Archives for posts with tag: food

Inspired by my friend Chloe’s monthly food favorites, I’m going to start profiling my favorite new things in Georgia each season. See all my past favorites here. I’ll try to focus on things, people, places, and organizations that are brand new, but it’s possible that I’ll be late to the party on something, or there’s something that’s just new-to-me and so amazing that I’ll still choose to include it. I don’t mean to be solely food-focused, but that seems to happen sometimes…

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Clockwise: Lovely chocolate cherry birthday cake from Mada, Kula lemonade, plate from Barbarestan, Rera pelmeni, Barambo desert’i chocolates, place setting from Khasheria (Culinarium)

New (/Old) Georgian Cuisine: Khasheria and Barbarestan are the darlings of this genre in the Western press at the moment, and I can say the food at both is definitely something special. I’ve gone to Khasheria twice, and got the chicken both times, so that’s highly recommended!  I also really enjoyed two different warm salads. Barbarestan isn’t exactly “new” cuisine (all their recipes are based on those from Barbare Jorjadze, who lived in the 19th Century), but it’s definitely not the same as every other restaurant in Tbilisi. I’d heard so many rave reviews that I wasn’t at all surprised that the food was delicious–what really impressed me at Barbarestan were the little things–crackly flatbread, amazing homemade tarragon lemonade, pretty mismatched plates and tiled sink.  I’ve also tasted food at the lesser-known Sirajkhana and Cafe-Theatre that I would put into the same category (though I attended special events at both of these places, so I don’t know if the usual menu is exactly the same). I crashed a wine-tasting at Sirajkhana that was way too cool for the likes of me, and was smitten with the fluffy pita bread and neon green dip. The khachapuri was also seriously good. The dishes are influenced by the Persian parts of Georgia’s past, making the menu unique. I discovered Cafe-Theatre when I was invited to a social event there, and got to taste a bite or two of many different dishes. The mushrooms fried with bazhe (ბაჟე=Georgian walnut sauce) (I still haven’t figured out quite how they did that) and topped with an herb dressing were my favorite. The cafe gets its name from the small stage in the back of the space where they host performances.  Word on the street suggests that Ezo also fits into this category, though I haven’t visited them yet myself. It’s nice to see the already-delicious Georgian cuisine growing up a bit!

Agrohub: This is a new supermarket with a difference: highlighting Georgian and “organic” products while also stocking a wide variety of other hard-to-find items (and everyday stuff, too). If you’re looking for octopus or starfruit, this is the place to check, but you’ll have to pay a pretty penny for those sorts of things. Prices are generally a bit higher than at Carrefour, but to me it’s worth it for the unique and specialty products. The first time I visited, village eggs were on a special sale and incredibly cheap. The bakery has very tasty products, and the Rachan ham has been a huge hit. I got an assortment of unique Georgian cheeses here for a party I hosted and got a lot of compliments (the Imeruli with coffee and honey was a great surprise, though it didn’t really taste of any of its components). I’ve been coming here roughly once a month for specialty items, while my weekly grocery shopping remains at Carrefour, street markets, and local shops. Thanks for the recommendation, Jenni!

Madart “Mada” Confectionary: I have to be honest–I’m usually not a big fan of the cake in Georgia. The cake itself is too dry and the topping (definitely NOT frosting) is generally cloyingly sweet–made with whipped cream or sweetened condensed milk, and then there’s the random fruit inside (I love fruit in cake, but it should be part of the whole, not thrown in last minute based on what’s cheapest). A colleague of mine brought in a cake from Mada, and I was so happy when I tasted it. Proper chocolate FROSTING with cohesive fruit choices. The business has been around for a while, but they just opened a branch near our office, and I have since discovered them and used them for all my recent cake needs. I highly recommend the dark chocolate frosting (it’s just like Mom’s!), the milk chocolate frosting is not bad, either. They also bake khachapuri and other savory pies. The house-special meat pie is really good–flaky crust, well seasoned ground meat, rice, mushrooms and a bit of cheese.

Kula Lemonade: This is actually lemonade! Not limonati, which everyone calls lemonade, but is actually soda-pop. It’s also not too sweet (unlike everything else made by Kula, and every other “lemonade” I’ve tried in Georgia). Very refreshing!

