Georgians are tremendously proud of their unique cuisine, and for good reason. Georgia can boast about several items found only in Georgia. Or so they will tell you. Of course we all know that the food of a region changes depending on who lives there at the time, and Georgia has a long history of being invaded from all four cardinal directions. Over the centuries this tiny country has been invaded by Turks, Persians, Mongolians and Russians to name a few. It goes without saying that each of them left an imprint on the food.
Before we continue it should be pointed out that we are aware that many foods are regional, people are fiercely proud of their cultural heritage. Just last year an Armenian restaurant opened in Russia featuring menu items that are claimed by Turkey to be...Turkish. There were protests. We aren't trying to cause any riots when talking about Georgian food. We are simply attempting to highlight some of the best items we saw in guest houses across Georgia during our month there.
There are various kinds, shapes and fillings to these stuffed breads called katchapuri and they are everywhere in Tbilisi. We had a round version filled with cheese that was utterly delicious. We had hoped to get our hands on the football shaped version that is filled with cheese, and topped with an egg and butter, but never did. This version is what seems to be most famous and popular when you google katchapuri, but it seemed to be a very touristic Georgian food.
Lobiani - Bean Filled Bread
There are many versions of lobiani - some are shaped like a baguette, some are round and flat, some folded over pastry dough. But since "lobio" means bean in Georgian, they all should be filled with beans. Beware that some may be stuffed with ham.The lobiani was our food of choice when we wanted something quick and sustaining. The round flat and pastry dough were our absolute favorites.
Churchkhela (Pronounced like "church hella")
Churchkhelas are usually walnuts (though I suppose other nuts might be used) that are dipped in grape juice during the winemaking time and strung on a string. The wine juice forms a sort of gelatinous and smooth cover over the nuts and provides a lovely sweetness. These little babies look like sausages or lumpy homemade candles, but are something you will likely find only in Georgia.
They are ubiquitous throughout the country, though we favored those sold by older women on the street. Churchkhela are great snacks to bring with you on a walk or just to have in the afternoon. Just avoid those that are dry or covered in white powder, which is what happens over time as the sugars push through to the surface. They've probably been around a while and might be a little tough.
It seems many cultures have their own version of a dumpling, this is Georgia's. You can find khinkali in many places throughout Tbilisi and filled with many different fillings - meat, cheese, potatoes, cheese and potatoes. From our research most people don't eat the tip of the khinkali, but use it to hold onto as you suck the juices from the inside. Just don't use a fork and knife to eat your khinkali or all the precious juices will stay on the plate. Just pick it up and bite.
Hard to pronounce, hard to photograph, jonjoli can be found as a side dish in many restaurants and guest houses in Georgia. We saw heaps of it in jars in farmers markets. So what is it you ask? Jonjoli is the pickled young buds of an ornamental shrub that is rampant in west Georgia. You can see them in parks and on the sides of many roads. It's fragrant and salty and briny and not like anything we've ever had before.
Why is lemonade on this list? Well, it's not what you are used to in the States. In Georgia the lemonade always comes with some sort of herb (so far mint, basil, tarragon) and sometimes with another fruit. These always seem to be with sparkling water and not too sweet. So while this isn't necessarily a Georgian food, we've found it to be unique to the region. Not to mention that it's fabulous and refreshing.
While on our two week tour with Living Roots, we were able to see the same types of Georgian food over and over again, but since we covered so much territory we got to see the impact geography has on these dishes. One thing you should know if you visit Georgia is that your plate will almost always have three things - cheese, bread and a cucumber tomato salad!