Eats and Drinks in Georgia
Updated: Jan 23, 2021
Time flies in and it’s hard to believe that it’s almost February already. As I write, the world continues to live with Covid-19 but, thankfully, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Watching my ninety three year old mother receive her vaccine was an emotional experience and I feel optimistic for 2021 and the years ahead.
Many thanks, as always, to everyone who bought print or digital copies of NO HARM DONE. Sales took a noticeable lift over Christmas and, as a new author, I continue to be delighted and flattered when asked to sign copies of my book. I was especially pleased that the book has been well received internationally, with excellent sales in the USA and, of course, the Republic of Georgia. I received a really nice present from the USA, a knife engraved with my book title. I like it a lot and think it looks very sinister in this picture—I almost wish I had included something like it on the cover design!
Reviews and feedback of NO HARM DONE have continued to be positive and I was particularly pleased when readers who have worked or lived in former Soviet republics e.g. Georgia, Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, confirmed my description of the Soviet legacy in these countries as authentic. This has been extremely motivating and I’m continuing to forge ahead with my second Donadze novel, planned for publication in July.
It’s been several weeks since my last post as Christmas and other commitments intervened, but I’ve got there at last. As noted, these musings are about life in Georgia—as perceived by me, and therefore not something you would be able to read about on Wikipedia and I hope you find them more interesting as a result. This time, I am describing a topic which Georgians take very seriously—food and drink.
Georgians like to live well. In a previous post, I described the huge amounts of food served at supras (feasts held as parties or for life events such as weddings and funerals), much of which was not eaten and therefore sometimes seen as wasteful by outsiders. Similarly, huge amounts of alcohol are drunk at these events. I once asked a Georgian friend how much wine he would budget for guests at a supra and he told me, straight-faced, four litres for each man attending (women are expected to politely sip and therefore do not have to be included in such calculations!). If you are affronted by my implication that four litres of wine is a lot to drink, then I apologise. It’s certainly much more than the UK maximum recommendation of fourteen units a week, but then, Georgia is not the UK!
The meal structure is different in Georgia; food is not served in courses. Instead, cold dishes such as salads, bread and cheeses are brought out first, or more often, are already on the table when guests arrive. Diners transfer food to their plates, politely helping others first. Hot dishes are brought out later, including stews, beans, fish, chicken and, two of my favourites, lobio (beans cooked in a ceramic pot with onions and herbs and served bubbling hot) and khachapuri (more later). Desserts are not traditionally eaten and the meal usually ends with platters of fresh fruit, nearly all of which is grown in the country.
Lobio - yum yum!
Georgia used to be known as the USSR’s fruit and vegetable basket and both are abundant. It arrives in the shops on a seasonal basis and is plentiful and cheap at these times. I used to enjoy the cherry season, usually buying two kgs in the market and eating them all within a couple of days—I’ve got no willpower. Tomatoes grown in the summer months are especially delicious. Georgian visitors to the UK complain that our tomatoes don’t taste nearly as good—and they’re right.
Dishes served in restaurants do not vary much, and you will usually find the same items offered regardless of where and when you eat, although there may be differences in presentation and quality. One staple you will always be served is khachapuri. Described by the Huffington Post as one of the ten most fattening meals in the world, it is, nevertheless, delicious. Styles vary by region, my favourite being megruli khachapuri. It is essentially bread stuffed with more sulguni cheese than you could imagine and I can feel my arteries hardening just thinking about it.
Megruli Khachapuri - cheesefest!
Of course, Georgia has its fair share of international restaurants. I had a great Indian restaurant close to my apartment in Tbilisi and there are plenty of pizza and burger joints not to mention several high quality European restaurants, some attached to the international hotels which have sprung up in recent years.
I could write much more on Georgian food but I should now turn to drink, or more accurately, to alcohol. Georgia doesn’t have a long history of beer drinking or, for that matter, of bars to go drinking in. But there are plenty now, many, for some reason, with Bavarian themes and imported German beer. Georgian beer wasn’t great, in my opinion but it’s certainly getting better with some nice craft breweries and beers being established.
Georgia should be more famous for wine making than it is. It is internationally acknowledged to be the oldest wine making country in the world – verified by the discovery of an eight thousand year old kvevri (egg-shaped ceramic vessels used for making, ageing and storing wine) which contained traceable wine residues. Interestingly, the tradition of making wine this way persists, alongside European methods.
Wine is made in kvevri by pressing the grapes and then pouring the juice, grape skins, stalks and pips into the vessel which is then sealed and buried to allow fermentation. Its makers claim that this wine is rich in tannins and does not require chemical preservatives. It’s different and certainly worth trying if you get the opportunity.
The greatest volume of wine is now made by European methods, although the use of Georgian grape varieties distinguishes it from its European equivalents. My favourite (and my protagonist’s favourite) Georgian red wine is Mukuzani (dry and intense), made from the ubiquitous Saperavi grape variety. Our favourite white is Tsinandali (dry and light), made from Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane grape varieties.
Ancient Kvevri - Real Vintage Wine!
Aside from commercial production, many Georgians make their own wine at home – lots of it (remember four litres for each man for each supra plus enough for everyday consumption). They either grow the grapes themselves or buy grapes for pressing. Some of the wine produced is excellent and restaurants usually allow guests to bring their own—which, of course, helps to keep the cost down. There is a lot of friendly competition amongst wine makers. When I worked at Supsa Terminal in West Georgia I told my two friends, Gabi and Zaza, individually, that they made the second best wine. They knew I was teasing, both wines were excellent.
An interesting by-product of wine making is cha cha, a spirit distilled from the mash remaining after the grapes are pressed—and tasting like Italian grappa. Home distillation is legal but, in my mind quite dangerous as the temperature has to be controlled to prevent poisonous methanol spirit being produced alongside the blessed ethanol. I had that conversation with a Georgian friend, telling him that at least some people must have died or been blinded by drinking home made cha cha. Eventually he conceded, ‘Yes, sometimes it happens,’ he said.
I hope you found this post interesting and that it gives you an appetite (excuse the pun!) to visit Georgia and try out the food and wine and unrivalled hospitality first-hand. You won’t regret it.