Rera Prepared Pelmeni I admit, these were initially purchased because the package was so much better-designed than any of the other brands of pelmeni (пельмени Siberian dumplings: not Georgian, but very popular here). Pelmeni are a favorite last-minute dinner at my house. I like them best served with some sour cream and dill, which I think of as “the Russian way” (not sure if that’s accurate), though Georgians often pile on the black pepper as if they were khinkali. I thought I liked the old brand I was buying until I tried these–going back was hard; these are much tastier! I’ll keep buying them from now on.

New flavors (and packaging) of Barambo chocolates The new “დესერტი” (desert’i dessert) line seems to be mostly repackaging existing flavors, but the new bar with dried strawberries and raspberries in it is amazing!

Dishonorable mention: Rosemary closing

If you have any suggestions for something new and great in Georgia, let me know–I’ll try to check it out, and perhaps it will make a future favorites list.

Inspired by my friend Chloe’s monthly food favorites, I’m going to start profiling my favorite new things in Georgia each season. I’ll try to focus on things, people, places, and organizations that are brand new, but it’s possible that I’ll be late to the party on something, or there’s something that’s just new-to-me and so amazing that I’ll still choose to include it. There have been lots of new Georgian food products hitting stores this year, and there are constantly new restaurants and cafes opening in Tbilisi, so there’s a bit of a food theme (this time, at least), though I am willing to branch out.

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Clockwise from top left: Bubble Tea, Frixx Caucasus Chips: Tarragon Flavor, AlterSocks assortment, Chirifruit Carrots in Chocolate

Barambo Export Fig Ice Cream Barambo has been my favorite ice cream brand since my first summer in Georgia, but this year they really upped their game. The fig flavor is simply marvelous. I don’t know how to describe it other than delicious. (Widely available)

Chirifruit Carrots in Chocolate “chiri” means dried fruit, and this company is taking traditional Georgian dried fruit (which you can buy pretty much anywhere) to another level. They sell prettily arranged gift packs of dried fruit, and have some chocolate-dipped versions, a tasty innovation that I haven’t seen anyone at the bazaar selling. I spotted the label “Carrots in Chocolate”, and I had to try them. I’m very glad I did! It’s some sweet, dried, carroty-mush on a stick, dipped in chocolate. Maybe it doesn’t sound so good, but it tastes great! They’ve got the texture just right, and it’s sweet but not too. I haven’t seen this brand many places, but there’s usually a wide variety of their offerings at the Smart on Rustaveli (that’s where I got the carrots).

Frixx Caucasus Chips: Tarragon Flavor this brand entered the market last year, but this summer they introduced a tarragon flavor, and it’s my favorite! Crispy and salty chips with a bit of sweet and sour tarragon flavor–the combination works perfectly! (They’re also supporting local agriculture, so that’s a win, too.) (Widely available)

RealThai brand products (including noodles, sauces, and coconut milk) have been showing up regularly at my local supermarket, and I’ve even spotted their products at other little marketi in my not-so-posh neighborhood. They’re surprisingly widely available! It’s been a really nice way to expand my cooking repertoire this summer with Thai-style curries and oatmeal soaked in coconut milk.

Bubble Tea Tbilisi  I fell in love with bubble tea as a college student in the Boston area, and haven’t had any since I moved away, so I was delighted when I heard a bubble tea place was opening in Tbilisi. It might not satisfy those from Taiwan, but the tea I ordered hit the spot for me. The menu is extensive (though I stuck to the basics), and the boba was neither too slimy nor too tough. I’ve always loved the chunky, colorful straws that they give you to slurp up the bubbles–they make me smile. Definitely a nice change of pace. (7 Chavchavadze Avenue, Vake; next to the big Biblus)

AlterSocks Georgian-made fun socks! When I heard about these, I immediately went on a quest to find them. I failed finding the Tbilisi Mall location the first time (it’s behind the escalator in the atrium area), so I made a trek to Vake to pick some up in the Pixel Building. They have both Georgian and international designs, but the Georgian ones appealed to me most–khachapuri, khinkali, and a chokha! (And you thought those J. Crew taco socks were cool…) The fabric fells nice and soft, and the size that was supposed to fit me did.  Friends and family back in the US, don’t be surprised if Santa brings you some of these this year. (kiosks at 3 major shopping centers: Tbilisi Mall, Pixel Building Vake, and the shopping center with the Saburtalo Goodwill)

Batumi Dolphinarium  I went for the first time this summer, and the show was just amazing. It made me want to quit my job and become a dolphin trainer. Tickets sell out fast, so you need to buy them the day before, if not earlier. You can give the neighboring aquarium a miss, though. My friend described it, quite accurately, as “some dude’s dirty fish tank collection”. (51 Rustaveli Street, Batumi)

If you have any suggestions for something new and great in Georgia, let me know–I’ll try to check it out, and perhaps it will make a future favorites list.

