Georgian traditional cuisine is delicious, cheap, and universal. It is also justly famous throughout the former Soviet Union (visitors to Moscow will have noticed the large number of Georgian restaurants). Georgia fills a list of wonderful, often meat, dishes, usually flavored with garlic, coriander, walnuts, and dill. A traditional Georgian feast (supra) is a sight to behold, with a spread that no group could finish, accompanied by at least 20 toasts set to wine or brandy.
Just wandering into the likeliest looking local joint in any neighborhood whatsoever, even just a block or two from the main tourist streets, will inevitably provide an excellent dining experience at bargain prices – and quite possibly any amount of proud attention and invitations to drink wine from staff and regulars delighted that a foreigner has discovered their haunt. Simply pick by random off the menu and let the unique tastes of Georgia surprise you. Western-style dishes (pizzas, hamburgers, etc.) are usually a pale copy of the originals. It is much better to try local food.
- Khinkali. – Dumplings with different fillings: minced spiced meat, mushrooms, cheese, or vegetables, served in enormous quantities. But not like what you are used to doing with dumplings. Georgian men will easily eat 15 huge dumplings, and begin by seasoning the dumplings with pepper. Then grab the dumpling however you like, from the top “handle” if it pleases you (locals often stick a fork in the side of the knot so as not to puncture the dumpling), and take a small bite out of the side to slurp up the juice. Do not let any juice fall on your plate, or you will get your chin messy. Then, still holding the khinkali, eat around the top, finishing the dumpling and then placing the twisted top on your plate—traditionally the top is not eaten. It is also nice to look with pride upon all your tops once, with practice, you get into the double digits with these dumplings. Wash them down with wine, Kazbegi beer, or a “limonati” of whichever flavour you prefer (most common flavours are lemon, pear, and estragon/tarragon—which is quite refreshing).
- Khachapuri – A cheese filled bread, which more resembles cheese pie. It comes in at least three different varieties:
- imeruli or imeretian: These are the most common and often come with every meal, just filled with cheese. Often circular, similar to Lobiani.
- megrelian: Like imeruli but topped with additional cheese.
- adjarian: Boat-shaped like puri (break) with an open face and filled with egg in addition to cheese. This one is much more filling and a single proper dish.
- Lobiani – A dish of bean-filled bread. Imeretian, again, is just cheese-filled. But most popular is Rachuli Lobiani (რაჭული ლობიანი), like a Khachapuri, but with bean and bacon. One is mostly too much for one person.
Any one of these just listed dishes beyond 5 lari in a reasonably priced local restaurant is probably too much for 1 person. So, you better combine only one dish with salad and drinks for two people.
- Chkmeruli – A delicious chicken in garlic sauce.
- Satsivi – Chicken in walnut sauce.
- Mtsvadi – Like Shashlik, tasty grilled chunks of marinaded pork or veal on stick with onions, is another staple.
- Kupati – A spicy sausage popular all over Georgia.
- Kuchmachi – A dish made from chicken livers, hearts and gizzards, with walnuts and pomegranate seeds for topping.
- Chanakhi – A stew made out of lamb, tomatoes, aubergine, potato and spices, and simply delicious.
- Chakapuli – A stew made from lamb chops or veal, onions, tarragon leaves, cherry plums or tkemali (cherry plum sauce), dry white wine, and mixed fresh herbs (parsley, mint, dill, coriander), equally good.
- Chakhokhbili – The word means pheasant, stewed chicken and tomatoes with fresh herbs.
- Chashushuli – Beef stew with tomatoes, similar to but better than goulash.
- Ojakhuri – The word means meat and roasted potatoes. Usually comes with pork, but vegetarian mushroom ojakhuri is not unheard of.
- Kalia – A hot dish made from beef, onions and pomegranate.
There are lots of vegetarian dishes (mostly in western parts of Georgia) which are quite tasty and accompany most of local parties with heavy wine drinking.
- Ajapsandali – A sort of vegetable ratatouille, made differently according to each family’s recipe, and which is wonderful.
- Lobio – Like a local version of hummus, made from beans (cooked or stewed), coriander, walnuts, garlic, and onions. Order some marinades with it!
- (Nigvziani) Badrijani – A fried eggplant stuffed with spiced walnut and garlic paste, often topped with pomegranate seeds.
- Pkhali – A dish of chopped and minced veges (cabbage, eggplant, spinach, beans, beets), combined with ground walnuts, vinegar, onions, garlic, and herbs.
- Sulguni – A brined, sour, moderately salty flavored cheese with a dimpled texture and elastic consistency from the Samegrelo region. Often served as side dish.
- Ghomi and Baje – Made of cornmeal and corn flour, similar to porridge, usually served with cheese. Try it with Baje, a nut sauce.
- Soko Ketsze – Fried mushrooms.
- Akhali Kartopili – Young potatoes roasted, mostly in early May.
Try these sauces, both with vegetarian and meat dishes:
- Masharaphi – Pomegranate sauce
- Tkemali – Plum sauce
Bread and pastry:
- (Shotis) Puri – Most regular bread found in Georgia, made of white flour, and shaped like a canoe.
- Mchadi – Cornbread often eaten together with Lobio.
