Archives for category: Georgian Food

Rosemary/როზმარინი

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Rosemary has taken over Kiwi Cafe‘s old location at 41 Vertskhlis Kucha, near Liberty Square

Now, before I give you my review of the new restaurant, Rosemary, I have to give you the disclaimer that the chef, Grant, is a good friend of mine. As such, I’ve had his cooking many times, long before he opened the restaurant. In fact, when we were living in the same neighborhood, my apartment had an oven and his didn’t, so he asked if he could come over sometimes to use the oven–I was not at all opposed. Grant is a professional chef back in the US, and he’s from the state of Georgia, so many of his dishes are inspired by traditional Southern food, but he’s using the ingredients fresh and available to him in this Georgia.  As such, some of the dishes skew more American Georgian, some skew more Caucasian Georgian. He’s also got local wine and microbrews on tap.

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Burrito night!

I’ve been to Rosemary three times now–once for pre-opening burrito night, once for a welcoming tasting party, and once as a regular old guest, so I’ve tried quite a few of the dishes. My absolute favorite so far is Rosemary’s take on the traditional Georgian ბადრიჯანი ნიგვზით (badrijani nigvzit, eggplant with walnuts). Here, it’s served as eggplant fries with a Georgian-spiced walnut dipping sauce. I also really enjoyed the arugula salad with cheese, pear, and adjika-honey walnuts. My more carnivorous dining companions have all given rave reviews of every meat-centered main that has come their way (braised pork belly, chicken satskheli–inspired by satsivi but served warm, and pork tenderloin). I have enjoyed all of these, but to me they weren’t as stand-out and creative as the other dishes I mentioned above. The draught red wine was good, and although I’m not really a beer-drinker, I’ve enjoyed Alkanaidze’s brew.  The hot mulled wine was perfect for a gray, rainy day.

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Rosemary’s menu on October 16, with a glass of Alkanaidze in the foreground

One small detail where Rosemary really shines is that they bring you free, chilled (tap) water as soon as you arrive. It’s so nice to get that note of American-ness (and also to be able to drink water with reckless abandon). I was also glad to have my dishes arrive as courses–first the appetizer, then the soup, then the meat–another small detail that’s often overlooked in restaurants in Georgia.

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Clockwise from top left: Badrijani Nigvzit, Salad Tbilisoise, Chicken Satskheli, Pumpkin Souffle

If you’re looking for a taste of home, or something different from the ordinary Georgian fare, but still distinctly Tbilisian, I recommend you stop in to Rosemary and see what they’ve got for you to try that day.

If you’re interested in how I eat and cook on an everyday basis, take a look at my interview “What’s in the fridge?” on my friend Chloe’s blog, Musings on Dinner.

I am an admitted lover of Georgian food, and there are of course many excellent options for that everywhere in Georgia (sometime I’ll do a write-up). Tbilisi, though, is home to a variety of restaurants featuring other cuisines for the times when you need something different. Foreign restaurants tend to be more expensive here because of the novelty–for the sit-down restaurants here, expect to pay at least 20 GEL for a meal, more at the really fancy places (but less at cafes!)

Asian:

Baan Thai: Is one of my favorite places for something a bit different.  It’s not as addictive as the Thai restaurant in my college town, but I’ve liked everything I’ve tried.  They’ll even deliver, so it was ages before I went to the physical location, which has quite a nice ambiance.  There’s another Thai restaurant in Vake (called “Thai”), but I didn’t like it quite as much.

Lemon Grass Thai Food: Though the name suggests a Thai restaurant, Lemon Grass in fact offers a wide array of international fast food options, ranging from Pad Thai and sushi to pizza, burgers, and even falafel sandwiches. With the feel of an American burger joint, the atmosphere is nothing special, but the wide variety of reasonably-priced and hard-to-find dishes make it well worth a visit. The Pad Thai is the best deal for Thai food in Tbilisi (though the quality isn’t quite as delicious and authentic as at Baan Thai), and it comes served with chopsticks for increased authenticity.

