The perfect Tbilisi dinner has to include the two most iconic Georgian dishes: adjaruli khachapuri and khinkali. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find a restaurant that excels in both of those categories, but luckily most reputable restaurants will do one well, and one adequately. You’ll need something else to eat or the (delicious) dough + grease combo of those dishes will put you right to sleep. When you look at the menu, though, you might find some alarming options listed: “coup of vodka” “mind with fungus” and “boiled language”.
Allow me to translate: “glass of vodka” “brains with mushrooms” and “boiled tongue”…still maybe not the biggest crowd-pleasers, but far more food-like. It’s a bit of a sport in Tbilisi to spot the mistakes on menus. In one khachapuri restaurant, the tri-lingual menu I was given featured editing marks in red pen throughout the Russian version–and I was itching for a red pen of my own to take to the English version. My best guess is that lots of the menus were translated by a schoolkid with an outdated dictionary. Getting someone with a language background and a modern dictionary–or, better still, internet access–would make a world of difference. The bigger, more profitable restaurants catering to tourists may want to use translation software and get something that actually helps visitors choose their meal..
Even the places with better menu information will often not really translate the full menu. What, pray tell, is “Madame Bovary” or “chikhirtma”? (Answer: They’re both pretty good. Madame Bovary is a stroganoff-y thing topped with fried potatoes, and chikhirtma is a chicken and egg soup). Though it’s usually just the name of a dish that’s translated; there’s often an ingredients list in Georgian. That’s where a little bit of work can pay off in getting food you actually want to eat! While there are lots of difficulties in having non-experts translate between English and Georgian due to the
weirdness “charm” of Georgian verbs, it’s pretty easy to translate nouns, which is what a savvy eater will do here–pick your favorite way to translate (friend/dictionary/internet/app) and look up the list of things in a dish; you should at least know if you’re expecting meat or veg. Depending on the neighborhood and likelihood of foreigners, the server might be able to describe a few of the ingredients in the dish, as well. Make sure you order some Georgian wine, too–the house wine is generally cheap and drinkable. If you’re willing to spend a bit more, explore particular vineyards and varieties to find your favorite.
Once you’ve figured out what to eat, there comes the question of eating it. Some Georgian foods–in particular khachapuri and khinkali, have a specific technique for eating them. Of course you can go your own way, but that will leave quite a mess. Most Georgians will be happy to offer you instruction; but be careful how you ask. A woman approaching a man in a restaurant or accepting his offer of food or drink is often seen as agreement to more than the meal.
Lots of the restaurants with the tastiest food in Tbilisi seem to also have the loudest music–sometimes this is fun: when they’ve got a great live band or you’re in the mood to dance like a fool. And while that can be fun, I also sometimes like to be able to talk to my dinner companions. Luckily, many restaurants have small private dining rooms called “coupes”, which can cut the noise a bit. Likewise, many restaurants do have more than one dining room, so you can distance yourself a bit further from the music.
After a night out like this, you’ll practically be an honorary Tbiliseli.
P.S. If you’re interested in travelling to Tbilisi, send me a message or leave a comment (or any other topics you’d like to hear about), and I’ll give it a think and try to write a post on the topic