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 for American fast-food pizza.  The prices are shocking at first, but an XL pizza is gigantic, and it’s legitimately American-style pizza.  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.

Ambrosiano: OMG this is the real deal! Imported mozzarella and toppings, truffle sauce–heaven! The crust isn’t perfect, but the toppings are so delicious it doesn’t matter much. Really nice staff, too.

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. 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). Locations near the Philharmonic and in the Fabrika complex.

Big Smoke BBQ A few years ago this would have been the best burger in Tbilisi, but the competition is stiff now that burgers are “in”. The pulled pork was amazing, and I loved how generous they were with the fruit in the homemade lemonade.

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 throughout the city. The coffee and pastries (both Georgian and French) are good (though they’re always out of my favorites!), 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: 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: February 28, 2017).

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?

Well, this is CookiesandtheCaucasus.  Last week I finally baked up a batch of cookies to encourage my students to stop by and practice speaking.  That didn’t really work, but the cookies were a big hit, and some of my co-workers asked for the recipe.  So, I updated my old standby to make it easier for my Georgian colleagues to follow (ie…metric) and added some notes on ingredients.  I hope this is helpful for others trying to bake American things in Georgia.

Hillary Clinton’s Chocolate Chip Cookies (Em’s adaptation)

Ingredients:

  • 170 grams all-purpose flour
  • 6 grams salt
  • 5 grams baking soda[1]
  • 227 grams unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 200 grams packed brown sugar[2]
  • 115 grams white sugar
  • 15 ml vanilla extract[3]
  • 2 eggs
  • 180 grams oatmeal
  • 365 grams semisweet chocolate chips (2 regular size dark chocolate bars of your choice, roughly chopped)

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (If you have one of the glorified Easy-Bake Ovens so popular in Georgia, I highly recommend an oven thermometer). Rub a bit of butter on the baking sheet. Cream together butter, sugars and vanilla in large bowl until creamy. Add eggs and beat until light and fluffy.

Gradually beat in flour, salt, and baking soda. Stir in oats and then chocolate chips. Drop batter by rounded spoonfuls onto baking sheets. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden. Cool cookies on sheets for 2 minutes. Remove to wire racks (or a colander turned upside down)  to cool completely.

 


 

[1] Georgian baking soda is chemically the same as American baking soda, but it seems to work differently. I’ve been told you need to activate it with vinegar..

[2] American brown sugar isn’t readily available in Georgia (I’ve heard rumors they have it at Ozzy’s in Dighomi and some baking place in Vake).  You can substitute in regular white sugar, or German brown sugar (at most of the big supermarkets), though it won’t taste exactly the same.  German brown sugar is better than white sugar.

[3] American vanilla extract is liquid, not powder.  It’s no problem to use the powdered vanilla, but you’ll need to compensate with slightly less flour or more butter.

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.

With the passing of the seasons and the corresponding changes at the fruit and vegetable markets (as well as being an official Tbilisi resident), I’ve found some new foods to share with you!

Quince (komshi კომში): I’d heard of this “quince” before, but I never really knew what it was.  Now I know that it’s the fruit that looks like a rather deformed apple or pear.  I’d always liked the Mexican treat dulce de membrillo, but I’d never known that membrillo is the Spanish word for quince.  So, now I frequently buy quinces.  Usually I mix them with apples for baked goods, but my Georgian teacher introduced me to another great way to cook them–add them to ojakhuri, the Georgian staple of fried potatoes and onions and chunks of pork.  Quince adds a nice sweet and sour and slightly soft counterpart to the saltiness and crunchiness of the rest of the ojakhuri.

