Traditional Georgian Dishes
Georgia is a country worth visiting for its food alone, for each Georgian dish is an edible journey into the culture and history of an ancient people. The rich diversity of Georgian national cuisine can be attributed to centuries of isolation of its mountain peoples, who over time developed wholly unique culinary traditions. By appreciating each nuanced flavor or participating in a boisterous Georgian feast, visitors can experience the essence of Georgian culture and hospitality.
Georgian food and wine will surprise and delight with its blend of tastes, smells, shapes and consistencies both new and unfamiliar. Foods such as khinkali, khachapuri and churchkhela are so delicious that they are known among foodies the world over, yet a culinary tour of Georgia is not limited to tasting these most famous foods alone: regional and seasonal favorites are also counted among the best of Georgian dishes, for they reflect the nation’s rich (and tasty) heritage. Another plus of Georgian cuisine is that everyone, from vegans to vegetarians to avid meat lovers, is sure to find something suited to their preferences.
To whet your appetite, we present to you the top 10 Georgian dishes that you must try while in country!
Khinkali is quintessential Georgian cuisine, and for good reason, for few can resist these plump dumplings made from thinly rolled dough and stuffed with tender minced meat cooked in its own juice. A variation of this dish called "kalakuri" was created when khinkali - originally a mountain village dish - arrived to the lowland cities ("kalakuri" means "city" in Georgian). It was in the cities that chopped greens began to be added to the minced meat of traditional Georgian khinkali. These greens are now the main feature of kalakuri khinkali which, thanks to this seemingly insignificant addition, acquired a spicy aroma that complements the flavor of meat with notes of light summer freshness.
Chakapuli is a Georgian spring dish made from veal or lamb and many fresh herbs, onions, hot peppers and garlic. It is particularly noted for its soft, delicate texture and its bright notes of tarragon, which is added to the dish in small quantities. To make chakapuli, the ingredients are laid out in a heated pot in layers of meat, chopped greens and chopped onions which are alternated several times. During the stewing process, wine and tkemali, a green sauce made from a local plum variety, are added to the pot. When the dish is almost ready, finely chopped garlic is added to the mix. Chakapuli is served with homemade Georgian wine and freshly baked bread.
The best Georgian foods are made with unique blends of fresh ingredients, and pkhali, a simple yet incredibly satisfying dish, is no exception. These colorful appetizers are made from boiled and chopped spinach, beets, beans or other seasonal produce, with walnuts and spices added to the main ingredient before all is ground into a blended mass. Before serving, pkhali is typically rolled into large balls which are sometimes decorated with a pomegranate seed. Pkhali is considered an appetizer and so is often served as one of the first courses, but do not underestimate its importance in Georgian cuisine! In Georgia, every housewife knows how to cook pkhali; you will find this dish on the menu of any restaurant; and not a single Georgian supra (feast) is complete without pkhali. Be sure to try this light yet filling nut-and-vegetable delight while in country.
Eggplant Rolls with Nuts
These juicy, thinly sliced eggplant strips fried in oil and flavored with a delicate sauce of grated nuts and garlic are the crowning decoration of many a Georgian table. Its preparation is quite straightforward, yet the result exceeds the expectations of even experienced gourmets. Fresh eggplant is cut longitudinally into thin slices, immersed in heated vegetable oil and fried until golden brown. The pieces are cooled before a soft nut-garlic paste is spread on top. Each slice is then rolled up and topped with another layer of hearty spread and a few decorative pomegranate seeds. Eggplant rolls are popular as a Georgian side dish or appetizer.
Red Bean Lobio
Lobio, a slightly spicy stew made from savory red beans, is a hearty dish sure to satisfy even diehard meat eaters. This rich mass of boiled red beans, fried onions, bell peppers and aromatic spices is usually served in a thermal clay pot and is suitable for a hearty lunch or dinner at any time of year. For additional satiety, grated walnuts are added to the beans, while spicy wine vinegar can be used to accentuate its irresistible aroma. Although lobio is a vegetarian dish which is also suitable for vegans, in Georgia it is easy to find variations of lobio made with bacon. The dish is traditionally served with cornmeal cakes called mchadi.
Ostri is a dish of ultra-tender beef stewed in its own juice along with vegetables and spices. This dish is a popular food in Tbilisi and throughout all regions of Georgia, so expect to find it on the menu of almost any restaurant. Preparations begin by slicing the beef into medium-size portions and then stewing it with onions, tomatoes, garlic, tomato paste, hot red pepper, coriander and butter. The finished dish is served in a clay bowl with finely diced fresh cilantro and basil. Ostri is best when eaten with fresh Georgian bread, called shoti.
A dish called shkmeruli first appeared in the village of Shkmeri in western Georgia’s Racha Region. According to legend, a local ruler ordered the court chef to quickly concoct a new dish, so he assembled a meal from the everyday products he had on hand: chicken, milk, garlic and spices. It turned out that these ingredients perfectly complemented each other, and shkmeruli has been a popular Georgian meat dishes ever since.
To make shkmeruli, the chicken is fried and cut into large pieces. A milk-garlic sauce is prepared separately and seasoned with aromatic coriander, a spice called utskho-suneli and Svan salt. The chicken is served in the milk sauce, with a little adjika dip and butter sometimes added for extra flavor. When serving shkmeruli, fresh vegetables, herbs and hot bread are also placed on the side.
As one of the country’s most recognizable dishes, Adjarian khachapuri takes a proud place on our list of top 10 Georgian dishes. Apart from its melt-in-your-mouth taste, one of the special qualities about this dish is that its form and ingredients reflect the unique peculiarities of life in Adjara Region, where it originated. The khachapuri’s boat shape reflects Adjara’s location along the Black Sea coast and the juicy yolk in the center symbolizes the sun, which shines upon subtropical Adjara year-round. The main ingredients of Adjarian khachapuri are yeast dough, Imeruli cheese, butter and an egg. It is customary to eat it with your hands, breaking off small pieces from the ruddy baked dough and dipping them into a juicy mass of hot cheese and liquid egg yolk. This dish is very filling, so one serving is often sufficient for two people.
Kharcho is a dish invented in Samegrelo, a region in northwestern Georgia. Like any Megrelian dish, kharcho is distinguished by its sharpness and abundance of spices. Megrelian kharcho is meat-based (usually beef is used, but lamb and poultry varieties can also be found). Walnuts are crushed and mixed with spices such as hops suneli, utskho suneli, kharchos suneli and ground coriander. The walnut mix, tomatoes, onions and garlic are added to the beef and all are stewed together along with small amounts of water and corn flour. The spicy Megrelian kharcho is often served with fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and, of course, hot shoti bread.
While technically a snack, this traditional Georgian street food belongs on a list of top 10 Georgian dishes. Popular not only in Georgia but far beyond its borders, you can find this delicacy in any Georgian village and in city supermarkets and bazaars. Despite the fact that churchkhela is now churned out industrially, many Georgians still prefer to cook their own homemade version based on beloved family recipes passed down for generations. Churchkhela is made from nuts (usually hazelnuts or walnuts) and felamushi, a thick mixture of grape juice and corn flour. One by one, the nuts are strung on a thread and are dipped into the felamushi. After a thick flour mass forms around the threaded nuts, the strings are left to dry for several days. Churchkhela is typically cut into slices and served with tea along with dried fruits, honey and other sweets.