New Asia (Chinese): Is located just up the hill from Rustaveli Avenue, across the road from the conservatory  If you’re walking from Liberty Square metro towards Rustaveli metro on that side of the road, take a left up the hill after you pass Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. It’s the last place on that block on the right hand side.  I’ve been here twice, and the food has always been fine, though it varies a lot.  The dumplings are quite good.

There’s also a Chinese restaurant on Gargarin square that I enjoyed, though I have also heard that the quality there varies drastically (and I can never get the name properly, since they use a nearly-illegible font in both English and Georgian).

Asian Takeaway (next to Rosemary on Vertskhlis Kucha) has just a small menu and one table, but they offer cheap and tasty Indian, Thai and stir-fry dishes, and even are rumoured to deliver to lucky neighborhoods.

Also check out Strada‘s Korean menu (under American/European)

Indian

Little India/A Taste of India (there’s a name change causing some confusion.  The building is labeled “A Taste of India” but they haven’t re-branded all their media, the website is still “Little India”): One of the best Indian restaurants I’ve ever been to.  The ambiance is lovely, with private tables secluded by curtains and delicious food.  Try the garlic or onion naan, and a curry of some sort (I got some version of peas and cream, and it was AMAZING).  On the pricier end of things, but oh-so delicious.

Shree Restaurant (apparently there’s been a name and possibly management change, I’ll update when I make it back there to check it out) is one of the many cheap Indian restaurants allegedly near the Medical University  (It’s the only one I’ve found, though).  It’s on Nutsubidze Street near the corner of Asatiani.  The mixed veg and chicken samosas are both excellent, though the butter chicken wasn’t our favorite.  Everything is made right to order, so things don’t necessarily arrive at your table in any sort of order that you’d expect.  I recommend asking the staff what’s good, they’ve never led us astray.  They scared everyone by closing for summer, but re-opened in fall.

See also Asian Takeaway, in the Asian section above

American/European:

Tartine (French): a cafe-restaurant with locations in Vake and Old Town with nice cocktails and salads. I’m not blown away by their lunch and dinner options, but brunch there is a fantastic deal–27 GEL for a hot drink, an alcoholic drink, soup, and a main (including service).  There’s also the option for brunch without soup for 22 GEL.  The huevos rancheros aren’t exactly authentic, but they’re tasty and satisfy the Mexican food craving..

Hangar Bar (Irish):  is the place to go and watch American sports. The nachos are good.

Café Gallery:  Renowned as Tbilisi’s most famous gay nightclub, Café Gallery, is actually open all day as a café which features a combination of Georgian and non-Georgian dishes. They make delicious sandwiches, salads, and soups at relatively reasonable prices. I’m a fan of the Cafe Gallery sandwich with a homemade lemonade.

Ronny’s Pizza: The best place in Tbilisi to get pizza umaionaiso (without mayonnaise).  The prices are shocking at first, but an XL pizza is gigantic, and it’s legitimately American-style pizza.  The pizza in Telavi is better, but this is the best I’ve had in Tbilisi.  The small pizzas (personal size) are a decent value.

Pizza di Roma: A local pizza chain that makes something I consider pizza. Some of their toppings are questionable (coughcoughsulguniandmayonnaisecoughcough), but they also have proper mozzarella and parmesan, and all the item descriptions have been accurate. I haven’t had any surprise mayonnaise turning up on something that was listed as clean. The crust and sauce are good, so they’re starting in a good place. The pasta carbonara (made with ham, not bacon) and sea buckthorn “tea” are also worth a try. A real selling point for me is that at my local branch there’s a non-smoking section that the staff strictly enforce.

Pita+/Pita Fresh: (name changed, seems to be the same menu and management, though): Discovering this place and their delicious falafel was one of the food-related highlights of Fall 2012.  Low prices and great food, but unfortunately far from my house.  I’ll be honest, I’ve only ever tried the falafel, but there are other sandwiches on the menu, too, like chicken and burgers.

Kiwi Cafe: a vegan cafe in the old town. Perfect location for when you’re being a tourist on a hot summer day and can’t bear the thought of heavy food like khachapuri and khinkali. Featuring an international, rotating menu. The raspberry smoothie was my favorite thing I tried. I love their food, because they make the type of things I make, but with some new twists. And I don’t have to cook it myself!

