National Cuisine of Georgia
Georgian cuisine has absorbed culinary traditions of Transcaucasia, Asia and the Black Sea coast. The western part of Georgia was particularly influenced by Turkish cuisine. Iranian influence is prevalent in the west.
In western Georgia, corn flour flat cakes similar to cornbread called mchadi are common. In contrast, the eastern Georgian people prefer white bread baked in huge clay furnaces called tone. The oblong uncut loaf is called tonis puri.
Easterners use corn flour to cook thick mash called gomi – which is eaten, instead of bread, with meat and vegetable dishes. Eastern Georgians cook mutton and use many animal fats along with beef. In Western Georgia they favor poultry – chicken, turkey and other fowl.
Rennet cheeses such as sulguni and imeruli are popular in Western Georgia. Eastern Georgia features spicy and salty cheeses such askobian and tushin.
Both western and eastern Georgia are famous for their special bazhe and satsivi sauces made from walnuts and spices and used with meats.
These distinctions between east and west are not finite and each individual region has its own unique culinary traditions. Almost any Georgian dish can be enjoyed throughout Georgia. The mainstay of Georgian cuisine is the quality of ingredients, seasonings and produce used for cooking.
Georgian Meat Dishes
A primary feature of Georgian cuisine is the presence of all types of meats – poultry, beef, mutton, and pork. Caucasian people have strong culinary ties to recipes for meat. Such dishes as shish kebab, satsivi, chickens tabaka, chikhirtma and chakhokhbili are found throughout the Caucasus and Western Asia. Georgians have developed their own versions of these meat dishes.
Satsivi is a cold dish from chicken or turkey. The name of the dish comes from the original satsivi sauce served with fried chicken. The sauce has more than one and a half dozen varieties. It is prepared from the poultry broth with addition of various spices, seasonings and walnuts.
Chakhokhbili are pieces of chicken or other poultry stewed in tomato sauce. Prior to this they are fried in a pan without fat. Then tomatoes are added and the dish is stewed in vegetable juice.
The spices used for chakhokhbili are as follows: parsley, savory, coriander, basil, red pepper, and garlic.
Borani is a main course dish combining separately prepared chickens tapaka and a considerable quantity of vegetables stewed separately in matsoni (Georgian dairy product similar to yogurt). The set of vegetables is spinach, string beans and eggplant with many spices. Traditionally, the ready vegetables are divided in two halves; one is to put a piece of chicken on, the other to cover the chicken. The dish is then seasoned with matsoni with saffron infusion and cinnamon.
Tolma – Georgian stuffed vegetables. Fragrant forcemeat is put inside eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, cabbage, grape leaves and apples to be stewed in broth with spices and basil, parsley, coriander.
Kuchmachi is a hot dish from liver, heart, lung, and tongue served in butter with spices.
Muzhuzhi is a dish from boiled semi-marinated pork. It is cooked from meat a well as legs and tails. Each part 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.
Guruli is chicken fried in oil and stewed with onions, nut sauce and spices – ginger, red pepper, parsley, coriander, cinnamon and cloves.
Mtsvadi is a Georgian shish kebab. It is distinguished by special aroma and juiciness. It is cooked mainly from beef. There are three kinds of mtsvadi. The first is a shish kebab from a big chunk of fillet, usually pork or veal, sometimes doused with diluted rose wine. Then there is a shish kebab from basturma - marinated meat. The third is a shish kebab from mutton with eggplants. In latter variety, meat is placed into eggplants and then put onto skewer fried on a barbeque.
Chicken Tapaka is chicken fried on a wide “tapa” pan (hence the name) which is covered. Tapaka more often serves as a half finished product for other dishes of Georgian cuisine such as borani. Therefore, as a rule, tapaka is fried without seasonings, except for salt and red pepper. If chicken tapaka is used as an independent dish, it is normally accompanied by crushed garlic and spicy greens (coriander, basil, tarragon, green onions or leek).
Kebab is a dish made from ground meat. Balls made from fragrant mincemeat are coated with breadcrumbs and stewed in broth with spices. Ground sumac is added as a garnish.
Basturma is jerked mutton or beef. The meat is richly rubbed with salt and stacked in salted layers within a pan. Then it is left for 21 days. Then the meat is soaked and dried for two to three weeks.
