Archives for posts with tag: mexican food

Original Post, March 9, 2012:
My friend came to visit me here in Kakheti last weekend, and we decided to go on a daytrip to the tourist town of Sighnaghi.  We tried to go on Saturday, but had a false start on the marshrutka and got tired of waiting so we returned to my house (since then I have found this fabulous online marshrutka timetable for Kakheti (unfortunately now defunct)–would have saved us SO much time).  We almost couldn’t believe it when the marshrutka came, and were giddy to be on our way off to Sighnaghi!

It’s still rather early for tourist season, so the tourist areas were not at all crowded.  The main attraction of Sighnagi is the old wall.  Climbing it you can see for miles, and the view is stunning!  We played on the wall, admired the view, and took photos for quite a while.

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Em on the wall at Sighnaghi (photo from Marieka)

We then wandered around the old city–the architecture there really is beautiful!  Unfortunately, we then had a somewhat unpleasant visit to one of the old churches.  It is my understanding (and has been my experience) that in Georgia, as a rule, you do not have to pay to visit a church, though there are often  donation jars, and they often request that you leave a donation for the upkeep of the building, or buy the candle you will light in the church.  However, the man in the church (not a priest) seemed to disagree with this, and, as we were leaving, rather unpleasantly insisted we give him two lari because we had visited the church.

We decided not to visit the Sighnaghi museum, though I have heard it is good, and instead had Mexican food at the restaurant in Sighnaghi (there aren’t very many places to get Mexican food in Georgia, but this place is highly recommended).  We had a happily uneventful marshrutka ride home, and went back to our regular lives.

Sighnaghi has been the target of an intense campaign for the improvement of tourist infrastructure in the last few years.  There are some very obvious and helpful successes–there are signposts pointing to the various tourist attractions and “You are Here” maps throughout town.  Everything looks quite clean and well-kept, and buildings have been renovated and restored.  There’s a central marshrutka station, and public restrooms.  But some things still need work–the fantastic marshrutka schedule should really be better advertised.  Marshrutka travel is a bit haphazard, and for a major tourist destination, perhaps something a little more formal is in order (I assume most foreign tourists are expected to go by private car or chartered tour…)  Likewise, entry fees for attractions should be posted somewhere, and if entry is free no one should be demanding that visitors pay.

Despite a few hiccups, I highly recommend Sighnaghi as a tourist destination for a day–particularly if you’re interested in sampling Georgian wine (which we didn’t actually do.  This time.)

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View of Sighnaghi from Bodbe (photo from Giga)

Update May 3, 2016:

I’ve been back to Sighnaghi a few times now, and have a few updates to offer. I STILL haven’t been to the museum. It has been closed many times that I’ve visited. We spent the weekend there for Orthodox Easter, and stayed at Leli’s Guest House, which was a pleasant and affordable option. We ate 3 of 4 meals at the Mexican restaurant–it had closed for a while, but is back in business and serving up really delicious food. Definitely worth a stop. Our 4th meal was at the famous Pheasant’s Tears winery. The wine was very good–delicious, and not at all the usual fare. The food was good, though the increase in quality did not match the increase in price, and it seems that something bothered my friend’s stomach. The staff were all lovely–I’d definitely stop in again for some wine, but would be more conservative with my food choices.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that during the weekend days, there were huge groups of tourists rolling through town. It seemed that most did not spend the night, but rather returned to Tbilisi, leaving plenty of accommodation options, and quieter evenings.

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…

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!