Factory 27: Cool atmosphere, and decent food. Offering some things that are hard to find in other places, like burgers, hummus, and nachos.

Pipes Burger Joint: The burger itself is good, but they’re still finding their way with some of the specialty toppings. I found the pepper sauce on mine TOO peppery (and I love black pepper) while the salad was a bit flavorless. However, they’ve got a great base (they’ve managed to get good meat and buns), so I hope they work out the kinks. Maybe stick to a simpler option for the time being. Nonetheless, it absolutely satisfies the craving for a burger.

Strada: Inconvenient location, but great menu. The American-style pancakes and waffles are a hit with me, and they have a fantastic variety of fresh fruit infusion “teas”. They also have a Korean menu that gets good reviews, though I haven’t moved beyond pancakes myself.

Localino: Locations in Vake and Saburtalo. Fantastic pasta dishes. I tried the pizza and it was good, but not memorable, whereas I have dreams about the baked cheesy pasta with spinach concoction I got there.

Rosemary: Southern food with Georgian ingredients. See my detailed review here. 

Middle Eastern:

There have long been a number of Turkish cafeterias on Aghmashenebeli Avenue. I’ve tried a few and they have been fine, though I don’t know which is which

Amira: though I usually try to stay away from the fashionable restaurants in Vake, Amira is a pretty delicious Lebanese restaurant. All the dishes I expect to see are on the menu, and they all taste like they should. Can get incredibly expensive quickly, though. You’re paying for the nice atmosphere and fashionable address.

 

Coffee

Caliban’s Coffee House: the coffee shop attached to Prospero’s Books.  I quite like their cold drinks, and other things are fine, though not the best or the cheapest in Tbilisi. This is a place to go for the ambiance, and to feel like you’re back in England or America (or Canada, I suppose)

Entree: Is a chain in Tbilisi with locations on Leselidze and Pekini, two locations in Vake, one or two in Vera, and one on Marjanishvili Square (perhaps there are more I haven’t found yet).  The coffee and pastries (both Georgian and French) are good, and the wifi is usually pretty fast.

Literaturuli: a cafe chain that’s also a bookstore, with locations throughout Tbilisi and in some of the other major cities. They do decaf coffee and have pretty cakes, but their lobiani is actually my favorite.

Wendy’s: The American fast-food chain Wendy’s now has a location on Rustaveli Avenue.  As one would expect, they sell burgers and fries and chili and frosties (all of which are pretty tasty), the real surprise here is the “Wendy’s Cafe” which has a wide-ranging menu of coffee drinks at some of the lowest prices in the city (only 4 GEL for a latte! Wow!) Dunkin’ Donuts has now also opened a number of locations and is expanding fast. Wendy’s and DD often share a building, as they’re owned by the same parent company. They’re known for their coffee in the US, and by Georgia standards their prices can’t be beat.

Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf: in the Tbilisi Mall and on Rustaveli seems to be the only place in Tbilisi with chai tea lattes. Yum. It’s not cheap, but I don’t even care.

(Originally Published March 25, 2012.  Most recent update: October 22, 2016).

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”.

Party food in a Tbilisi restaurant--before the dessert!

Party food in a Tbilisi restaurant–before the dessert!

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

I was back in the US for the holiday season, and one evening my Mom and I cooked a full-on Georgian feast (though by Georgian standards the table looks quite empty).

Georgian Dinner in America (January 2014)

Georgian Dinner in America (January 2014)

