The Flavours of Georgia | A Culinary Travel GuideSrinivasa Shenoy
Through my own experiences, stories and passionate articles on the net, I have compiled a list of some dishes / food specialities of Georgia. By no means this is an exhaustive listing; The list of Georgian dishes is endless with considerable variations in the different regions of Georgia. Even the humble Kachapuri has a long list of ‘variations’ in the preparation and associations with regions!
Khachapuri is one of the most popular and traditional Georgian dishes. It’s a gooey cheese-filled bread that looks a little like pizza. An excess of khachapuri is not the thing for slimmers, but Georgia’s ubiquitous cheese pies are the perfect keep-me-going meal, as well as playing a part in many a feast. They’re sold at street stalls and bakeries as well as in cafes and restaurants.
Different regions have their own varieties, but you’ll find many of them all around the country – listing all the varieties of this obsession would take a small book (you can buy them in Tbilisi) – but some of them are listed below!
- Khachapuri Acharuli The Adjaran variety is a large, boat-shaped calorie injection, overflowing with melted cheese and topped with butter and a runny egg.
- Khachapuri Imeruli Relatively sedate and the most common Georgia-wide, these round, flat pies originating from Imereti have melted cheese inside only.
- Khachapuri Megruli Round pies from Samegrelo, with cheese in the middle and more cheese melted on top.
- Khachapuri penovani Square and neatly folded into four quarters, with the cheese inside the lightish crust – particularly tasty!
- Khachapuri achma A large Adjaran concoction, with the dough and cheese in layers, lasagne-style.
Khinkali is another iconic and the National Georgian dish. It resembles the soup dumplings you can find in China but they aren’t the same, thanks to the distinctive use of Georgian spices. Khinkali are artfully twisted knobs of dough stuffed with spices and lamb, pork or beef. They are served boiled or steamed. When the dumpling is cooked, the meat juices are trapped within.
The proper way to eat them is to grab the dumpling from its topknot, turn it upside down and take a small bite from the side. Slurp out the juice first before eating the rest. This way you’ll be able to eat the khinkali without getting covered in meaty juices. Don’t worry if you’re a vegetarian, they also serve khinkali with potato, cheese or mushroom fillings.
Churchkhela: Throughout Georgia – in street shops or even roadside vendors, you will notice peculiar colourful decorate ‘sausages. You might be forgiven for thinking they are some kind of decoration adding colour to a charming country – however, this is Churchkela – the traditional Georgian candy!
The main ingredients are almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts or sometimes raisins that are threaded onto a string. The string is repeatedly dipped in concentrated fresh grape juice which dries into a chewy gelatin-like coating around the nuts. It’s packed with protein and sugar and it is often served at home with coffee
Note of caution: What is better than real Georgian Churchkhela? A string of tasty walnuts, hazelnuts or almonds are dipped in heavenly grape juice called Tatara or Phelamushi.
Unluckily, all the Churchkhelas should not be given a chance to be tasted. Colorful Churchkhelas have taken over the markets and look appetizing; but while this color just catches the eye, it does nothing to our taste buds. A real Churchkhela, made by grapes is not green, nor yellow or bright red. Another problem is that this dessert is hung outside the shops being polluted by all the chemicals in the centre of the city. Solution? Go to special shops for this candy delicacy – here you can enjoy not only the majestic Churchkhela, but also Tklapi and Gozinaki.
Lobio (which means kidney beans in Georgian) is a mix of bean soup and various kinds of cooked or stewed beans. The tastes vary depending on if it’s prepared with coriander, walnuts, garlic or onion. There are many varieties of lobio, depending on the region you’re in.
You might see the resemblance of the word Lobio with Lobiani, that’s because Lobiani is a bean-filled bread. It looks like an Imeruli khachapuri but with beans instead of cheese. The bread is baked in a wood-fired oven and when you bite into it, you’ll first feel the crispy texture of the bread on your tongue but wait until you taste the spiced, bacon-scented beans!
Mtsvadi, also called the dish of kings, is a Georgian barbeque, meat grilled to perfection over a grape vinewood fire with bay leaf and fresh pomegranate juice squeezed over it. The preparation is a ritual on its own.
Kupati is a Georgian sausage. Normally minced pork and veal served chunky and topped with onions and herbs.
Chicken Skhmeruli from the racha region of Georgia. The chicken is first roasted, then added to the milky garlic soup – with plenty of butter.
Ojakuri – Baked pork and potatoes
Prime bits of pork rib, loin etc. are all mixed together and roasted in the Ketsi (the clay oven dish) with potatoes, onions and a ton of butter. This dish is incredible comfort food. An absolute must if you travel to Georgia.
