Georgian cuisine, like those of other countries, varies by region. A complex interplay of cultural influences has divided the country east from west at the Surami pass. The dishes found on either side of the divide feature distinct ingredients, cooking techniques, and flavorings. Western Georgia is smaller in territory than Eastern Georgia, but more varied in terms of climate, ethnography, and historical influences.
The main differences in the two culinary traditions derive from the influences of Turkey (and more generally, of the Mediterranean world) on the cuisine of Western Georgia, and of Iran on that of Eastern Georgia. Western and Eastern Georgians show preferences for different types of meat and bread, and they exhibit distinct uses of herbs and spices, giving a different overall aroma and flavoring to their dishes.
Among the most commonly consumed vegetables are beans, eggplants cabbage and cauliflower, beets, and tomatoes (the latter are not traditional, of course!). Vegetables can be served raw (in a salad), or boiled, baked, fried, stewed, marinated or pickled. In Georgia, different types of vegetables are rarely mixed. Alongside vegetables and fruit, nuts – hazelnuts, almonds and most frequently walnuts – occupy a prominent place on the Georgian table, added into spice mixes and sauces, or served with chicken, vegetables and even fish. Meat soups, sweets, salads and hot main courses alike may contain nuts.
Finally, no overview of Georgian cuisine can be complete without mentioning wine. The Search for the Origins of Viniculture, proposes modern-day Georgia as the most likely site of the domestication of the Eurasian wine grape, which occurred some 8,000 years ago.
Adjabsandali – A delicious blend of fried eggplants, onions, peppers, tomatoes and mountain spices.
Badrijani Nigvzit- Eggplants seasoned with ground walnuts, vinegar (or pomegranate juice), garlic, pomegranate seeds and spices.
Chvishtari – Georgian cornbread with cheese. It comes from Svaneti , a mountainous region in the northwestern part of Georgia. There are several types of Chvishtari.
Green beans with nuts – Nuts are a very popular ingredient in Georgian cuisine.A Supra will almost always have dishes made with nuts.
khabakhi – Fried Marrow. Made with marrow (zucchini), sweet pepper, onions, tomatoes and spices it is delicious hot or cold.Usually eaten with Georgian Shotis Puri bread.
Lobio -Bean stew prepared with various spices, vinegar and/or olive oil, sometimes with walnuts or smoked ham (Racheuli lobio) a peasant favorite, this is a dish everyone must try.
Matsoni -A rather sour yogurt that usually shows up topless (well, without a lid) at the table. Trial and error usually works to suit your taste – with warm meat, vegetables, khachapuri, or blend with fresh honey or fruit. After matsoni straight from the farm, store-bought yogurt will never taste the same. Made from boiled fresh milk and a bacterial starter, matsoni is certain to have medicinal qualities.
Muzhuzhi – a dish from boiled semi-marinated pork. It is cooked from meat a well as legs and tails. Each kind of meat is cooked separately to be used together in the same dish. The dish is seasoned with wine vinegar and served cold with spring onions and greens.
Pkhali -Vegetarian dishes from a variety of plants (spinach, beetroots, cabbage), usually with a walnut paste base but each having a unique taste and seasoning.
Soko – Mushrooms prepared in various ways, seasoned with spices and herbs. Soko sulgunit – mushrooms stuffed with soft cheese – sulguni.
Georgian cuisine, relies on a variety of meats: muzhuzhi is made out of pork, chanakhi out of lamb, chakhokhbili out of chicken. Beef is favored for the traditional kharcho soup. But as with bread, regional differences separate Western and Eastern Georgia: in the west, the most common type of meat is fowl (mostly, chicken and guinea-hens, as geese and duck are not eaten), whereas in the east lamb is much more popular.
Mtsvadi – Georgian barbeque, meat grilled to perfection over a grape vine-wood fire, with fresh pomegranate juice or Tkemali squeezed over it.
Khinkali – The Georgian National dish: juicy meat dumplings made to be eaten by hand, using a special technique that can be learned only here. Noaways in Georgian restaurants’ menu, besides original khinkali with meat filling as well you’ll find khinkali stuffed with cheese, curd or potatoes. Though they are as well delicious and good choice for vegetarians – they are not original.
Kebab – a dish from ground meat. Balls made from fragrant mincemeat are coated with breadcrumbs and stewed in broth with spices.
Chakapuli –Meat (traditionally lamb but it can be changed by beef) stew prepared with fresh tarragon leaves, what gives strong, original flavor.
Chakhokhbili –Brasied chicken chops in tomatoes and various herbs sauce. As well this dish can be made with pork, lamb or beef. By the way its name comes from the Georgian word “khokhobi” which means “pheasant,” indicating its true origins.