Buglama is mutton stewed with spices. Juicy pieces of mutton are stewed in fat then chopped onion and broth are added. It is then seasoned with ginger or saffron infusion, garlic, tarragon, coriander, fennel, mint, green cherry plums, salt and pepper.
Chanakhi is meat with vegetables stewed in clay pots in an oven. For chanakhi, only fat mutton is used along with eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, and onions. Sometimes rice is added. Parsley, coriander, basil, and black and red pepper are used.
Khinkali are famous Georgian dumplings reminiscent of cuisine from the far east. Forcemeat for khinkali is made from mutton or veal. Dumplings are shaped in a special way: pastry rounds (the thinnest possible) are filled with forcemeat and sealed on top with a thick bunch. They are eaten with hands holding the dumpling by its top "tail" which is normally not eaten. The juice from the meat is to be sucked out before biting.
A distinctive feature of Georgian national cuisine is various sauces used to serve with first and second courses. All Georgian sauces are cooked from natural components: vegetables and spices as well as berry and fruit juices. Tomatoes, pomegranate, sloe berry, and tkemali are also often used. The sauces are enriched with garlic, nuts and grape vinegar to enhance flavor and zest. It is impossible to imagine a Georgian dish without greens. They are enhanced by cilantro, sweet basil, tarragon, parsley, mother-of-thyme, dill and peppermint, cinnamon, coriander, cloves and all kinds of mild peppers loved by all Georgians.
Many recipes for sauces were passed on from generation to generation, and nowadays cooking of sauces is something of a ritual – a tribute to the traditions. Every sauce is inimitable in its own way, but a unique feature of Georgian cuisine is that every sauce may be used for cooking of several various dishes.
The majority of Georgian sauces are divided into berry-vegetable sauces and satay sauces. The berry-vegetable sauces are based on juices of various fruits and berries. Among them is a prune sauce called tkemali, which contains pectin, tannins, and vitamins improving digestion and metabolism. The berry-vegetable sauces also include sloe, cornel, and tomato as well as tklapi sauce and, of course, satsebeli, the primary Georgian sauce.
Satsebeli is translated from Georgian as “sauce”, so one can say that it is the base for almost all Georgian cuisine. Satsebeli is cooked from tomatoes, flavored with cilantro and dill. The resulting mix is flavored with coriander, menthe pulegium, fenugreek and blue melilot. Sweet basil, sweet marjoram, and Spanish paprika can also be added.
Another kind of traditional Georgian sauces is satay sauces. Nuts are one of the main ingredients for cooking various dishes. The satay sauces include garo and satsivi (walnut sauce).
Garo sauce is prepared on the basis of nuts and chicken broth, enhanced with cilantro, garlic and wine vinegar or grenadine juice. This sauce is usually served with roasted turkey or chicken.
Satsivi sauce is specially cooked for the dish of the same name – satsivi chicken. Satsivi is translated from Georgian as “chilled”, that is why the chicken is chilled after being cooked and the sauce itself is served chilled as well. The sauce is cooked from chicken broth and walnuts, and flavored with corn meal or wheat flour, garlic, onion and seasoning.
A delicacy served with poultry or singularly, bazhe is a walnut based sauce made with garlic and red wine vinegar. Its consistency is similar some Levantine sauces such as hummus. A sister sauce of satsivi, bazhe contains no animal broth.
Georgian sauces add special taste specific only to Georgian national cuisine. The Georgians pay much attention to preparation of sauces and most Georgian dishes will be served with suitable sauce.
Another distinctive feature of Georgian cuisine is the plentiful use of cheeses. The structure of cheeses is very specific yet varied. Georgian cheese is boiled in milk, fried on a spit, in a frying pan, soaked, crushed, flavored with oil and spices.
Each region of Georgia brags about having the best type of cheese. There are hundreds of Georgian cheese courses but the most favorite of all is khachapuri.
Especially well known is Adjaran khachapuri. They are made as little boats with an egg poured inside.. Khevsuruli khachapuri are stuffed with greens, and Rachan with string beans.
Khachapuri is a farinaceous meal with a large amount of cheese. This national food is found everywhere in Georgia and is cooked differently in each region.
Kachapuri is a cheese pastry similar to a large curd tart (closed and open) filled with cheeses and baked on cast-iron frying pans.
