Tag Archives: Georgia

Georgian Food – Georgia

Although we had fairly limited time in Georgia, I somehow managed to try a whole range of different traditional Georgian food.   It began with surprise tastings on the Tbilisi Hack Free Walking Tour (highly recommended!) and, with the exception of the first night where I was craving a really good steak, I tried something different for every meal.   Here is what I managed:

Stalin’s Favourite Wine – Khvanchkara 

Yes, I tried it.  No, I’m not drunk – the picture is blurry because it was dark inside and an odd angle (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it!).   No, I still don’t like wine at all ☹   Can’t really say much about the wine given the previous comment – but they tell me it is a semi-sweet red with raspberry notes.   No idea what that means, but hey – I had to try it! 

Khvanchkara - Georgian food - Georgia

Georgian Bread

Traditional bakeries are often found underground, but all you have to do is follow your nose and look for the sign!

Bakery sign - Georgian food - Georgia

The Georgians bake a whole array of different bread and bread products, but the traditional bread is incredible – especially when eaten straight out of the “tone”.  This is a clay oven where a fire in the bottom heats up the sides and the bread is slapped against the side to bake.

Underground Georgian bakeri - Georgian food - Georgia

The tone is the large white pit the baker is lifting the bread from.

Puri – Georgian Cheese Bread

There are a whole slew of different varieties of Khachapuri, depending on region – but essentially the key ingredients are bread and cheese.   I tried two of the most famous types:

Imeruli Khachapuri is “The Georgian Pizza” – a circular round of bread with cheese inside

Imeruli Khachapuri - Georgian food - Georgia

It is salty (thanks to the cheese) and I couldn’t eat more than a slice!

Adjaruli Khachapuri – yet another heart-attack-on-a-plate!  

Adjaruli Khachapuri - Georgian food - Georgia

As “Serious Eats” puts it: 

A molten canoe of carbohydrates and dairy, the quantity of sulguni cheese alone in khachapuri Adjaruli is enough to land a lactose-intolerant friend in the ER. But the decadence doesn’t end there. Seconds after the bread is pulled from the toné, a baker parts the cheese to make way for a final flourish: hunks of butter and a cracked raw egg.”

I actually made this one myself at a (I have to admit) not brilliant cooking class I did – only the second time I’ve been disappointed by a cooking class.   And, like that previous cooking class, I didn’t particularly like very much what we cooked.   Khachapuri Adjaruli is incredibly rich (as you can imagine) and I only managed to get through about half of it.   The idea is that you mix the egg and butter through the melted cheese, and then tear off bits of the bread to dip into the eggy-cheesy mixture to eat it.

Lobiani

Another bread variation (have I mentioned how many carbs I’ve eaten in the past 6 weeks on this Silk Road trip??!!) – essentially a flatbread stuffed with spiced beans.  Incredibly cheap and filling, and a staple Georgian fast food.

Lobiana - Georgian food - Georgia

Khinkali

I’d eaten quite a few Manty as I traveled through the ‘Stans – Khinkali is Georgia’s version of dumplings. 

Khinkali - Georgian food - Georgia

The traditional ones are filled with meat and spices (Georgians have a particular love or coriander, much to my delight) with a “soup” trapped in the middle.   I hadn’t actually read how to eat these before I tried them, so committed massive faux pas (fortunately nobody was watching) by eating the topknot and eating them with a knife and fork – which meant that the soup was essentially lost.   Oh well.

Kada (Qada)

A traditional pastry that is full of butter and sugar, as all good pastries are.  However, the degree of butter and sugar in this one is particularly special – I only made it half way through before I had to save the other half for the next day!  It was incredibly rich!

Kada - Georgian food - Georgia

Churchkhela

Traveling through Georgia you often see long, brownish or reddish lumpy objects hanging in street vendor stalls and shops.  At a first glance, it is not at all obvious what these things are – my guesses were lumpy candles (Georgia is quite a religious country after all) or sausages – but I really wasn’t sure.

Churchkhela - Georgian food - Georgia

Turns out – they are something to eat – but definitely not sausages!  Walnut halves (in the east of Georgia) or hazelnuts (in the west) are threaded together on a piece of string, and concentrated grape juice thickened with flour and sugar or honey is then poured over the strands.  This is left to dry in the sun before another layer of the thickened grape juice is added, and this is repeated several times to build up a coating of chewy goodness.  The amazing thing is that they actually aren’t too sweet! 