We made lobio (ლობიო beans), using the recipe from “Please to the Table” which is fantastic (though they erroneously call it lobiani).  I quickly threw together some mchadi (მჭადი corn bread) using regular American cornmeal–just add water, squeeze into fritters, and fry.  It wasn’t too noticeably different from real Georgian mchadi, and I really like having it with my lobio.  We roasted some red bell peppers, and stuffed them with Georgian walnut paste for a vegetable side, a preparation that can be done with pretty much any vegetable (I do love the eggplant version).  These were particularly tasty, though.  The most important part of the meal were the khinkali (ხინკალი Georgian dumplings) that I taught my Mom to make using my host mother’s technique (and a little help from Darra Goldstein for the proportions of the dough).  They turned out really well, but these are not an easy thing to make–they’re very labor-intensive. Using high-quality American meat really boosted the flavor of the filling, though, and they tasted wonderful, despite that fact that I didn’t add enough water to the filling to make them properly brothy.  Dessert was a repeat of the very well-received gozinaki (გოზინაყი honey-nut candy) that I had also made the previous week.  We were also able to wash our dinner down with a very nice Georgian wine– Marani’s Saperavi-Cabernet blend, that a friend gave my family as a holiday gift.  Even though the table wasn’t groaning under the weight of the food, we all ate more than our fill and had plenty of leftovers ready.  (Pro tip–refry leftover khinkali for the next morning’s breakfast).

Gozinaki

გილოცავთ შობას! (gilotsavt shobas! Merry (Georgian) Christmas!)  I’m sneaking this post in just under the wire in my current timezone, but since I’m in America for the holidays, I decided to mark Orthodox Christmas with a little bit of festivity (aka food).  გოზინაყი (gozinaki Georgian honey-nut candy) are a traditional winter holiday treat in Georgia, but somehow I’d never managed to have them for the holiday itself.  It seemed like an easy enough recipe to re-create in the US.

My parents’ town is in a pecan-producing area, and I really prefer pecans to walnuts, so I Americanized my gozinaki by using them rather than walnuts. I looked at these two recipes before I got started (Planes, Trains, Marshrutkas: GozinakiGeorgia About: Gozinaki with Walnuts) and then I sort of winged it with my Mom’s advice on what seemed correct.  We mostly followed Sabrina’s method, but I did add a bit of sugar, as suggested in the other recipe–not because the honey wouldn’t be sweet enough, but to help the candy harden and stick together.  Things turned out just fine.  Since I had access to lovely American amenities, I simplified the flattening stage by making my candy on a sheet of parchment paper instead of a cold, wet cutting board.  The traditional diamond shape is not a particularly efficient way of cutting the sweets, but they do look pretty on the plate that way (I left all the misshapen triangles and pentagons on another plate and only photographed the pretty ones.)

Gozinaki were a hit here–pecans and honey: what’s not to like?

I wanted to do a series of “The Bests”, but I realized that referring to my absolute favorite lobiani (Georgian bean bread) as “The Best Lobiani” could be interpreted as an insult to traditional lobiani.  As I spend more and more time in Tbilisi, I’m developing go-to places for particular Georgian foods, so I’ve expanded my series of favorites.  Once again, my favorite khachapuri is a bit off the beaten path, so calling it “The Best” is a little unfair. (But I do think it’s among the best)

Alani's Ossetian Khachapuri

Alani’s Ossetian Khachapuri

I absolutely love this Ossetian-style khachapuri from the resturant Alani in Abanotubani.  It’s the only place I’ve seen Ossetian khachapuri on offer, but it’s really delicious.  The defining characteristic of Ossetian khachapuri is tlhat the cheese is combined with mashed potatoes.  My friend G pointed out that this was probably initially a money-saving technique, but I find that it makes the cheese gooeier and creamier, while simultaneously cutting some of the cloyingness and saltiness of regular Imeruli khachapuri.

Alani is located at 1 Gorgasali Street, very near the baths, making it a popular post-bath watering hole.  The restaurant is divided into two separate areas that share a kitchen.  Downstairs is the restaurant proper, which features a DJ and dancing (a more traditional Georgian restaurant experience).  Upstairs is the “Beer Bar” which serves the full menu, and is quieter.  It also has a nice series of “coupe” private dining compartments that are great for a small group.  Prices are reasonable (an Ossetian khachapuri with 8 slices costs 6 GEL), and the food is good, though the service is decidedly Georgian.

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Georgian dinner in America. I’m getting better at this!

