Archives for posts with tag: 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.

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.

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!

Thanksgiving festivities started Monday evening when my roommate S and I decided that we should actually mark the occasion somehow.  Like good 20-somethings, we created a Facebook event inviting our friends over for non-Thanksgiving.  We had no interest in trying to cook a full Thanksgiving spread in our kitchen, or even a turkey, so we invited people over for snacks.  As I see it, the best part of living abroad is being able to take the best parts of your culture and leave the rest, and combine different cultures.  So we had a celebration in honor of Thanksgiving rather than a traditional Thanksgiving feast.

Tuesday I trekked to the main bazaar (bazroba ბაზრობა) for ingredients for my contributions: pumpkin spice chocolate chip cookies (with Barambo chile chocolate) and green tomato salsa (inspired by multiple recipes).  The bazroba was great fun–I got all my ingredients for about 5 lari, and was showered in compliments on my Georgian.  I don’t think they get many foreigners there…  That evening I hunkered down for the pumpkin slaughter, and transformed the whole pumpkins into puree, since that isn’t available in a can in Georgia.  Wednesday morning I made my cookies (slowly and in very small batches with our glorified Easy Bake Oven).  We made follow-up trips to the big supermarkets (Smart and Carrefour) to make sure we had all our ingredients and had purchased other necessary things like bread and drinks.  That evening we cooked up a storm–I assembled my salsa, and S made an amazing pumpkin pie.  Thursday we scrambled to make our apartment less dirty, roasted some garlic and mixed some sangria.  I had a full day of work that day, and I amused myself and my (adult) students by having an arts and crafts hour making hand turkeys.  They seemed to enjoy the break from work, and it got me into the spirit of thankfulness. I returned home from work and readied the apartment for guests–we didn’t invite too many American friends, because we were afraid they would be disappointed in our non-traditional Thanksgiving.  Instead we had a mixed crew from many parts of the world–the plurality were, I believe, Germans.  It was one of our guest’s birthday, so we marked the occasion by putting a tea light candle on top of the pumpkin pie (we improvise).  Amusingly, we realized that we didn’t have nearly enough drinking vessels for all the people we’d invited, so we scrounged around the apartment for various things in which to serve beverages–a yogurt cup might not be the most aesthetically pleasing, but it transports liquid to your mouth quite effectively.

Friday I had a more traditional American Thanksgiving with more established ex-pat friends–we had turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce, the whole nine yards (I made an apple-quince crisp and some bacon-wrapped dates).  This event couldn’t have been more different from the previous night, but both events captured the most important part of Thanksgiving–spending time with people you care about.  The rest of the weekend was one of my most “American” in Georgia–Saturday I went to a Super League basketball game and watched the Police defeat the Army, and that evening I hung out with Americans and watched Ohio State beat Michigan in American football (yay on both counts!).  Watching an American college football game abroad is a very strange phenomenon–I haven’t been in a room with only Americans in a long time, and I found it disconcerting.

In the best Thanksgiving tradition, I still have plenty of leftover turkey and some sides. But like a good ex-pat, I’ve been combining cultures while I eat them.  Mashed potatoes with Georgian cheese make an excellent potato pancake, and leftover turkey is really improved by dousing it in tkemali.

Mexican-inspired pizza made on top of lobiani.

When I’m responsible for my own meals in Georgia, this is one of my go-to quick dinners.  Everything is easily available in Georgia, it’s inexpensive, and it’s a change of pace from typical Georgian food.  I’ve posted (over and over again) about my love of lobiani, Georgian bean bread.  This dish takes lobiani to a new level, using it as the base for a Mexican-inspired dish.  Lobiani is a bit thick to substitute for a tortilla, but it makes a great pizza “crust”.  Start by purchasing a piece of round, Imeruli-style lobiani at a local khachapuri stand.  (You can of course also make your own lobiani, but that would not qualify as a quick dinner).  Put some plain tomato sauce or salsa on it (you can get the ingredients for a basic fresh salsa in Georgia, no problem–tomatoes, chiles, garlic, onion, and cilantro are all very common).  Then add some cheese (Georgian-style cheese even works for this).  Add whatever veggies or other toppings you have available.  I usually add tomatoes and onions because they’re almost always around.  Peppers would be a great addition, and as you see in this picture I added some spiced ground meat.  Heat it up a bit so the flavors meld and the cheese gets a bit gooey (Georgian cheese usually doesn’t melt, per se)  One “personal pan” loburrito pizza lasts me for two meals.  ოლე!

