are I’m just biased since those are the flavors I grew up with. However, I am also profoundly convinced the combination of tastes and textures found in my homeland’s most typical dishes is something extraordinary.
Georgia is the crossroads of the world. Through the centuries, this constant exposure to endless cultures, flavors, and techniques made Georgia develop a unique blend of culinary wonders. The result? Unique dishes that simply must be shared with the rest of the world.
But try as we might, not all Georgian regions are equal in flavor.
It turns out that all across the Georgian map, different regions have their own particular take on the same dishes. Whether it is a secret ingredient other areas disregard, a particular cooking method that is hard to imitate, or simply the charm of generational recipes, it’s much better to try certain plates in a given region.
But what to taste on each Georgian region? Worry not, I’ll walk you through the best of Georgian cuisine per historical or administrative area, in a journey around Georgia in 80 flavors.
The Abkhazia region, despite the current unrest, is well-known for its delicious poultry dishes. Their own particular version of roasted chicken is a delight to the senses, and the popularity of the renowned akuteicarsh—chicken made with nuts sauce—attests to their culinary skills.
But despite this, the quintessential Abkhazian recipe is, undoubtedly, their ajika sauce.
Ajika is a sauce/dressing, meant for poultry and fish. Spicy and well-rounded, the layering of the flavors provided by its ingredients make it an exceptional complement for most of the local cuisine, making it responsible for the delicious popularity of Abkhazian food as it is.
It’s a simple recipe—garlic, paprika, coriander, fenugreek, caraway, and walnuts. Blended together to the right proportions can create an exceptional sauce that can elevate any dish—Georgian or not—to a whole new level.
If you’re not familiar with khachapuri, you’d be forgiven for not knowing there are dozens of ways to prepare it. After all, a quick Google search shows you different pictures of the same recipe: a canoe-shaped bread with cheese and egg yolk right in the middle.
But it turns out that the most iconic version of Georgia’s most-famed baked delight is from the Adjara region, answering to the name of Adjaruli khachapuri.
Other versions of khachapuri are delicious by their own right. Still, part of the charm of the Adjarian variation lies in its unique appearance and entertaining eating method.
Instead of cutting a piece of bread and eating it, adjaruli khachapuri encourages you to mix the egg yolk with the cheese and butter resting atop the canoe. Then, once satisfied, you may dip your bite into the delicious mixture.
Guria: Gurian Pie
Just because adjaruli khachapuri is a signature Georgian dish, it doesn’t make it the only cheese bread worth sharing.
Upon first glance, Gurian Pie does not look like you’d imagine a pie, and that’s because it is not. It looks like a croissant, but that’s far from it. Gurian pie is actually a very regional khachapuri recipe set apart from the rest of the variations in the country.
Beyond its distinctive curved appearance, Gurian pie also stands out for filling the cheesy dough with even more soft cheese, as well as hard-boiled eggs. The result is a curious contrast of textures and flavors that make this dish a unique feature in Georgian cuisine.
The crescent shape is not a coincidence. According to ancient regional beliefs, this moon-like shape represents strength and good fortune. As such, Gurian pie remains a celebratory food that is traditionally baked during the Orthodox Christmas festivities.
Just keep in mind the superstitious beliefs surrounding the dish—there must be one Gurian pie for each member of a family during Christmas!
Imereti: Nigvziani Badrijani
Oh, cold dishes.
A must-have in every Georgian supra, and a staple of entrees everywhere. And out of them all, the most iconic has to be nigvziani badrijani.
While widespread all across the country, the entrée is originally from the Imereti region, as it is evident for the predominance of walnuts in the recipe—a staple favorite in the area.
Nigvziani badrijani is a dish made out of eggplant (also known as aubergine) and a creamy filling made out of walnuts, garlic, cilantro, coriander, vinegar, and a mix of seasoning and spices according to tastes. For aesthetic appeal, it’s common to decorate it with fresh herbs.
But that’s not everything Imereti has to offer to your palate. In fact, the area also has a popular khachapuri interpretation, named imeruli khachapuri. Third time’s a charm!
Imeruli khachapuri is faithful to the cheesy mixture that defines the dish. Still, it takes the shape of a round, flatbread cut in slices, much like pizza. Also equally delicious, if you ask me.
If you were expecting yet another variation of the famed cheese bread, you’re out of luck. Kakheti likes cheese as much as everyone else in Georgia does, but their culinary priorities lie elsewhere.
Namely, with delicious meat preparations.
While barbeque is hardly a Georgian exclusivity, mtsvadi is a type of barbeque with a specific Georgian flavor that is impossible to ignore. The delicacy of this type of preparation makes the Kakhetian mtsvadi a national favorite.
Mtsvadi is a type of skewered cubes of meat, usually made of pork or veal. To acquire its characteristic flavor, Kakhetians marinate the cuts in pomegranate juice, providing extra tenderness to the cut.
Traditionally, Mtsvadi is grilled on the embers of grapevines, as Kakheti is well-known as the most outstanding wine region in Georgia. And don’t forget—to highlight the flavors of the delicious barbeque, you have to accompany it with a delightful tkemali sauce made out of plum!
Kartli: Kharcho and Jonjoli.
While Kartli used to be a kingdom, nowadays, it is not one of the modern administrative divisions of Georgia. Its territory is divided across three contemporary regions, but its cultural influence remains strong in each of them.