Kebab: Typically a pork and beef mix of ground meat, very similar to a Turkish kofte. Served wrapped inside a lavash bread – thin flat bread typical of the region.
Typical Svanetian pastry is Kubdari, a tortilla stuffed with meat. In such difficult living conditions as there, meat filling is an excellent source of calories, and tortilla format is a convenient option for takeaway eating. The shepherds take kubdari as they travel to pastures, and eat them during a long time there.
Another traditional Svan pastry is Chishdvari (down the mountains, in the rest of Georgia it is called “chvishtari”). It is made from corn flour, and keeps a piece of suluguni cheese inside.
Ostri is a hot, spicy beef stew that is very popular in Georgia, both as a home prepared meal and as a dish in restaurants. A slow cooked beef and tomato stew made with ground coriander seed and finished with cilantro. It often comes a little spicy too. A real winter warmer.
Chakhokhbili is a traditional Georgian dish of stewed chicken, tomato with fresh herbs. Its name comes from the Georgian word (khokhobi) which means pheasant.
Puri (Shotis Puri): Puri means bread in the Georgian language (remember khacha – puri). You’ll often see people walking around with several loaves of this huge flatbread that has the shape of a canoe. The puri is baked in a specific bakery that has a “tone”, a traditional clay oven, in which the bread is baked. The puri comes out tainted with brown edges and black bits from the oven and is both crispy and soft. Very delicious in combination with the salty Georgian cheeses!
Other notable dishes
Georgians have a very successful cure for hangover – a hot soup called khashi. Many restaurants in Tbilisi serve this dish in the morning for those who consumed rather large quantities of alcoholic drinks previous evening and need an urgent rehabilitation.It’s recipe may sound little suspicious, but as per legend, it really does work miracles
Sacivi is a chicken dish served with a thick sauce containing onion, garlic, walnuts, spices and herbs. This dish must be prepared in advance and chilled for 24 hours before it is served. It has a particular taste, especially when some coriander is added, but definitely worth trying! I always loved to fill my plate with sacivi especially after eating a load of cheesy dishes.
Kuchmachi is a traditional dish made with the heart, liver, kidneys, spleen and sometimes lungs of pigs, young beef or chicken. It is often served with walnuts and garnished with pomegranate seeds.
Kharcho is a traditional Georgian beef soup made with chopped walnuts, rice, cherry plum puree and often served with coriander. The soup has a spice mix that depends on the region of Georgia where it is prepared. It’s a hearty dish and definitely a good meal to have on a cold winter night.
Badrijani Nigzvit are Georgian fried eggplant rolls with walnut (sometimes mixed with garlic) filling.
Mchadi: Mchadi is another popular Georgian bread. It’s a cornbread that is traditionally eaten with lobio and cheese.
Pkhaleuli – vegetarian dishes from a variety of spiced plants and vegetables usually with a walnut paste base, similar to spinach, but each having a unique taste and seasoning.
Satsivi – chicken or turkey in a walnut sauce with garlic and spices.
Georgian menus often look daunting, even if there’s an English translation, but this list explains a lot of the items you’ll find in most menus.
- ajapsandali stew of aubergines
- ajika a paste of chilli or paprika with garlic and herbs
- apkhazura spicy meatballs/ sausage
- badrijani (nigvzit) aubergine (in slices with walnut-and-garlic paste)
- bazhe walnut sauce
- chakapuli stew of veal or lamb with tarragon and plums
- chakhokhbili stew of chicken, turkey or sometimes pork with tomatoes, onions and herbs chakhrakuli lamb ribs stewed with tomato, herbs and spices
- chanakhi a lamb stew with layers of potatoes, aubergine and tomatoes
- chashushuli spicy stew of meat or mushrooms with veggies
- chikhirtma chicken broth
- churchkhela string of walnuts coated in a sort of caramel made from grape juice
- khachapuri cheese pie
- kharcho soup with rice, beef and spices
- khinkali spicy dumpling with a meat, potato or mushroom filling
- kuchmachi stewed chicken/ pig/ calf innards with spices, herbs and usually walnuts
- kupati sausage
- lobio bean paste or stew with herbs and spices
- matsoni yoghurt
- mchadi maize bread
- mkhali or pkhali beetroot, spinach or aubergine paste with crushed walnuts, garlic and herbs
- mtsvadi (ghoris/ khbos) shish kebab (from pork/ beef), often just ‘barbecue’ on English-language menus
- ojakhuri meat goulash
- ostri spiced meat in a tomato-based sauce
- satsivi cold turkey or chicken in a spicy walnut sauce, traditionally a New Year dish
- shkmeruli chicken in garlic sauce
- soko mushrooms
- sulguni a salty cheese, sometimes smoked suneli a spicy paste
- tqemali plum sauce