Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Food of Georgia.

(Photo from advantour.com)

I have been drooling for the past hour as I read up on the cuisine of Georgia and look at one image after another of delicious food. At least it all looks so delicious. I think Pat and I are really going to enjoy our meals here!

The added plus is that we get to enjoy at least of one those meals with Yuriy Klyuev, the Advantour travel consultant who coordinated our trip through Central Asia.  We had planned to meet up with him in Tashkent but at the last minute, he was relocated to Tblisi to help start up Advantour's offices there.  Yuriy and I have kept in touch, off and on.  I let Yuriy know that we'll be in Tblisi and we've agreed to meet up either for lunch or dinner.  It'll be nice to finally meet him in person!  I'm going to tell Yuriy to come starving hungry so we can order a lot of dishes!!  Oh....and he's not getting Uzbek food.

Okay, back to the food.  Georgian food truly reflects the country's position along the ancient Silk Road and the Georgian foodies took the best of the best cuisine from the Greek, Mongol, Chinese, Indian, Turk and Arab traders that passed through their lands.

Unlike neighboring Azerbaijan where the meals tend to be very meat centric, Georgian cuisine comes across as being far more varied.  Here's some of the foods that I definitely want to sample when I'm there.

Khachapuri.  Simply put, kachapuri is cheese filled bread. The bread is leavened and allowed to rise, and is shaped in various ways. 

Adjarian khachapuri. (Photo from The Caucasian Challenge)

There are different versions of kachapuri but Adjarian is the one that is formed into an open boat shape.  It's the shape of this bread that always captures my eye and I will forever identify it with Georgian kachapuri.

The cheese filling can either be fresh or aged cheese but it's most commonly a Georgian cheese called suluguni.  The bread is typically served piping hot from the tandir over and butter and cracked raw egg added to the center.  To eat  the kachapuri, you mix the butter and egg together - the heat of the bread will cook the egg.  You then tear it apart to eat.  Oh....I have to, have to, have to, have this!

Khinkali.  
(Photo by Sandra C.  Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Khinkali are Georgia's contribution to the world of soup dumplings.  The Georgian version is typically stuffed with a pork/beef mixture though lamb as well as cheese, mushrooms and mashed potatoes are also popular.  

Unlike the Chinese who use chopsticks to lift up their soup dumplings (aka xiaolongbao) khinkali are considered to be finger food.  Eating them is the same concept though.  Pick up the khinkali with your fingers,  holding the topknot of dough.  Carefully take a small bit from the bottom side of the dumpling and suck out the soup before eating the dumpling itself.  Over the years, I have learned that the soup can be scalding hot so I suck very slowly; I have burned the roof of my mouth way too many times!

Lobiani.  (Photo from Georgiancook.com)

Lobiani is flaky flatbread filled with mashed kidney beans that have been slow cooked with bacon. Hello? Beans, pork and bread. This is pure comfort food reminiscent of a Mexican quesadilla filled with refried beans. Great foodie minds think alike!

According to a Serious Eats article,  one of the best places to get lobiani is located in a not so easy to find place.

"Across from the Tbilisi History Museum, an unmarked staircase leading underground bustles with foot traffic. Follow the crowd and you'll stumble into one of the city's oldest bread bakeries, where fresh lobiani, flaky disks of bean-filled dough burnished by wood fire, are sold to a captive audience day after day, year after year."

It'll be a fun adventure for Pat and I to find this place and be rewarded with bites of this humble flatbread.

Lobio.
(Photo from Georgia About.  Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)
Lobio, which means *bean* in Georgian, is another popular kidney bean dish.  Lobio can best described as a thick bean soup, a consistency achieved by pounding slow cooked beans with a mortar and pestle.  Before serving, a slurry of ingredients including onions, cilantro, vinegar, dried marigold and chilies is typically stirred in.  It's most an intriguing list of ingredients and I'm guessing the soup has a sour, spicy taste to it.  Wonder what dried marigold tastes like.

I swear that the country of Georgia must have taken influence from the US state of Georgia or perhaps it's vice versa because as in the US state where stewed beans are commonly eaten with cornbread so it is also done in the country of Georgia.




Megrelian chvishtari.
(Photo from Georgia About.  Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)
Mchadi is a griddled cornbread that is made in a skillet. (Could it be a cast iron skillet?) Order lobio and it will come served with mchadi.  However, unlike the cornbread eaten in the US, which typically includes some sort of fat or shortening and either plain milk or buttermilk, the Georgian one is only made from three ingredients - cornmeal, salt and water.  I think the Georgian version will be denser than the American version.