- (Tarkhunis) Ghvezeli – A quick snack, pastry stuffed with meat, potatoes, cheese or other ingredients, usually sold in markets and on the side of the street.
- Nazuki – A sweet and spicy bread with cinnamon, lemon curds and raisins. Commonly found in Shida Kartli, especially in Surami.
- Churchkhela – A candle-shaped candy made of grape must, nuts, and flour. 1.5-2 lari.
- Gozinaki – A confection made of caramelized nuts (usually walnuts), fried in honey, but exclusively served on New Year’s Eve and Christmas.
- Tklapi – A puréed fruit roll-up leather, spread thinly onto a sheet and sun-dried on a clothesline. It can be sour or sweet.
- Pelamushi – A porridge made during harvest time with flour and pressed, condensed grape juice.
- Koliva aka Korkoti – Wheat grains boiled in milk with raisins.
- Kaklucha – Hard to find, also called Pearls of the Sun, caramelized walnuts.
- Nugbari – Candy and also the brand name.
Fruit and vegetables:
The fruit and vegetables here are bursting at the seams with flavor, and very cheap. Specifically grown in this region and a must are kaki, pomegranate and grapes. Also try dried fruits, available at many markets.
Even if you only speak English and stand out as a foreigner like a slug in a spotlight, you can get fruit and vegetables in the market for a mere fraction of what you would pay in, say, Western Europe. Grabbing a quick meal of tomatoes, fresh cheese, puri (bread), and fruit is perhaps the most rewarding meal to have in the country.
If you can, try to get yourself invited to dinner at someone’s home (this is not too difficult in Georgia, owing to their hospitality and general desire to stuff foreign visitors full of all the food they can afford). The food in restaurants is an odd set piece of the same dishes over and over. But Georgian cuisine is far richer, and has an untold number of dishes to try, prepared from scratch with fresh, locally grown products (although supermarkets are now spreading throughout Georgia).
Chacha (ჭაჭა) is a home-made fruit-based distilled clear spirit analogous to Italian grappa. Chacha is made of grape pomace (grape residue left after making wine). It can also be produced from non-ripe or non-cultured grapes and in some cases fig, tangerine, orange or mulberry. It is usually bottled “manually”. It can be purchased in corner markets, Farmers Markets, back alleys and basements throughout Georgia. There is also commercially-made chacha that can be found in some shops and supermarkets. The term “Chacha” is used in Georgia to refer to any type of clear spirit made of fruits.
Georgia has one of the oldest wine-making traditions in the world and has been called the birthplace of wine (also as “Cradle of Wine”), due to archaeological findings which indicate wine production back to 5000 BC. Georgia produces some of the best wines in the world, and thanks to the ancient tradition of wine production and amazing climate, it holds its own with French and Italian wines. Georgian wines are quite famous. It may be true that they are little known in the West, but they certainly are famous among the roughly 280 million people in the former Soviet Union, where Georgian wines remain a welcome drink at any dining table.
Export of home-bottled wine, which is often the best type, is prohibited.
- Saperavi (საფერავი sah-peh-rah-vee)
- Mukuzani (მუკუზანი moo-k’oo-zah-nee)
- Khvanchkara (ხვანჭკარა khvahnch-k’ah-rah) – semi-sweet
- Kindzmarauli (კინძმარაული keendz-mah-rah-oo-lee) – semi-sweet
- Tsinandali (წინანდალი ts’ee-nahn-dah-lee)
- Kakheti (კახეთი k’ah-kheh-tee)
- Tbilisuri (თბილისური tbee-lee-soo-ree)
Imports of Georgian wine and mineral water have been banned by the Russian government, because of the political tension between the two counties.
Georgia produces a growing number of local beers. A beer tradition has existed in Georgia since ancient times in the mountainous regions of Khevsureti and Tusheti. After independence from the Soviet Union, Georgia revived its beer production and introduced its high quality beers to the market. The first and most popular Georgian beer was Kazbegi. Today, beer production in Georgia is still growing, offering high quality beers (thanks to the high quality mountain spring waters in Georgia and to German designed beer factories). There are also many foreign beers such as Heineken, Bitburger, Lowenbrau, Guinness, etc.
- Bavariis Herzogi
- Kazbegi (ყაზბეგი q’ahz-beh-gee)
Georgian mineral waters have exceptional and interesting tastes, which are very different from French and Italian varieties. The most famous Georgian mineral waters are Borjomi (ბორჯომი bohr-joh-mee), Likani (ლიკანი lick-ah-nee), and Nabeglavi (ნაბეღლავი nah-beh-ghlah-vee). But there is a plethora of less well-known springs located in small towns and alongside roads throughout the country that is worth sampling. Borjomi isn’t just ordinary sparkling water as it has a very high fluoride content and it may take some time to get used to the taste. It is however quite popular also outside Georgia (in the former Soviet republics).
Lagidze waters (soft drink):
Mitrofan Lagidze (ლაღიძე lah-ghee-dzeh) is a surname of a famous Georgian businessman of the 19th century who produced very popular soft drinks in Georgia. Nowadays these waters are called “the Lagidze Waters”. Lagidze soft drinks are made only with natural fruit components, without any chemical, artificial sugars or other additives. The most popular flavours are estragon/tarragon and cream & chocolate.