Chanakhi – meat with vegetables stewed in clay pots in an oven. For chanakhi only fat mutton is used along with eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, onions. Sometimes they add some rice. You will also need parsley, coriander, basil, black and red pepper.
Ojakhuri – Georgian family meal made with pork. The pork is marinaded at least 12 hours before cooking so that the meat becomes soft and full of flavor.
Satsivi – Chicken or Turkey in a walnut sauce with garlic and spices, almost like Indian food.
Tabaka – chickens fried on a wide frying “taba” pan (hence the name) under cover and load. This dish more often serves as a half-finished product for other dishes of Georgian cuisine, for example for borani. Therefore, tapaka, as a rule, is fried without seasonings, except for salt and red pepper.
Chkmeruli– Roasted Chicken, served in garlic and matsoni (a dairy product) sauce.
Fish dishes a little common throughout Georgia with the exception of areas along rivers. In Georgian dishes typically used Barbell, Khramula, Shamaia, Beardfish belonging to the family Cyprinid and differ only sweet and fatty meats. In fast rivers lives mountain trout (Mtis Kalmakhi), which is exquisitely tasty flesh and has no specific “fish” taste.
These features of the local raw fish combined with the relatively rare and little use of fish compared to meat in the Georgian kitchen left a mark on the character of preparation of fish in Georgian cuisine. Examples of well known Georgian fish dishes:
• Kalmakhi Tarkhunit, Kephali, Khizilala, Kibo Kindzit, Kibo Mokharshuli, KiboGhvinit
• Kobri Nigvzit da Brotseulit, Loko Kindzmatshi, Loko Tsiteli Ghvinit, Oraguli Nigvzit
• Shebolili Kephali, Shemtsvari Tarti, Sterlet, Tarti Tetri ghvinit, Tevzi , Tsotskhali
• Tsvera Nigvzit da Brotseulit, BazheshiTevzi Pamidvrit, Zutkhi Kaklis photolshi
• Zutkhi Shemtsvari , Zutkhis Mtsvadi.
The Georgian table is noted for its frequent use of cheeses. However, unlike French, Dutch or Swiss cheeses, those of Georgia are typically of the brined curd variety, like the Greek feta. Cheeses produced in Western Georgia (e.g. sulguni, imereti; the latter is named after the Imereti region where it comes from) usually have more subtle flavors than those found in the east. Georgian cheeses differ from those familiar in the West not only in their flavor and consistency, but also in how they are eaten. There is also a general tendency of peoples living in the mountains to use the same cooking methods for meats and cheeses alike.
Georgian cheese has been listed among top 10 cheeses on the world cheese map. There exist thousands of different sorts of cheese that stand out for their wide range of flavors and various textures. Each country has its own method of cheese making and Georgia is no exception. Apart from delicious, hearty and spicy dishes, Georgia can boast a number of different sorts of cheeses that come from country’s different regions. Although Georgia is a small country, it produces more than 250 types of cheese. Georgian supra (feast table) is unimaginable without Kveli, be it soft and tender Imeruli cheese from Georgia’s Imereti region or more rough and slightly sharp flavored Guda cheese from mountain region of eastern Georgia.
Soups are very popular in Georgia too. They are categorized as meat, vegetarian, dairy. Almost all soups are cooked without vegetables but seasoned with flour sauce or raw eggs. The use of tasty sourish matsoni, wine vinegar, fruit juices give Georgian soups their special flavor. The most popular soups in a Georgian cuisine are khashi, kharcho and chikhirtma.
Khashi – is a beef interior, leg and head bone broth strongly seasoned with garlic. Traditionally khashi is eaten in the morning. This is a very rich, nutritious and healthy dish.
Kharcho – is a beef soup with rice and walnuts on the basis of tklapi (thick puree of cherry plums) Combination of tender beef broth and natural sourness of tklapi along with spicy green seasoning and slightly astringent nut flavor create the characteristic taste and smell of kharcho soup. When kharcho is ready it is sprinkled with garlic, coriander and basil.
Chikhirtma is a thick soup from mutton or more often poultry (chicken or turkey) with whipped eggs and flour. Chikhirtma is usually spiced with mint and saffron as well as coriander, parsley and basi.
