Archives for posts with tag: khachapuri

Now that the high season is upon us, I’ll tell you the things that everyone else has forgotten to mention.

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Clockwise from top left: A marshrutka station in Sagarejo, Former roommate S models some Borjomi water while hiking in Borjomi, a zebra crossing (photo from Jim (for another project, but fits here perfectly), my former host sister Ani and I in “church clothes”, some delicious but heavy adjaruli khachapuri.

#1 Don’t cross the street! Of course you have to get to the other side of the street, but don’t just traipse across. If it looks difficult to cross, that’s because it is. The busiest streets will have either underpasses or pedestrian bridges every few blocks. Look for those; it’s worth it. If there isn’t one, the designated crossing place will be painted on the road with zebra stripes, but it’s much, much better to find one at a traffic light, and even then you have to be careful. The ones unattached to traffic lights are mostly decorative in practice, and the one on the Embankment near Dry Bridge is basically nothing (go up the hill to the park and cross the bridge itself to the flea market)

#2 Go easy on the Georgian food the first few days. Georgian food is amazing, and probably part of the reason you chose to come here, but “Tbilisi Tummy” is common and will really put a damper on your travels, so go easy at first. Many of the iconic Georgian dishes (I’m looking at you, khachapuri and khinkali) are greasy and heavy and hard to digest, and not all places will be up to the hygiene standards you may be used to, so let yourself adjust for a few days before you hit the supra hard. There is plenty of good, light fare available (even in a typical Georgian restaurant). If you want to gird your digestive system with fermented foods, Georgian pickles are delicious (especially jonjoli, my favorite!) and Georgian yogurt (matsoni) is cheap, tasty, and easily available.

#3 Pack a scarf and a skirt. A large number of the tourist attractions are churches, and almost all Georgian Orthodox churches require that women wear a skirt and have their hair covered. Some of them provide various wraps at the door and some don’t; some of those provided are clean… You’ll be much more comfortable and likely to see what you came for if you just bring your own. Some churches don’t mind, some are even stricter (I’ve heard stories that Gergeti Sameba in Kazbegi won’t let people wear glasses inside?!?), but scarf and skirt is the norm. For the fellows–no shorts.

#4 Smile? Many Americans’ default facial position is a smile, and that’s not the case in Georgia. If you want to attract the attention of someone across the bar (/metro car), smiling is a good way to do it. If you’d rather be left alone, relaxing your face will reduce (though may not eliminate) unwanted attention.

#5 If you choose to use the marshrutka system, have faith in it. I know the marshrutka system seems like it will never work, but it really does work fairly efficiently. It’s by far the cheapest way to get around, though there will be a certain amount of standing by the road and waiting. Be patient. If you are on the right route (check with some locals if you’re nervous about that, but honestly there aren’t very many roads, so it’s unlikely they took a detour), it will come eventually. If the marshrutka isn’t your style, there’s no shame in that; there are also trains and buses, or you can hire a taxi (or rent a car, or hitchhike, or join an organized excursion). Don’t expect the marshrutka to be something it’s not, and you’ll avert a lot of disappointment.

#6. Stay hydrated. It can get hot here. Even though it may be cool in the mountains, you’re at a higher elevation. You’re probably going to be drinking some wine, and maybe even some chacha. You might be walking/hiking a lot. Bottled water is cheap (starting at 50 tetri/bottle) and sold everywhere, and Georgia is famous for its mineral water. Most towns even have free public drinking fountains, and there are lots of mountain springs (the water is usually OK to drink, but make your own risk assessment based on your health, background, and location). You’ll be a much happier camper if you aren’t thirsty.

Any others with experience travelling here have some advice I missed?

Any questions, class?

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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 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.

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!

If you’re interested in Georgian politics or culture, you should check out Evolutsia.Net to find “Musings on Georgian politics, the Caucasus, and all things Khachapuri.”

And also, I’m writing some stories for them, so you really should check it out!

I finally have a khachapuri recipe that works for me.  Calling it “simplified” is a bit unfair–it’s still rather tricky to get it right, but I took a simplified recipe and pared it down a bit more (bread dough is not my friend).  Despite the simplifications, this is also the closest to real Georgian (Imeruli style) khachapuri that I’ve been able to make.  It’s “Southwest” due to the Mexican cheese.

