Archives for posts with tag: georgian cuisine

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.

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

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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.

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