Tklapi

Almost always sold by the same people selling Churchkela, Tklapi are essentially enormous fruit Roll-ups made from pureed fruit that has been spread thinly onto a sheet and sun-dried.  There are many different flavours on offer, some sweet (kiwifruit, apricot) and some quite tart (for example, made from Tkemali, or sour plums).

Tklapi - Georgian food - Georgia

Karcho

A fantastic stew made from beef, walnuts, sour Tklapi and Georgian spices (khmeli suneli).  Very tasty!

Karcho - Georgian food - Georgia

Chashushuli

Another delicious Georgian stew with tomato and spices, and best served with fresh Georgian bread.

Chashushuli - Georgian food - Georgia

Chikhirtma

Georgia’s traditional chicken soup make with chicken, vinegar, egg and flour.

Chikhirtma - Georgian food - Georgia

Badrijai Nigvzit – Eggplant Walnut Rolls

This is a common entrée in Georgia and continues Georgia’s seeming obsession with using walnuts in their food.  Essentially long, thin slices of pan-fried eggplant with a paste of walnuts and spices rolled up inside.  Not as flavourful as I imagine it would be, but quite good.

Badrijai Nigvzit - Georgian food - Georgia

Unfortunately this is just scraping the top of the barrel of typical Georgian food, and it is all incredibly tasty.  Will have to go back to try some more!

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Kutaisi – Georgia

While the Brits trooped off to the Iranian consulate in Tbilisi again to try to secure their visas now that they had their Letters of Invitation sorted, the rest of us bundled into a very spacious minivan and headed off for a day trip to Kutaisi.

It’s a bloody long way from Tbilisi to Kutaisi actually!  221kms as it turns out.   But we did stop off briefly in Stalin’s home town of Gori for a quick visit to the Stalin museum.   Unfortunately, the museum was closed when we arrived and only opened its doors about 10 minutes before we had to leave, but I did get to see Stalin’s house where he was born and his train carriage!  And take a picture of him through the foyer of the museum.

Stalin museum - Gori - Georgia

We eventually arrived in Kutaisi and headed straight for the Sataplia Nature Reserve, with the Sataplia Cave and dinosaur footprints.  I was super-excited to add another dino site to those I’d visited in Toro Toro National Park and Sucre last year, but when we arrived we were confronted by a padlocked boom gate about 1km from the entrance.   WTF?   Oh right … it was Monday … and everything in Georgia is closed on a Monday!  

We decided we’d take our chances and ducked underneath the boom gate and walked the last kilometre.  There was a school group there and quite a few others as well, and the gates were open!  So, we headed through – only to be confronted with a very angry young woman who gave us what for and marched us straight back out again.   Some in the group tried to argue with her, which made her even more angry, and in the end, she jumped in her car and, with screeching tires, herded us back down the road to our minivan.   So, unfortunately, this was as close as I got to the dinosaur footprints ☹

Sataplia Nature Reserve - Georgia

Which was a little closer than I was to either Sydney or Mars according to this sign that was just beside the gates.

Sataplia Nature Reserve - Georgia

We were all a bit disappointed after that fail, so headed into Kutaisi for some lunch.  I wandered around the market to buy street food to eat in the park, and found this amazing Russian mural.

Russian mural - Kutaisi - Georgia

After lunch, we headed up the hill to the Bagrati Cathedral – the symbol of the united Georgian kingdom. 

Bagrati Cathedral - Kutaisi - Georgia

The original was completed in 1003 but blown up by the Ottomans in 1692, and the current structure has been heavily restored starting in the 1950s.  The inside is beautiful in its austerity (not clear whether it was always like this)

Bagrati Cathedral - Kutaisi - Georgia

And the remains of the four pillars that originally supported the dome are still there.

Bagrati Cathedral - Kutaisi - Georgia

There was also a traditional Georgian Cross outside the cathedral – something I’d learned about on the Tbilisi Hack Free Walking Tour.  Otherwise known as St Nino’s cross, it is formed from two branches of a grapevine – hence the drooping horizontal arm – and a key symbol of the Georgian Orthodox Church.

Georgian Cross - Bagrati Cathedral - Kutaisi - Georgia

From Bagrati Cathedral, we then visited the Gelati Monastery, one of the two monasteries near Kutaisi.  This was one of the main cultural and intellectual centres in Georgia in medieval times, where scientists, philosophers and theologians worked and studied.