Persimmon (khurma ხურმა and karalioki კარალიოკი): Another fruit that I’d heard of but don’t think I’d ever eaten. There are two kinds of persimmon available in Georgia “khurma” which is very astringent and frankly gross, and “karalioki” which is really sweet and delicious and can be eaten raw without any special preparation.  I’ve been trying to find a botanical explanation for the difference, but haven’t figured it out entirely yet (I’ve heard different things from multiple knowledgeable people…if you know anything, please let me know in the comments…my curiosity has been piqued!).  My working hypothesis is that they’re different varieties of the same species that can mingle–that’s why you’re sometimes mightily disappointed when there’s a khurma in the pile of karalioki you bought (and sometimes they’re sold mixed together and you’re left to figure things out yourself).
Dried karalioki (karaliokis chiri კარალიოკის ჩირი) are also really fantastic–they taste almost like dates, but are MUCH cheaper (only 2-3 lari a kilo!)

Falafel at Jaffa Shuarma and Pita+:  That’s right, you can get falafel in Tbilisi!  The Jaffa Shuarma chain (and some of their sister restaurants: Taghlaura, Samikinto, and Machakhela) have a solid and super-cheap (3.50 GEL) falafel wrap!  It’s a favorite quick/lazy dinner.  The branch where I go to also serves excellent french fries and an acceptable and inexpensive house Saperavi.  For a really delicious falafel sandwich, head to Pita+ in Vake.  It’s a bit more expensive (roughly 5 GEL, as I recall) and unfortunately far from my house, but their falafel is really fantastic!

Mexican Potatoes: a staple of Tbilisi’s cool cafes, though I’ve never seen them anywhere else (despite living near Mexico).  Basically they’re roasted (sometimes fried) potato wedges, coated with spices–usually some combination of chile, cumin, coriander and salt.  Often served with some sort of dipping sauce–spicy ketchup, spicy mayonnaise, or garlic mayonnaise.  I’ve never had bad Mexican potatoes and have sampled them at many cafes.  My favorites (and an excellent garlic mayo) are at the elusive cafe of the Literature Museum (aka Ezo aka Fantastic Duqan)

Fusion Lunch in a Tbilisi Cafe, featuring Mexican Potatoes (photo credit: Dad)

Fusion Lunch in a Tbilisi Cafe, featuring Mexican Potatoes (photo credit: Dad)

Tomato Egg-Drop Soup: I don’t know quite how to explain this, nor have I perfected how to make it yet, but I’ll give it a stab here in hopes that somewhat might have ideas for how to improve my attempts at recreating it.  This was my Tbilisi host family’s go-to quick dinner.  Basically, it’s tomato sauce with lots of nicely-sauteed onion, with eggs cooked into it.  They served it with plentiful buttered bread, and it was a wonderfully warm and satisfying quick meal.  My attempts have been tasty, but not quite right…

I’ve also been experimenting more in my own kitchen–trying both to make some American food, and to use up the somewhat odd assortment of foods that I’ve inherited from friends as they move away (or leave stuff in my apartment after parties).  So far, green tomato salsa, Grandma’s beef stew, and chocolate-cherry “cookie pudding” have worked out well…

My roommate S and I have been wanting to learn to make Georgian food for ages, but our host mothers took hospitality seriously and we had to fight our way into the kitchen, making cooking lessons a bit tricky.  Fortunately one of our Georgian friends, G, agreed to teach us how to make khachapuri.
If you want to actually follow a recipe for khachapuri, try my recipe adapted for American kitchens.  Making khachapuri in Georgia is far easier–Georgian flour is very different from American flour, and with Georgian cheese available, the filling is just cheese.  That being said…there is no way I could replicate the process again without a Georgian tutor.

G and S get started on the khachapuri dough

As I understand it, these are the steps for making khachapuri:

Step 1: Be Georgian.

Step 2: Throw some flour, salt, sugar, yeast and warm water in a bowl. (“But how much, G?  –Some”)  Mix together, the longer the better.  (The dough will still be  super sticky).

Step 3: Let the dough rise. Skype your friends.

Step 4: Grate the cheese.

Step 5: Press out the dough. Make sure you flour your hands and the board very, very well.  Put a pile of cheese in the middle, fold it up like a khinkali, and squish back flat. (“Does this look right, G? –Yeah, sure. Why not?”)

Just a few steps away from eating

Step 6: Cook. Most people use an oven, but G uses a frying pan/griddle, and I think I like that better.

Sorry that I can’t give you better information on how to really make khachapuri without a Georgian mentor, but I can assure you that our efforts were fun and delicious.

Homemade khachapuri!

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