In December last year, I got a chance to travel to a country that had been on my wishlist for a while – Georgia! From stuffing my face in Tbilisi to seeing snow-covered mountains in Gudauri to guzzling wine in Khaketi, I did it all. I will write about the sights in a separate post but seeing as I travel to eat, I thought I’ll write about what to eat & drink in Georgia.
If I had to pick one stand-out dish, it would have to be khachapuri. This flatbread stuffed with cheese is a staple at every meal. It’s basically baked leavened dough with a layer of cheese – usually the mildly salty, brined Sulguni, or a mix of 2-3 different kinds of cheese. A variant of khachapuri is lobiani, where boiled and mashed black kidney beans replace the cheese.
There are plenty of meat dishes in Georgian cuisine like satsivi (chicken with walnut, herb & garlic paste) and mtsvadi (skewered meat grilled on an open flame). Don’t miss the stews – chakapuli (lamb stew with sour plums), and kharcho (hearty and spicy meat stew). But the hands-down winner was khinkali. These dumplings, shaped like the Maharashtrian modak, have a filling of minced beef and pork. The dumplings are boiled in water, causing the meat inside to produce a broth. Pick it up with the snout on top, turn it over and eat it carefully from the edges – the broth inside is hot and it’s a bit messy to eat but absolutely delicious!
No list of what to eat & drink in Georgia can be complete without pkhali, also one of my favourite things. Assorted vegetables like aubergine, spinach, beetroot, and bell peppers are used to make this cold pâté. The pureed veggies are mixed with a walnut paste made by crushing together walnuts, herbs, garlic, onions, and vinegar in a mortar and pestle. Eat it as is or spread over bread.
Lobio is a thick black bean stew usually served in a clay pot along with pickled vegetables and mchadi (traditional fried cornbread).
Georgian cuisine is not very big on sweets and most restaurants offer standard Western-style desserts. One popular sweetmeat is churchkhela or Georgian Snickers though it bears no resemblance to the candy bar. Walnuts (and other nuts) are dipped in a thick roux of grape juice, flour, and sugar, and then sun-dried.
When you land in Tbilisi, the immigration officer stamps your passport and quite unbelievably, hands you a small bottle of wine! It’s a great promotion for the fact that Georgia is the birthplace of wine. In 2017, archaeologists found traces of winemaking on pottery shards from Georgia that date back to 6000 BC. The process of winemaking is quite unique here. They ferment the grape juice along with skin, stalks, and seeds in large, egg-shaped terracotta amphorae called qvevri. These are buried underground where the temperature is low and the fermentation goes on for months. The wine has a deep colour because of contact with grape skin. It also has a peculiar, slightly sour taste.
Of course, Georgia also makes European-style wines – both crisp dry whites and bold, fruity reds. Khaketi is Georgia’s main winemaking region – follow the wine route and visit the wineries, many of which offer tastings. I recommend Winery Khareba, Pheasants Tears Winery, and Okros Wines. Also, don’t miss trying chacha, a fiery grappa-like spirit distilled from pomace (remnants of the winemaking process).
Where to eat in Georgia
Some restaurants I recommend:
- Gorgasali Restaurant in Tbilisi
- Cafe Littera in Tbilisi
- Cafe Leila in Tbilisi
- Veriko in Tbilisi
- The restaurant at Rooms Hotel Kazbegi (Stepantsminda)
- Pheasants Tears Winery in Sighnaghi
- Prince Alexander restaurant at Radisson Collection Hotel in Tsinandali
Where to stay in Tbilisi
I stayed at Stamba Hotel, a literary-themed design hotel in the city centre. The building once housed a prominent publishing house churning out Soviet propaganda. Shuttered in the 70s, the Brutalist-style building is now a luxury hotel. Stamba retains much of the original structure and adds design detailing with repurposed printing machinery.
I loved the lobby with its light-filled atrium and floor-to-ceiling walls of books.
The high-ceilinged rooms also feature books and curated artworks by local artists. It’s all very 1930s with sumptuous furnishing and glazed red floor tiles 9and this rather kinky shower!)
Travel to Georgia
I travelled to Georgia with Jazeera Airways, the Kuwait-based budget airlines. It’s a 4.5-hour flight from Mumbai to Kuwait and 2.5 hours onward to Tbilisi. There’s a nearly 5-hour long layover in Kuwait so make sure you have plenty of entertainment options on you!
A word about visa for Georgia – Indian nationals need a visa to visit Georgia. You can apply for it at the embassy via the VFS centre in your city. Alternatively, you can apply for an e-visa online. Either way, you need to submit confirmed flights and accommodation details, financial statements, and travel insurance. Remember, you need to have a valid visa before you travel to Georgia; you cannot get a visa on arrival. I travelled on an e-visa and faced no issues.
So plan your trip and make sure you save this list on what to eat & drink in Georgia. Gaumarjos (cheers) as they say in Georgia!
This article was commissioned by The Hindu Businessline and was published in their BLink magazine on January 18, 2020.