Few days before every trip I try to establish not only sights and places to see, but also seek all the available information on the traditional foods and drinks. I spend quite some time searching the internet, asking my friends, selecting the non-meat dishes, and trying not to drool when flipping through the virtual reality pictures of local dishes. Preparation for the trip to Georgia was no different in this respect and I travelled there with abundance of tips and information I had gathered about the place.
I had heard many praises for the unique culture, its hospitable people, and the food. I was really excited to visit the place, despite the heavy winds and storm over the Istanbul where I had my stopover.
In a word, I loved Georgia! The people are truly hospitable and try to assist you as much as they can. Tbilisi, the capital, is an interesting city, with mixture of restored buildings of Eastern Orthodox churches and new buildings standing side by side. The 4th century citadel, Narikala Fortress looms over the city from the top of the hill. It was established as “Invidious Fort”, and was subsequently expanded by the Umayyads in the 7th century, and again later by king David the Builder. The fortress consists of two walled sections on a steep hill between the sulphur baths and the botanical gardens of Tbilisi.
Due to this historic location of the trade routes, the local cuisine in Georgia has been influenced by countless culinary traditions from Europe and the Middle East. Its cuisine not only is full of herbs and spices, but also differs from one region to another within the country itself.
If you are ever there, then you have to experience the funicular from Funicular Restaurant to Mtatsminda, which is an amusement park. The location of the restaurant is quite an interesting one. The restaurant is situated on the hill, high above the city, with breath taking views. Here you can taste local dishes like khachapuri with cheese, lobiani with beans, khinkali, and several kinds of kebab, not to forget the local wine. The types of Georgian wines vary from dry to semi-sweet and sweet. The latter is rather thick and really sweet and not for every “palate”.
A small digression for wine lovers here is necessary. Georgia is one of the oldest wine regions in the world. The fertile valleys by the Caucasus Mountains on the south side have been cultivating the grapevines even from over 8 000 years ago. One of the most traditional methods of making local wine is in clay jars, known as kvevri. The clay jars in a shape of an egg, are used for fermentation, storage and ageing the wine. Usually they are placed on the floors of wine cellars or simply buried below the ground.
But I am going back to the food. I had a pleasure of tasting some of the unusual dishes as well. One such dish was a mountain trout in almond sauce or deep fried fish in a walnut sauce. At first, I thought that my dinner companions had some fun at my expense, because I was the only non-meat eater at the table, but it turned out that there is actually such a thing as a mountain trout in Georgia. The fish is smaller than the regular trout, but do not be put off by the size. It tastes good! Actually, it tastes even better with almond sauce.
However, my favourite dish from this trip was nadughi cheese, served with caramelised walnuts and berries. It is a dairy cheese that looks like a small gift wrapped with a small bow on my plate. The softness and smoothness of the cheese contrasted nicely with walnuts, and I was in a culinary heaven! So much so, that I had the same dish three days in a row.
One other thing to try there as well is fluorescent green lemonade, called Midori, and made of tarragon. Admittedly, it looks a bit scary, but if you are a fan of fizzy drinks with a quirky taste, you may enjoy it.
Despite my visit to Georgia being rather short, I managed to experience all of what I had heard about the country’s hospitability and their cuisine. After returning home I needed to be on a juice detox for few days, just to get my body and stomach to come back to my daily eating routine. But it was all worth it, and hopefully I will go back there once again.