In the Svaneti region, which we will be traveling to, mchadi is transformed into chvishtari with piece of cheese stuffed into it before it's baked.  Oh....it looks so good.  I wonder if they have lobio in Svaneti??

Okay, I've covered quite a few carb heavy dishes.  Let's do some meat.



Mtsvadi.
(Photo by By Paata Vardanashvili.  Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)
Mtsvadi is the catchall name for skewered meat cooked over an open flame.  Call them kebabs or shashlyk or whatever you want, for me, there is nothing better than really good cubes of meat, skewered and grilled.  Like me, Georgians are purists when it comes to grilling their meat....no marinades or fancy sauces to cover up the delicious taste of the meat - just a simple seasoning of salt and pepper.   Since Georgia is not a Muslim country, we'll be enjoying pork mtsvadi whenever we can!!  Now, if I can only pronounce the word :-)


You can't have meat without veggies.  Well, you could but we shouldn't.   There are plenty of salads to be had including the ubiquitous tomato, cucumber and onion salad which I would rather not have than have while in Georgia.  It's not because I don't like it, it's because I've had so much of it - all through the Middle East, in North Africa, in Greece, Turkey and all of Central Asia.  There's only so much tomato, cucumber and onion salad a girl can eat!

Ajapsandali.
(Photo from Georgia About.  Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)


Ajapsandali will (hopefully) be on our table.  It's the Georgian riff on stewed eggplant but unlike its Mediterranean counterpart, the eggplant in ajapsandali is not cooked to mush.  The eggplant is oven roasted with bell peppers and sauced with tomato purée.  It's also spicy and garlicky.....right up my alley.  I wonder if I can get this with a side of rice on the side?  Perfect meal for one day that I might want to just go vegetarian.

Given that we'll be in Georgia in spring, which is not exactly eggplant season. I don't know what the chances are that we'll get this dish but if it's on the menu, I will order it to try.

Spinach pkhali.
(Photo from Georgia About.  Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)








Pkhali is a word used to describe a family of salads that might be better described as vegetable pâtés.  They are typically made from whatever vegetable is on hand (beets, carrots, and spinach are common) and served over bread. To make the pkhali, the vegtable is boiled and puréed. A squeeze of lemon, some ground walnuts, some cilantro and a bit of garlic and you're done!

Slather over slices of bread and enjoy!







Nights could still be cold when where in Georgia.  Perfect weather for some comfort food.  Soup!

Kharcho.
(Photo by A.Savin.  Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)



Kharcho is a traditional Georgian soup originating made from meat (typically beef, lamb, pork, chicken or goose), rice, cherry plum purée, chopped English walnut and is spiced depending on the region. The soup is usually served with finely chopped fresh coriander. Very unusual set of ingredients.  Presumably the walnut is the thickener. I don't know if the plum will add a tartness or a sweetness to the soup.  If it's tart, I'm good.  Sweet....no.







Last, but not least, we have to have sweets.  I don't have a sweet tooth but I do have a weakness for fruity things.

Churchkhela.
(Photo by young shanahan.  Licensed under under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)



Churchkhela are definitely eye catching.  I've seen a similar confection all over Turkey.  There it's known as cevizli sucuk.  The process to  make churchkhela is process is both time and labor intensive! Walnut pieces are threaded onto a string.  Fruit juice is then repeated poured over the strands of walnuts.  Each layer is left to dry until a chewy, waxy exterior envelops the nuts.  I've been to Turkey three times and have never had cevizli sucuk.  I think it's time to have churchkhela.





Tklapi.  (Photo from lyukum.net)

Tklapi will no doubt bring out the child in me.  What child doesn't love fruit leather?  This adult never grew out of love with them.  I still love the ones that come in the rolls and I like to unroll them as I eat them.  My favorite flavors are anything made with a berry.  To make the tklapi, cooked fruit purée is placed on a wooden tray in a thin layer and allowed to dry in the sun for several days.

In Georgia, the sweet versions of tklapi, often made from fig or apricot, are for snacking.  Tklapi made from tart cherries and plums are typically used to sour soups and stews but I love all things tart so these tklapi might just be the perfect snack for me!


We better do a lot of walking when we're in Georgia because I will be digesting a million calories every day!