Examples of well known Georgian soups:
Arjakeli, Balbis, Bostneulis, Domkhlis, Dos, Gholos, Gogris, Ispanakhis
Katmis, Lobios, Makhokhis, Matsvnis, Mukhudos, Nivris, Pomidvris
Puris Kharsho, Qvelis, Satatsuris, Shindis, Shorba, Sokos Staphilos
Sauces and spices
Georgian cuisine is unthinkable without the sauces. At the same time Georgian sauces are fundamentally different from the European sauces with their composition as well as technology. For Georgian sauces of all kinds as the basis used exclusively plant material. Most often it is sour berry and fruit juice or puree Tkemali, blackthorn, pomegranate, blackberry, barberry, or tomatoes. There was widespread also have peanut sauces, which serve as the basis of crushed nuts, divorced, or broth, or plain water or wine vinegar. Also for some sauces used crushed garlic as the basis. The garlic comes as an additional component in most sauces. In many sauces and gravy, all of the major items (sour juice, nuts, garlic) are connected in different proportions.
Another celebrated Georgian sauce is satsivi, made from pureed nuts flavored with minced garlic and other herbs and spices. Typically, a cook selects three to four herbs among the wide assortment available; combining herbs and spices is part and parcel of the Georgian culinary sensibility and a true art.
In Western Georgia bread is usually made of cornmeal (called mtchadi in Georgian), while in Eastern Georgia wheat bread predominates. Georgian food starts with bread. Bread is an essential component of the meal. Georgian bread is special. Georgian bread is baked in traditional bread baking ovens called tone. Tone are made of clay and look like the top half of clay pots. A fire burns at the bottom which heats up the sides of the oven. The bread dough is sectioned off and slapped onto the side walls of the oven to bake, turning brown and bubbly.
Shotis puri is the most recognizable of the Georgia breads because of its oblong shape with pointy ends. Georgian baguette is one of the oldest breads in the world and originates from the land of Colchis. Tonis Puri, KhachaPuri, Acharuli, Shotis Puri, Lobiani, Mchadi and Cada are types of bread traditional in Georgia.
Khachapuri -Georgian cheese bread, appearing in a number of regional styles: Imeruli khachapuri or Imeretian khachapuri, Adjaruli khachapuri and Megruli khachapruri being the most popular.
Acharuli – Georgian cheese bread (khachapuri) from Ajara, in which the dough is formed into an open gondola shape and is topped with a raw egg and butter before serving.
Lobiani -”Bean khachapuri”, bread baked with a seasoned bean stuffing and aromatic spices. Especially eaten on the Georgian holiday of Barbaroba, or St. Barbara’s Day
Mchadi – a Georgian cornbread, traditionally eaten with lobio (beans) and cheese. It’s quick to prepare, golden brown when cooked and absolutely delicious.
Traditionally the Georgians prefer fruits berries, nuts, wine or honey for dessert. There are practically no splits (“namtskhvary”) in traditional Georgian cuisine. In autumn and winter comfits and sun-dried fruits serve as dessert.
Churchkhela is the best-known sweets among the traditional Georgian ones. These Georgian national sweetmeats are made of nuts beaded on a thread and cooked in flour-thickened grape juice.
Kozinaki, flat candies made of honey, having special gusto for the Georgians, are served to a festive table on the first day of New Year. The recipe is rather simple. The nuts fried to brown are added to the honey and sugar warmed up in a casserole. Then all this is mixed and divided into random masses.
Winemaking remains a vital part of Georgian culture and national identity. Georgian families throughout Georgia grow their own grapes and produce wine the old-fashioned way, by placing grape juice in underground clay jars, or kvevri, topped with a wooden lid, covered and sealed with earth, to ferment during the winter.
Topographic and climatic diversity allows Georgians to grow over 400 varieties of grape, a greater diversity than anywhere else in the world. Around 40 of these grape cultivars are used in commercial wine production. Roughy 40 million gallons (150 million liters) of wine are produced each year in Georgia, with around 45,000 hectares of vineyards under cultivation. Georgia’s wines are produced in several zones: most notably Kakheti and Kartli in the east, and Imereti, Samegrelo, Guria, Ajaria, and Abkhazia in the west. By far the most important of these areas is Kakheti, which produces 70% of all Georgian wine.
Alcoholic drinks from Georgia include chacha and wine (especially Georgian wine). Some of the most well-known Georgian wines include Pirosmani, Alazani, Akhasheni, Saperavi, and Kindzmarauli.
Non – Alcoholic drinks
Georgian mineral waters have exceptional and interesting tastes — very different from French and Italian varieties. The most famous Georgian mineral waters are Borjomi , Likani, and Nabeglavi . But there is a plethora of less well-known springs located in small towns and alongside roads throughout the country that is worth sampling.
Mitrofane Lagidze is a surname of a very 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 flavors are estragon/tarragon and cream&chocolate. You can find them bottled in stores.