The dough for khachapuri is made with matsoni (Georgian sour milk). This results in especially tender dough.
The cheese for stuffing is soaked, slightly wrung out, and crushed with whipped eggs and creamed or drawn butter.
A pastry layer is heavily greased with drawn butter then rolled in and out several times to make it rise. The cheese filling is then inserted and the pastry is baked.. Once ready, khachapuri are buttered and served hot.
For Adjaran kachapuri, the pastry is removed from the oven and the inner circumference is scooped out to make room for a raw egg which is placed inside.
Georgia has been making cheese for thousands of years, with Guda, Sulguni and Imeruli cheeses among the most popular varieties. The question is, can you correctly identify major Georgian cheeses? Find out more in our info guide to Georgian cheese.
Nuts are a signature ingredient of Georgian cuisine. Sauces, pâtés, desserts, meat and poultry dishes, fish and vegetable delicacies using nuts are a staple of the traditional Georgian menu. Walnuts and hazelnuts are especially common in recipes.
A favorite Georgian dish with nuts as the main ingredient is pkhali. This is one of the traditional Georgian cold foods. Also cooked from walnuts are flat candies in honey. Georgians prepare these sweets on the first day of the new year. It is called kozinaki. The nuts are pan fried until brown. Honey and sugar, warmed in a saucepan, are added to the nuts. All this is mixed then put on a panel and cut into thin squares.
Another traditional Georgian dish is eggplant with walnut pate. Badrejani is served with traditional Georgian sauces and seasonings, also enhanced with nuts.
Georgian cuisine employs the use of spices in almost every dish. Particularly specific to Georgian cuisine is the use of kenzi, dzeera and tarragon. Depending on the season, parsley, fennel, ramson, mint, basil, savory, tarragon, fennel, parsley, coriander, basil, mint, khmeli-suneli, cinnamon, cloves, saffron, red pepper and coriander are used in Georgian recipes.
Georgian Vegetables and Greens
Georgia is a fertile country in which vegetables are widely used as food. The abundance of meats on a Georgian table is always accompanied by a considerable quantity of vegetables and greens. The majority of vegetable dishes are cooked with string beans, eggplants, cabbage, beets, and tomatoes. They can be raw, boiled, baked, fried, stewed, salted or marinated.
Georgian cuisine lists dozens dishes from eggplants which are boiled, baked, stewed and fried and then mixed with various spices and seasonings. An iconic dish in any Georgian feast is lobio (string beans) which is cooked differently in various parts of Georgia. Various pickles and marinades are famous too: marinated pepper, tomatoes, cabbage (tsnili).
Mkhali is an original vegetable salad. Cabbage, beet, spinach, sweet pepper and onions can be used as basic vegetables for mkhali. The seasoning calls for walnuts, wine vinegar, garlic, coriander, red pepper, parsley greens, and salt. All vegetables are thermally processed. They are boiled or baked then crushed and mixed with the seasoning. The combination of boiled or baked vegetables with fresh spicy greens and nuts creates a unique taste distinguishing mkhali from other vegetable dishes.
Lobio is made from boiled string beans with seasonings. The most widespread and invariable components for seasoning are onions, vegetable oil and wine vinegar. Additionally, they can add tomatoes, walnuts, hard boiled eggs, and cheese. They also use coriander, parsley, celery, leek, mint, savory, basil, and fennel. Dry spices such as black or red pepper, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, suneli and saffron are also used.
Soups are very popular in Georgia too. They are categorized as meat, vegetarian and dairy. The use of sour 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 tripe, 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 popular among Georgians after an all night supra.
Kharcho is a beef soup with rice and walnuts on the basis of tklapi (thick puree of cherry plums) The 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. kharcho is sprinkled with garlic, coriander and basil when served.
Chikhirtma is a thick soup from mutton or, more often, poultry with whipped eggs and flour. Chikhirtma is usually spiced with mint and saffron as well as coriander, parsley and basil.
Bozortma is a sour soup from fatty mutton or poultry. The meat is stewed with onions, tomatoes and spices (sometimes with pomegranate juice). The resulting broth is rather thick (more like sauce) due to the considerable quantity of onions and little water. The soup is served with sprinkles of garlic, fennel, mint, and coriander.