My best friend Chloe came to visit a few weeks ago, so she’s written a guest-post here about her first trip to Georgia.  You can follow her food blog at musingsondinner.wordpress.com.  Any comments or additions from me will be in italics.  Other than that, I’ve just made some minor changes such as fixing her Georgian spelling 😉 I hope you enjoy her post; I really enjoyed her visit!–Em

Chloe and Em enjoy the beautiful weather on the Peace Bridge in Tbilisi

First impressions

Based on my one trip to Georgia, I’m going to assume that spring is the perfect time to go. It was warm, sunny and clear, with spurts of rain in the evening that served to clear the air and dust from the roads (and there’s a lot of dust. A lot of construction work, and a lot of dust).

I’ve never been to a country that’s been part of the Soviet sphere of influence before, not even Germany, so I came, handily without (m)any preconceptions. Physically, Georgia has elements which would be familiar to those who’ve visited Bangkok or other Asian cities: crazy driving, diesel engines pouring black smoke, slightly chaotic public transport systems (I’m thinking marshrutkas!) that somehow seem to hang together and take people where they need to be. I suppose this is the part that most drives home that Georgia is still developing. Unlike Asian cities (and indeed London), though, Tbilisi doesn’t feel packed or over-crowded, with only a million people living there. In fact the greatest impression I had of Georgia was of the space: the empty, purple-dotted mountains (purple from the blossoming plum trees), the wide, almost empty roads.

Mostly, though, Georgia felt European, though different (as Em said, quoting someone in her host family, “It’s the Caucasus!”, neither European, Asian nor Russian but something that somehow combines all of them yet is very separate). It’s very mountainous, and as I usually visit the Low Countries when I’m in Europe, the landscape made it difficult for me to pin down where Georgia is, exactly, in terms of history. Driving down from the airport you come down on George W. Bush Road, complete with a large poster of the man himself – definitely not a very (Western) European sentiment!

Places to go

Tbilisi turns a good base from which to explore surrounding areas, though my trip didn’t end up being long enough to slot in Batumi (from what I hear it’s a glorious seaside-type place) or Gori (interesting from a historical perspective as Stalin’s hometown). Em took me to Mtskheta, which was the capital of the Kingdom of Iberia, and therefore both very old and very important in Georgia’s history. Admittedly the trip to Mtskheta was made a lot smoother because Em’s Georgian teacher Irma very kindly drove us there and back! I was taken to Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, which is the burial site for Christ’s mantle according to Georgian Orthodox hagiography. A service was taking place as we visited and the polyphonic singing was beautiful (note: women should bring a scarf with them to cover their hair when visiting religious sites. The rule doesn’t seem to be enforced equally stringently across all places but it helps to be prepared!). The Cathedral is an interesting place: it has some frescoes painted on the walls but most have been lost, painted over in anticipation of a visit by Tsar Nicholas I (he never visited, in the end). We also went to the lovely 6th (or so) century Jvari monastery, picking our way up the stairs and dodging the many bridal couples who, understandably, go there to have their wedding photos taken, the men often wearing traditional dress, and the women in long sweeping white dresses. The view from Jvari is spectacular and feels both unspoilt and slightly precarious due to the lack of safety rails!

Our “tour group” at the Jvari Monastery

Things to do (Tbilisi)

If you’re interested in history or in heritage/the museum industry, an interesting exhibition to take a look at is the Museum of the Soviet Occupation, which is part of the Georgian National Museum on Rustaveli Avenue. It’s not particularly large, but sheds light on (the official narrative of) part of the Georgian experience of the revolutions of 1917 and of being part of the Soviet Union. The exhibit is fascinating partly because it is telling a story of occupation and victimisation: the story presented is very much a part of Georgia’s current aim to be free of the Soviet associations of its past. For example, all the Georgian victims of the Second World War were presented as victims of the Soviet occupation, and at the end of the exhibition was a map showing where ‘the occupation continues’ – i.e. Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

If you’re feeling fit and not carrying too much (very important!), take the trek up the (very very) steep incline towards the Narikala fortress, which was established in the 4th century. It’s difficult going up but the feeling of achievement you get when you’re even halfway up there is pretty intense. Not to be attempted by those with rickety knees. And – like most places in Georgia – it’s imposingly lovely and has a great view.

One of the most amazing things we did was go to the sulphur baths, which was spectacularly relaxing. You can hire a private room at the baths, so it’s fun to do if you’re in a group. I’d never done Turkish-style baths before, but it’s an intense experience (as you can imagine), going from boiling water to icy-cold to a sauna and back again. The water is dense and oily-feeling with minerals. They are actually used as baths, so bring your shampoo and soap.

