“Spending on feasting and wine is better than hoarding our substance…”
A tradition that warms the heart. Food that fills the soul.
Georgia has been an important stop on ancient trade routes for thousands of years. So it’s no surprise that its traditional cuisine borrows many flavors and aromas from the culinary traditions of those who have traded, invaded, and sought refuge there.
Georgian dishes are also influenced by the country’s immediate neighbors to the east and west. Recipes from the country’s eastern regions reflect the cuisine of Iran and Asia, while Western Georgian cuisine incorporates more Turkish and Mediterranean flavors. As a result, each Georgian region has cultivated its own distinct contributions to the country’s culinary identity. Traditional Georgian dishes combine meats, vegetables, herbs and spices into a cuisine that’s distinctly flavorful—and also regarded as one of the healthiest in the world.
Whether prepared as part of a celebratory supra or an everyday meal, the best, and most authentic way to enjoy Georgian cuisine is always in the home, rather than at a restaurant.
Khachapuri. The ultimate comfort food.
A bread in a category all its own, Khachapuri has been known to inspire near-addiction in those who try it. Piping hot, oozing with cheese and butter, and made with love, it’s an indulgence that isn’t soon forgotten. According to a 2009 survey, 88% of Georgians prefer khachapuri to pizza, which makes sense, as many consider Khachapuri Georgia’s national dish.
The recipe is quite simple: dough is leavened and allowed to rise, then it’s shaped, filled with cheese and baked until blistered and bubbling. The crust is torn off, dipped into the cheese in the center—and enjoyed.
Though a simple recipe, there’s certainly room for interpretation; there are nearly as many variations of Khachapuri as there are regions in Georgia. The most common, however, originate from Imereti, which is circular version, and from Adjaruli, which is formed in an elongated boat shape and topped with a raw egg and extra butter immediately before serving.
Khachapuri is available on practically every corner when visiting Georgia - at restaurants, specialty storefronts, and even the Tbilisi airport! But as this popular and decadent dish gains popularity around the world, it’s easier than ever to find it closer to home.
Khinkali. Georgia’s favorite finger food.
Considered by many to be the other national dish of Georgia, khinkali are dumplings made of pleated dough, stuffed with meat and spices. khinkali are believed to have originated in the country’s mountain regions, although now the many different regions of Georgia claim their own versions.
The most common filling is a juicy mixture of beef and pork— though khinkali are also filled with lamb, or with Imeretian cheese mixed with cottage cheese, mushrooms, and mashed potato. And “city style” dumplings filled with beef and pork and seasoned with cilantro, chili, and onion are the signature of Tbilisi’s dumpling houses.
Finger food in the truest sense of the word, khinkali are traditionally eaten with your hands rather than utensils. In fact, it is considered impolite in Georgian culture to use forks and knives to eat the dumplings. Although eating khinkali can be a messy affair, it is an culinary experience that is distinctly Georgian and is an essential part to the country’s food culture.
Essential elements of a traditional Georgian meal.
Fresh Herbs. Purple basil, coriander, dill, fennel, mint, summer savory, tarragon and parsley, garlic and chili are often eaten as a salad or bundled to cleanse the palate at the beginning of a meal.
Purslane, wild garlic, and beet greens are typically used in cooking.
Dried Herbs. A wide range of dried herbs are used to impart unique flavor to Georgian cuisine, including barberry, bay leaf, caraway, cardamom, celery seed, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, fenugreek, and pepper. Marigold is used as a substitute for saffron’s flavor and color.
Oils. Georgian cuisine is unique in its use of ground walnuts as a key ingredient for cooking. In addition, traditional recipes also call for the use of walnut oil, sunflower oil, and corn oil.
Pickles. On every Georgian table—and in every market—there’s a very special place for deliciously pickled garlic heads, green tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, and jonjoli—a dish made with pickled sprouts from a locally grown bush.
Breads and Pastries. Traditional Georgian breads are made from a variety of grains and vary in shape, but most—including Tonis Puri and Shotis Puri are cooked flat in large round ovens. Mchadi (corn bread), Chvishtari (cheese cornbread) and Ghomi, a porridge of cornmeal similar to polenta, are traditional breads made with corn. Lobiani is a bread filled with kidney beans, fried onions and spices.
Cheeses. Georgians enjoy a wide range of cheeses, the most common of which are Sulguni and Imeruli, moderately salty cow’s milk cheeses with an elastic texture. Sheep’s milk cheeses are also common, including the pungent Guda as well as smoked cheeses from the mountain regions. In addition to the popular Khachapuri, Georgians make several traditional dishes with cheese including Nadughi, a thin disk of Sulguni filled with cottage cheese and mint.
While as important in Georgian cuisine as in European, cheese serves a different purpose on the Georgian table. Rather than being served as a snack or dessert, Georgian cheese is frequently used to prepare hot dishes. And it can be boiled in milk, roasted on a spit, fried in oil, baked in pastry, or flavored with oil and spices to add dimension to first and second courses.
Vegetable Dishes. Meals start with a plate full of cold starters and vegetable dishes, including Ajapsandali (eggplant stew), kidney beans with spices, green beans with yogurt, Pkhali (chopped cooked vegetables mixed with walnuts and herbs, formed into balls, and topped with pomegranate seed, and Soko Ketsze (cheese-filled mushrooms baked in butter in clay dishes).
Soups and Stews. Most commonly prepared in homes or in some rural restaurants, these rustic soups can be as thick as stews or casseroles: Chrianteli (cold fruit soup), Chikhirtma (lemon chicken soup), Kharcho (meat and vegetable soup), Matsoni soup (made with tart yogurt and herbs).
Perhaps the most popular soup is Khashi, a very garlicky soup made with tripe, bread and milk—and is best-known as a hangover cure.
Fish. With the exception of areas along the Black Sea coast, the selection of fish in Georgia is limited to farmed trout, salmon, sturgeon, and occasionally small river fish. In restaurants, fish is prepared simply—gilled or roasted with lemon or a classic Georgian walnut or pomegranate sauce.
Meat. Meats factor heavily in Georgian cuisine, with lamb and beef, poultry, and pork prepared in a variety of stews, roasts, and barbecues.
Sweets. Sweet dishes are welcome way to end any meal, including Gozinaki (crunchy honey nut bar), Churchkhela (walnut or hazelnut sweet roll), Kada (butter cookies), and Pelamishi (pudding of grape juice and cornmeal).