Gelati Monastery - Kutaisi - Georgia

The most amazing remaining feature of the Monastery is the large number of murals from different periods that cover almost every centimeter of the inner walls.  Prominent in the main building is the standing Virgin holding the child with archangels at her side, which dates from around 1125AD

Gelati Monastery - Kutaisi - Georgia

Though the whole inner is covered with paintings, most of which date from the second half of the 16th century.

Gelati Monastery - Kutaisi - Georgia

The Church of St George, another building within the complex, is similarly painted in murals dating from the 16th century.

Church of St George - Gelati Monastery - Kutaisi - Georgia

The murals really are amazing to see – even if you aren’t particularly into religious artwork and artefacts.

By this time, it was around 5pm so we thought we’d better start the 3 hour trip back to Tbilisi.  We returned to the minivan and our driver, Davit, handed around a plastic 500ml water bottle that clearly had something stronger than water in it!   We had hardly heard a peep out of Davit the entire time, but now he was extremely chatty and full of great cheer!  Turned out the water bottle contained Chacha – a strong spirit made from the residue leftover from winemaking, and Georgia’s local spirit!

So with our tipsy-at-best, drunk-at-worst, very happy driver, we started the journey, but stopped into a winery on the way back to buy more wine.   A short time later, Davit surprised us with Georgian pizza (Khachapuri) that he’d pre-ordered!   We picked it up on the way through a small town, and pulled over on the side of the road a little out of town to eat!

Eating Khachapuri on the way back from Kutaisi - Georgia

It is basically dough stuffed with salty Georgian cheese, and you can’t eat too much of it, but it was a wonderful gesture and really helped make the day a great one, despite missing the dino footprints and cave.  It was a VERY happy ride home, which fortunately saw us delivered safely back to the hostel, despite the terrible Georgian drivers!

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Vardzia – Georgia

One of the highlights of southern Georgia is Vardzia – an extensive cave monastery (500m long and rising up 19 tiers) that was largely built in the latter part of the 12th century.   We had 2 hours to explore the site so I decided to spring for the $5 for an audio tour and set out to see as much as I could.

Vardzia - Georgia

The audio tour was extensive in the information it provided, however, they needed to do a better job at sign-posting where one should go in the rabbit-warren of stairs and levels in order to reach the next explanation point.   There were several that I couldn’t find, but for those that I did, there was a lot of information which really augmented the experience. 

For example, one of the first places you come across is a 10th century cave church of the Ananauri – a people who occupied the site before the monastery was built.  It just looks like two high arched windows with rocks strewn at their base

cave church of the Ananauri - Vardzia - Georgia

The rocks are there for a reason!

But thanks to the audio tour, I stood on tip-toes on the largest rock to see the paintings inside revealed.

Frescos in the cave church of the Ananauri - Vardzia - Georgia

Similarly, with the refectory, the detail of the audio explained that the monks would sit on the benches against the walls and the inner “bench” that ran parallel on either side was actually the base of a table.  The head monk would be located at the slab in the inner right corner (where the sign now stands) to address the monks.

Refectory - Vardzia - Georgia

Who would have known that this was a winepress and how important viticulture was to the residents of the monastery without some sort of a guide?

Wine press - Vardzia - Georgia

Or knew of the intricate plumbing that was installed at the site?

Plumbing - Vardzia - Georgia

Trust me, it’s worth paying the $5!   The only problem I had was that 2 hours was not long enough!   To comfortably complete the audio tour (and find all the different areas it refers to), I reckon you need probably 4 hours.

The Church of the Dormition is the centerpiece of the monastery (both geographically and in importance), but unfortunately the main hall was locked by the time I got there ☹   It’s walls are apparently richly painted, but fortunately, so too are the walls of the outer entrance to the church.

Church of the Dormition frescos - Vardzia - Georgia

From the church, there was also a defensive tunnel bored into the rockface that rises several levels in the complex.  You can traverse the length of this tunnel and come out somewhere else entirely in the complex – it takes a moment to get your bearings afterwards! 

Tunnel from Church of the Dormition - Vardzia - Georgia

I didn’t manage to find the “Tamar’s Room” (apparently the most opulent room) within the time I had, and there are plenty of other bits and pieces I missed as well.   Mostly, as you are choosing your own adventure through the maze, what you see are the normal living areas that are all laid out similarly.

Normal living areas - Vardzia - Georgia

It’s a very impressive and fascinating site, and definitely worth a visit – but make sure you have plenty of time to explore it properly, and get the audio tour at least!  There is lots to see!

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