Including, of course, culinary traditions.
Many of Georgian’s most emblematic dishes were born in Kartli, so the area boasts of an extensive list of tasty masterpieces. Amongst them, stands out the Kharcho soup, and the appetizer Jonjoli.
Kharcho also answers to the name of Harcho, and it’s made of fatty cuts of beef, alongside the key to an All-Georgian flavor—the spice mix known as khmeli-suneli, a combination of coriander, marjoram, basil, dill, saffron, and paprika. For an extra layer to the flavors, it’s essential to add the previously mentioned tkemali sauce.
On the other hand, jonjoli is an appetizer that consists of the pickled sprouts of the eponymous plant, also known as Staphylea colchica. They are often prepared with olive oil, pepper, and an assortment of other pickled vegetables.
Amongst them, the most relevant is, undoubtedly, the khinkali.
One of the most international Georgian dishes, the khinkali is Georgia’s own version of the dumpling. While other mountainous regions also dispute the creation of khinkali, the most widespread version is that from Khevsureti, thus explaining the dish’s original name—khevsuruli.
In its most traditional version, the khinkali is a dumpling filled with minced meat seasoned with onions, cumin, pepper, and salt. The meat is traditionally lamb, beef, pork, or a mixture of all three, but nowadays, it depends on preference.
Khevsureti still sticks to the traditional khinkali flavors. Even so, they have also adapted modern interpretations, including fillings such as cheese or potatoes, and herbs like cilantro and basil.
Located in the Western mountains, Racha is a picturesque area by the upper Rioni river valley with ancestral culinary customs that have spread to the rest of the country.
While it may be hard to pick a single iconic dish from Racha, it’s clear that Georgia’s favorite is Lobiani.
In basic terms, Lobiani is a flat, simple bread made with flour and yeast, and filled with kidney beans. The filling is traditionally seasoned with parsley, coriander, black pepper, and onions.
While this type of lobiani can be found all across the country, there is a particular version of the dish created in the Racha region and branding its name—Rachuli Lobiani. While the structure of the lobiani remains the same, the Racha version incorporates extra flavor through the addition of bacon, ham, or other cured goods to the beans.
Proof that a little bit goes a long way.
Svaneti has given us a lot.
Upper Svaneti is a UNESCO cultural heritage, the region is a touristic wonderland, Svan culture has a unique Kartvelian language that derives from Georgia, and, so it happens, they have delicious food.
Like, really delicious food.
Svans are rightly proud of their culinary skills, and Georgia has embraced their foods as some of the tastiest available across the country. In particular, Kubdari.
Kubdari, also called Kuptaari, is a flatbread filled with cut beef and pork and seasoned with a particular combination of spices and herbs. The traditional Svan way calls for onions, garlic, dill, cumin, coriander, blue fenugreek, red pepper, and a native herb that grows wildly in Svaneti’s mountains—gimshari.
Or, as it’s commonly known overseas, cannabis.
Plot twist, huh?
Long before smoking the leaves became a worldwide concern, Svans used marijuana to cook kubdari and add its characteristic flavor. Nowadays, due to the strict anti-drug laws domineering the country, it’s harder to find kubdari that includes gimshari in its recipe.
It doesn’t mean you cannot give it a go if so you want, though!
Samegrelo: Local cheese and elarji.
Samegrelo is a historical Georgian region inhabited mostly by Mingrelians, one of the most populous ethnic subgroups in the country. They boast of their own language, customs, traditions, and gastronomic delights.
And it turns out, no one makes cheese like the Mingrelians.
Samegrelo is known as the land of cheese within Georgia, and many of the country’s most delightful types of cheesy goods come from Mingrelian cuisine. Delights such as the stretchy sulguni cheese, the soft gebzhalia, the buttery narchvi, or the smoked shebolili megruli sulguni.
With such a wide variety of options, it’s clear some of the most iconic dishes feature cheese predominantly. Such is the case of elarji, a mixture of cornmeal, cornflour, and sulguni cheese. It’s a thick, elastic, and kind of sticky, yet utterly delicious gooey cheese delight.
Some Georgian regions provide light and tasty dishes, perfect for a low-carb diet meant to keep your figure in check.
Samtskhe-Javakheti’s typical dish, tatarberak, is not one of them.
A buttery, doughy delight meant to indulge your senses, tatarberak is a long-time favorite dish of the region, and a decadent hearty meal to keep your stomach fool for a long time.
It’s as simple to make as it is delicious. It consists of slices of flour dough boiled and served with a topping sauce made out of chopped onions, butter, and matsoni, a Caucasian yogurt popular in Georgian cuisine.
While unconventional, many modern takes on the dish add extra ingredients to the sauce, including bacon or different aromatic herbs. You don’t need to be bound by tradition, and experimenting with plates is a natural step in culinary evolution.
Visiting Tbilisi? You’re in good luck.
If you can’t explore every single region in Georgia in your culinary endeavors (even though you totally should, but I digress), you have the option of pleasing your palate within the capital city.
Tbilisi gathers the best of each corner of Georgia. As such, you can find restaurants dedicated to regional cuisine, as well as their interpretations and variations regarding the national dishes.
What to do if you visit Georgia, then? Put on comfortable shoes, loose clothes, and let your wanderlust take you for a ride across the busy streets of the city.
Odds are that, in each corner, you could encounter the culinary delight of a lifetime.