What to eat

I’ve eaten Georgian food once before, at a restaurant in London, so I was sufficiently excited to be trying it in Georgia itself. Khachapuri, which is the food everyone seems to talk about in relation to Georgian food, is probably the least exciting part of the cuisine for me – cheesy bread is fairly common across cultures – but if you want to try it, there are plenty of street vendors selling both that and lobiani, which is a bean-stuffed bread. Lobiani is heartier and less greasy; very good.

Meal from Salobie. Tasty! (photo: Chloe)

While in Mtskheta we went to a well-known place in Georgia, Salobie, which is apparently Saakashvili and Shevardnadze’s favourite restaurant, and is well-known for its lobio (bean stew), which is served with mtchadi, Georgian cornbread. The stew was very salty, but the mtchadi was extremely plain – unseasoned and very pure tasting. The idea was that you crumbled the mtchadi into the lobio, and the saltiness evened out. It worked and was delicious. Unlike a lot of bean dishes lobio doesn’t feel particularly dry or solid – it’s quite light and fresh-tasting, though filling.

I’m not the world’s most enthusiastic wine drinker: a lot of wine tastes quite heavy and sour to me, and I abhor a tannic taste (which is why French wines don’t really work for me!). Georgian wine is something else: lighter and sweeter than other wines (even the drier Georgian wines are on the sweeter side of the wine spectrum in general). So even if you’re not usually into wines – or if you don’t like reds as they’re too tannic – it’s certainly worth trying the Georgian wine.

If you’re tired of Georgian food, you can head to Sighnaghi and have some authentically Georgian Mexican food (you read that right) at Pancho Villa, a restaurant run out of a tiny house by a man who, having lived in the US before returning home to Georgia, realised he missed burritos. The food was tasty, hearty and everything – down to the tortilla chips in the nachos – was hand made. Mexican food as it would have been done 50 years ago, I guess!

Things (and places) to buy

A great place to buy wine was Vinoteka, near the Dry Bridge (in Old Town on Leselidze Street), which is convenient, as it was another excuse to walk through that market area with its Soviet accessories, traditional felt-work and sprawling art pieces. One place we’d looked at to buy wine had wanted us to pay for any tastings we did, but the staff at this place were generous and knowledgeable. They had run out of one wine for tasting, but that wasn’t a surprise as it was almost closing time! If you’re looking to buy wine I’d recommend you go in the middle of the day. I came back with several bottles, some as gifts.

I bought some salobie – the little pots out of which lobio is served – at Dry Bridge, as well as some Georgian ceramics to distribute to friends. Prospero’s Books (near the Canadian consulate) is a good place to pick up books about Georgia, though they are quite expensive. I got some little booklets on Georgian food there (in English), which are good as souvenirs and presents as well. Traditional felt-work – scarves or more contemporary hair accessories and stuffed animals – is also cute to bring back.

How to get there

Escalator in the Tbilisi Metro (photo: Chloe)

The Tbilisi metro is a Soviet holdover and looks it: it’s extraordinarily deep, as this photo attempts to capture. As I said I’ve never been to any post-Soviet country before so while I’d read about the Russian metro, the actual scale of the Tbilisi underground was a surprise – and I live in London so I’m pretty familiar with underground transport. It’s a deep, cool, musty labyrinth, but the best thing about it, to those of us unable to read the ornate set of squiggles that is the Georgian script, is that they signpost stops in English, using the Roman alphabet. Admittedly I mostly followed Em around but I think I could have found my way. Just bear in mind, if you’re using it, that the overhead announcements aren’t always in sync with the actual station you’re pulling through.

Taxis in Tbilisi were cheaper than in most other metropolitan cities – ideal for getting to and from the airport, or in a group – but it pays to bargain. According to Em you shouldn’t pay more than 6 lari to get around Tbilisi. Georgian driving is pretty crazy, just bear that in mind.

It would be remiss not to mention marshrutkas, those communal bus-like ‘route taxis’ which have no set stops but follow a set route, but actually, I have no idea how I would have used them had I not been with a Georgian-speaker/reader. They can be used for intra-city (in Tbilisi at least) and inter-city travel, with the destination signposted on the front as they speed past you in the street. While I would say the experience of dodging traffic in a marshrutka is an essential Georgia experience and not one to be missed, I also highly recommend grabbing hold of a Georgian-speaker (I guess Russian-speaker would also work) to help you on your way (or, in other words, get Em to be your guide and translator). Thanks! -Em

Tbilisi public transportation (photo: Chloe)

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