Georgian food culture is thousands of years old, but only now is it starting to get the international attention it deserves. The traditional staples feature a mix of Russian, Turkish, and Persian influences. Since Georgia sits on the Silk Road, travelers came and went easily, spreading ideas and sharing flavors.
The humble khachapuri is a mainstay in Georgian cuisine and is the food Georgia is most famous for internationally. Its importance cannot be understated. Economists in Tbilisi even use something called the Khachapuri Index, a measure of how strong the economy is based off the cost of the namesake’s ingredients.
But back to food. Every region has its own unique version of khachapuri with differing shapes and slight variations to ingredients used. But all will essentially contain a dough made of flour, yeast, milk, eggs and butter. And it will be filled with sulguni, a saltier mozzarella-like cheese. Order one for the table, grab it as a snack, eat it for dinner. It’s just that versatile.
This is another very typical Georgian dish that you will see in almost all Georgian restaurants. Khinkali are soup-filled dumplings similar to xiao long baos, but larger and made with thicker dough. These are often shared on a large platter with the whole table.
Depending on the type of khinkali, the dough is filled with ingredients ranging from mushrooms and cheese to spiced meat, fragrant vegetables, onions, and garlic. The most common variety is filled with beef or pork though.
Pay attention here because there is a right way to eat these. Typically, you hold the dumpling by its handle (the fold), and then make a small bite towards the top. Blow on or wait for the broth to cool, then slurp out the soupy goodness and devour the rest of the dumpling. The handles are usually discarded, and serve as a fun way to keep track of how many you ate.
Chakapuli is an herbed lamb stew made with tkemali (unripe sour plums), white wine, garlic, spring onions, and green peppers. Additional spices like tarragon, coriander, and salt are also added. It’s a light, very liquid stew.
Chakapuli is most commonly enjoyed in the spring, when the plums are still unripe. Because of this it’s often eaten as a celebration dish during Orthodox Easter.
Mtsvadi is a general term for barbecued meat skewers or kebab. However, it’s a very ancient and important Georgian food. This dates back to when Georgian ancestors would prepare this dish after coming back from a long hunt.
The meat is usually ground pork, mutton, or veal, and is marinated in lemon juice with tarragon, salt, pepper, and chopped onions. It is then grilled outdoors over an open flame and served with tkemali (sour plum) sauce.
Matsoni (Matsvnis) Soup
A warm, tangy, yogurt-like concoction sprinkled with fresh herbs. This soup is made with either cow, sheep, or goat’s milk, and is usually enjoyed for breakfast.
Matsoni soup has long been used as a traditional hangover cure, and is the supposed “secret” ingredient to longevity. This is due to it being full of calcium and probiotics. You can eat it plain, spread it over dolmas, or use as a starter for khachapuri.
Dolmas are steamed, roasted, or boiled vine leaves or lettuce filled with minced beef, rice and herbs. Similar variations exist in Turkish, Greek, and Armenian cuisines.
Kharcho is a hearty, traditional Georgian soup with beef, rice, plum purée and chopped walnuts. It’s quite an interesting mix of textures and flavors to have the crunch of walnuts and the slight sourness from the plums. Nevertheless, it is a staple and one of the traditional Georgian foods not to be missed.
Pkhali is minced vegetable with garlic, lemon juice, and herbs. Some of the most commonly used vegetables are beets, carrots, cabbage, eggplant, or spinach. What ties all pkhali together though, is the addition of pureed walnut sauce.
Usually, a chef will whip up a variety of pkhali and plate them side by side with pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top. It’s eaten as a cold appetizer, often with bread.
These are Georgian sausages made with pork or beef and onions. They are often served with freshly chopped coriander and pomegranate seeds.