Khashlama is a soup made from tender veal with parsley and celery roots, spiced with garlic and parsley.
Shetchmandy - is a vegetarian flour soup without vegetables and grains with matsoni, nuts, sour fruits and greens.
Georgian Dough Products
Georgian cuisine features a variety of dough-based dishes. Georgian cooks have special affection for corn meal and corn oil, which is why many Georgian dishes are cooked based on these ingredients.
One of the main national dishes of Georgian cuisine is mchadi, aromatic corn fritters which, according to Georgian culinary traditions, should be served with imeretian cheese or sulguni cheese. The secret of good mchadi is corn meal. The best corn in Georgia is thought to grow in the township of Abashi in the west of the country. There is a popular belief among the Georgians that the mchadi will be more delicious if made from flour ground in a water-driven mill. Georgia has many recipes to prepare mchadi. Every housewife adds something of her own, but the main ingredients of this remarkable Georgian bread remain unchanged: fine corn flour, salt, vegetable oil and Imeretian cheese or Suluguni.
Perhaps the best-known Georgian national dish is khachapuri, a flat round bread pastry (pie) with cheese, meat or steamed fish. Sometimes khachapuri is baked using yeast-containing dough, but traditionally khachapuri is baked using matsoni (sour milk). Traditional pie filler for khachapuri is Imeretian cheese (or Suluguni). Every region in Georgia has its own particular version.
Of special note is Georgian pie with cheese – achma, cooked from an ample quantity of laminated dough which is slightly cooked. Sulguni and Ossetian cheese are used as filler. The peculiarity of this national dish is that the dough is not sweet while the cheese should be salted. Following the Georgian tradition, achma is served hot.
Georgian cuisine is famous not only for its pies with meat and cheese, but also for various sweet pastries. A very delicious laminated dough-based biscuit – kada, is baked from several layers of sweet dough, soaked with nut filling.
Traditionally, Georgians prefer fruits berries, nuts, wine or honey for dessert. In autumn and winter, comfits and sun-dried fruits serve as dessert.
The major part of Georgian sweets is nut-based. Other confectioneries are borrowed from other national cuisines.. For instance, sweet pies are borrowed from Russian cuisine. They are baked from sandy paste and butter-based dough, and stuffed with jam with nuts.
Churchkhela is the best-known sweet among of traditional Georgian cuisine. These Georgian national sweetmeats are made of nuts beaded on a thread and cooked in flour-thickened grape juice. The best-known recipes of Churchkhela in Georgia are Kakhetian and Imeretian.
Kakhetian churchkhela is made from white grapes. The juice is boiled for 30 minutes, and then left for 10-12 hours to settle. Then it is thickened with flour and after that threaded filler is submersed into it. Walnut, almond, hazel-nut, raisins, peach or apricot stones may be used as the filler. The churchkhela should be dried within 17 days, then hung and aged for several months.
One of the few traditional Georgian sweets is pelamushi. It is thick jelly made of grape juice and corn meal. The pelamushi are usually served with nuts. Among the floury sweets – are kada, a stuffed bun, and bati-buti which consists of cornflakes in syrup.
Ponchiki is a rare crème filled dough pastry. It is boiled then deep fried in oil. It is served with a glaze of powdered sugar.
Georgian Wine and Winemaking
Georgia produces a great number of red, white, amber and sparkling wines. Wine production in Kakheti has a long history. Among Kakhetian red wines, the best-known are those made from Saperavi and Cabernet varieties. Popular white wines are Rkatsiteli and Khikhvi.
Georgian sparkling wine Atenuri is made of Chinuri and Gorouli Mivane grape varieties. It has been harvested since ancient times in the Aten Gorge in Kartli. The Georgian regions of Imereti, Samegrelo, Guria, Adjara and Racha-Lechkhumi are famous for wine from grape varieties such as alexandruli, tsolikuri, tsulukidzis tetra, usakheluri, odjaleshi, mudjuretuli, and orbeluri.
Racha-Lechkhumi produces a top-quality semi-sweet wine called Saterne, as well as table and sparkling wines. The small village of Khvanchkara is known for its eponymous wine which is one of the most revered in Georgia.. Another world famous Georgian wine is Odjaleshi, native to Samegrelo.