Part of my prolonged absence this summer was due to a three-week vacation back home in America (thanks, bosses!).  When I’m back in the US, there are a few things I always must do: go to the public library and read all the books, go to the dollar store and be amazed by consumer culture and get some teaching materials, and go to the department store where I used to work and game their sales so I look less disheveled when I return to Georgia.  There are also always a few things I must eat: a few family favorites (pasta salad nicoise in summer, and pork, black bean, and sweet potato stew in winter), Mexican food, hummus, avocadoes, and Starbucks chai tea lattes.  Despite my glee at returning to American cuisine, I also start missing Georgian food.  Fortunately, my parents are also fans of Georgian cuisine, and my Mom has excellent kitchen skills and is often capable of turning my “Well, I watched my host mom make this by throwing X.Y, and Z together” observations into a cohesive dish.  Usually, we collaborate on one Georgian meal while I’m at home.  This year, our cooking efforts were improved by some functional souvenirs from Georgia.  I got my Mom a traditional Georgian tablecloth (სუფრა supra) as a Mother’s Day gift, and my Dad received mtsvadi (მწვადი Georgian meat on a stick) skewers for Father’s Day.  We made khachapuri (following G’s method and using a basic pizza dough recipe for proportions–it worked great!), beet pkhali (ფხალი vegetables pureed with nuts and spices) and a tomato-cucumber salad, and had pomegranate seeds as a garnish.  We also made meat on a stick, but since it isn’t possible to get proper mtsvadi meat in the US, we marinated it in pomegranate juice as suggested in “The Georgian Feast“.  We cracked open a souvenir bottle of tkemali, and enjoyed our Georgian meal served American style.

at the Blue Mosque, Istanbul

at the Blue Mosque, Istanbul

This post is long-overdue, but when I returned from Easter weekend in Istanbul, I was distracted by all the drama in Georgia.  Now, of course, Istanbul has it’s own drama ongoing (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, catch up here or at any major news source).  Because of the protests in Istanbul, don’t follow my itinerary without doing some research and figuring out how the political situation will affect your travels.  Here’s the current update from the US State Department.  Now that I’ve said that, I talked to a friend who was in town as a tourist last week, and he said that the tourist attractions weren’t affected, and he found it interesting to watch the protests outside his hotel window and get the occasional whiff of tear gas–it certainly gives his stories of his long weekend in Istanbul a very different flavor than mine.

But, back to your postcard.  Meghan and I had both really wanted to go to Istanbul, and the long weekend off work for Orthodox Easter (which fell very late this year) gave us the perfect opportunity to hop on a plane and visit Turkey.  Because we were flying from Tbilisi to…well, anywhere, but in this case Istanbul, our flight left at the usual ridiculous 4 AM.  Meghan chose option A and opted for a nap before taking a cab to the airport; I chose option B and took the bus and pulled an airport all-nighter.  Needless to say, neither of us was particularly well-rested for our first day in Istanbul.  We didn’t even make it out of Ataturk Airport before we rejoiced in the spread of American businesses and indulged in some Starbucks.  (I’m not generally a fan of American cultural hegemony making street corners all over the world indistinguishable, but MAN was that chai tea latte amazing!).  Slightly invigorated by some caffeine, we headed into the city and found our way to Istanbul Hostel, where the staff took very good care of us in our slower-thinking-than-usual states (giving us an extra day of free breakfast–including more coffee).

We spent our first day in Istanbul just wandering around and getting our bearings.  We stumbled across the main sights quite quickly and saw the exteriors of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.  We wandered more through the Sultanahmet neighborhood, and found ourselves at the Grand Bazaar, where we had more caffeine, absorbed the sights, and got turned around.  Since we had exited the Bazaar nowhere near where we thought we had, we wound up exploring the Laleli neighborhood, which was quite an experience.  It’s the wholesale clothing district, so we kept going into shops where we weren’t allowed to buy anything.  Interestingly enough, the common language of the area (probably in addition to Turkish) is Russian.  I assume this is because this is where all the clothes for sale in the boutiques on the streets of Tbilisi and other former Soviet republics come from.  It was a very different side of Istanbul, and it felt like a glimpse into the inner workings of the Caucasus.  Eventually we got our bearings and made our way back to the hostel for an early night.

Golden Mosaic in the Hagia Sophia--sparkly!

Golden Mosaic in the Hagia Sophia–sparkly!