Adapted primarily from Nigella Lawson’s “Feast” with influence from “The Georgian Feast”, my Georgian teacher, and surfing the internet

Makes two breads approximately the size of medium pizzas

For the dough:
4 and 1/2 cups flour
2 cups plain yogurt, at room temperature
2 eggs
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda

For the filling:
3/4 cup Mexican Queso Fresco
2 cups feta
4 oz fresh mozzarella
1 egg

Other:
1 egg
A few tablespoons water (for egg wash)
lots of flour to roll the dough

Mix together yogurt, eggs, and butter into a smooth mixture.
Add salt and baking soda.
By hand, gradually add in the flour and mix it into the wet ingredients.  The dough will be quite sticky, but silky and will begin to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
Put the dough in a floured bowl, cover, and let sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

When you’re ready to proceed, Preheat oven to 425 with two pizza pans to warm up.
Crumble together the cheeses, add the egg and beat together to make the filling.

Divide the dough into four equal portions.
On a heavily floured board, roll each portion of dough into a circle about the size of a medium pizza.
Place two of the dough circles on parchment paper, and top them with the cheese mixture (half on each) spread cheese nearly to the edge.
Use the other two dough circles to top, folding the edges to seal together, and pressing together with a fork.

Mix together the remaining egg and water, and with a pastry brush, brush a little of the mixture over the top of the dough.

Transfer the parchment paper to the hot pizza pan, and bake the breads at 425 for about 20 minutes until golden.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never been to a real supra. Since I’m leaving soon, my parents and I had some friends over and cooked Georgian food. Since it was a Georgian party, I’m just going to call it a supra–or perhaps, amerikeli supra.

Here was our menu: (I’ve posted before on Georgian recipe sources)
Lobio (from the Please to the Table recipe, where it is, erroneously I believe, called Lobiani)
Irma’s Eggplant Mush
Beets in Cherry Sauce (from The Georgian Feast)
Khachapuri (adapted from Nigella’s recipe in Feast, my version forthcoming)
Pork and Lamb Shashlik (The Georgian Feast)
Herb Plate (but I couldn’t find tarragon! ::gasp::)
Satsebeli (purchased)
Tkemali (purchased)
Cilantro Sauce/ “Georgian Pesto” (The Georgian Feast)
Churchkhela–Georgian walnut candy (The Georgian Feast. I believe in Georgia red grape juice is usually used, but this recipe called for white–I assume because Concord Grape isn’t the same flavor. If I were to make it again in the States, I would add a bit of food coloring to the juice–beige just looked awkward)
Nigella’s Georgian-Inspired Walnut Crescent Cookies (Feast)
Sushki (Russian pretzels) (purchased)

Georgian wines procured at a Russian grocery while visiting my grandmother.

(Once again, I forgot photos.  Sorry)

I must say that Georgian cuisine is some of the most delicious out there.  Georgian restaurants are quite common in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union (I was first introduced to Georgian food while I studied in Moscow), but outside of the region they’re rather hard to come by.  My friends had a great experience at a Georgian restaurant in London (I believe there’s even more than one).  In the US, I’ve heard glowing reviews of a Georgian restaurant outside Pittsburgh, though I don’t know its name and have never been.  That’s the only Georgian restaurant I’ve heard of in the US, but I hope I’m wrong (please share any further information!).  I’ve had some success finding Georgian treats and fueling my love of Borjomi at Russian grocery stores–most major cities in the US have one.  That’s also where I’ve gotten my Georgian condiments to make preparing Georgian food on my own much easier.

To cook your own Georgian food, here’s where to go for recipes:

The Georgian Feast by Darra Goldstein–the only all-Georgian cookbook I’m aware of, complete with history, and culture.  Great recipes, and also an interesting read.

Please to the Table by Anya von Bremzen and John Welchman–sadly out of print, and starting to get expensive.  This is a cookbook with food from all over the Soviet Union, and I have yet to find a bad recipe in the book.

Feast by Nigella Lawson contains a Georgian Feast, which even contains a Georgian cookie recipe! (Which I haven’t tried yet. Sorry)

Here are a few online recipes I’ve had success with:

Irma’s Eggplant Puree

Lobiani

I haven’t tried this recipe for Georgian Tuna in Walnut Sauce yet, but IMHO adding tsatsivi to anything sounds like a pretty good idea, though I must say I never saw any fresh tuna in Georgia…

Successes and Failures:  My record with khachapuri is mixed–I’ve used the recipe in The Georgian Feast, once with great success and the second time resulting in a very big mess encompassing my kitchen.  I’m planning on trying some other recipes and seeing if they work better for me–I’ll keep you posted.  Personally, I prefer the “Please to the Table” recipe for lobio (bean soup) to the one from The Georgian Feast, but I think that’s just a question of taste.  All the vegetable purees and sauces I’ve made, from many different sources, have been fairly simple and really delicious!

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