The next day was our big tourism day.  The Underground Cistern, the Hagia Sophia, and Topkapi Palace.  We started at the Underground Cistern, because travel guides recommended that that was the most efficient route to minimize time spent standing in line–I think other people have read the same suggestion, so I don’t know if it’s really such a great strategy right now.  That being said, the Underground Cistern is definitely worth a visit–it’s cool and dark and really quite impressive in its scope.  The line for the Hagia Sophia was quite overwhelming, and at first I was unimpressed “Oh, look, another old Orthodox Church, I’ve seen a million….WOW”.  The splendor is somewhat overshadowed by the crowds of tourists, but it really is a spectacular place.  The number of exclamations from visitors saying “Oh my God, it’s so beautiful” suggest that the architects’ goal is to this day being achieved.  (The Russian tourists were, however, incredibly obnoxious.  Our Russian skills came in handing pointing out to the новые русские that lines did, in fact, apply to them as well).

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Topkapi Palace–see what I mean about the tile?

We stopped by the Blue Mosque, but it was closed for prayers, so we proceeded on to lunch.  We chose a restaurant at random, and found ourselves in the Stone House Restaurant.  It was exactly what we were looking for: classic, simple Turkish food that was delicious.  As it turned out, the staff were Georgians (Unfortunately, I hadn’t miraculous developed the ability to understand Turkish: they were speaking Georgian).  Our new friends Zaza and Natia overwhelmed us with a combination of Turkish and Georgian hospitality, and we got lots of delicious extras with our meal.  We still had a busy afternoon of sightseeing, though, so we had to make our excuses and find our way to Topkapi Palace.  It lived up to its name and was certainly palatial.  Although I had read the descriptions in tour books, I was unprepared for just how extensive the museum and grounds are.  We didn’t even bother trying to see everything and felt quite fatigued from trying.  The additional 15 lira to see the harem was, in my opinion, worth it.  What impressed me most about the palace was not the jewels or the opulent living quarters, but the beautiful, beautiful tiles covering almost every surface in jewel tones and geometric and floral designs.  Very impressive.

The next day was a bit more relaxing, we started off with a visit to the Blue Mosque, which was (of course) incredibly beautiful.  Then we were horrible American tourists and went to the mall.  It was awesome.  I was able to replace some of my clothes that Georgia has killed, and I got some food souvenirs at the Carrefour (better quality and lower prices than at a candy shop near the tourist attractions. Pro Tip).  That evening we gathered together a group of friends from all over the world and various parts of our lives who all happened to be in Istanbul for the weekend (so great) and had dinner together.  It was fantastic to get together with people who’d never met before, but all had something in common and spend time together sort of like old friends.  We went to Galata Kiva, a restaurant specializing in “Modern Eastern Turkish Fusion” or something like that (the fancy menu is only available in the front portion of the restaurant) where I was able to mark Orthodox Easter with the traditional Georgian Easter dish of lamb with plums and tarragon (ჩაქაფული chakapuli), which is apparently also popular in Eastern Turkey.  Not that surprising, really, but still a nice surprise.  I also highly recommend the “eggplant dessert”.  It’s weird, but amazing.

The next morning we were off to the airport.  I woke up early, though, partially due to my nerves about flying, and partially because I still had a few things I wanted to do.  I savored a last Starbucks drink, changed some last money into lira to get me to the airport, and bought a scarf.  This was actually my favorite wander around Istanbul, though.  It was lovely to see the city when it was quiet and peaceful and empty of tourists.  It left a good final impression of the city (and I saw some kitties).

istanbul panorama

Overall, Istanbul is crowded and expensive and stressful.  And I loved it because it’s also welcoming, and beautiful and exciting.  Nonetheless, I was glad to arrive back “home” in Tbilisi.

from Wikimedia Commons

I’ve heard through the grapevine (HAHA) that there’s a Georgian-style winery in California, the Eristavi Winery.  The varietals listed on their website appear to be primarily French, though…. perhaps “Rouge” and “Symphonia” are America-code for some Georgian grapes?  I hope so!  Anyone know anything more?  Or even better–tried their wines?