Apart from its incredible natural scenery, mountaintop monasteries and vibrant capital Tbilisi, Georgia is also known for its finger licking good food. Its cuisine is characterised by honest, homemade cooking using lots of wheat, dairy and fresh produce. If you’re a lover of bread, cheese and local wine, then Georgia is right up your street. Here are 15 Georgian dishes and drinks you have to try when visiting this marvellous country in the Caucasus.
If there’s one type of food that’s quintessentially Georgian, it’s khachapuri. In fact, it’s so popular it’s been declared the country’s national dish. It comes in various shapes and forms but it’s essentially a focaccia-like bread mixed with cheese. I mean, what’s not to like about that?! The most common type is Imeretian khachapuri, which is a round, flat bread infused and topped with Georgian cheese. Megrelian khachapuri is similar but is thicker and cheesier (yasss). However, my all-time favourite version is Acharuli khachapuri. It’s a boat-shaped khachapuri filled with loads of cheese, butter and egg in the middle. So heavy, but so good. I had the ultimate Acharuli khachapuri at Café Stamba in Tbilisi. Divine!
These Georgian dumplings originate from the regions north of Tbilisi, towards the Caucasus Mountains. Places such as Mtskheta and Pasanauri (on the way to Kazbegi) are famous for their khinkali. Their shape differs per area, but they usually contain a filling of either minced meat or mushrooms. After sealing the dumplings, they are cooked in water. In order to enjoy khinkali to their fullest, you’re supposed to eat them by hand and suck out the juices with the first bite – something I only found out when writing this piece. Turns out I’ve been eating khinkali in the wrong way all along – sorry Georgians…!
Lobio means ‘bean’ in Georgian. While there are many variations of lobio, in essence it’s a thick bean sauce in a clay pot. Often, these are white beans or kidney beans that are mixed with herbs and spices before being cooked. Lobio can be served hot or cold. When cold, lobio usually takes the form of a paste. Hot lobio is particularly common in and around Mtskheta, so make sure you give it a try when you’re in the area.
Georgians love their bread. Whether it’s morning, afternoon or evening, the streets of Georgian towns and cities are infused with the smell of freshly baked bread almost any time of the day. The principal type of bread is deda-puri, mothers’ bread. It’s a kind of flat bread that’s usually baked in a traditional circular stone oven in the ground. In places such as Kakheti, Georgia’s main wine producing region, it’s long and stretched. Elsewhere it has a rounder shape. And yes, it tastes as good as it smells.
This is my favourite Georgian dish of all. OK, after Acharuli khachapuri maybe. Nigvziani badrijani – badrijani in short – are baked slices of aubergine that are folded and stuffed with a walnut and garlic paste. Topped with pomegranate seeds, badrijani not only tastes delicious but also look incredibly appealing. Mouth-wateringly good!
Not to be confused with lobio, although it shares the same key ingredient: kidney beans. Lobiani is a type of Georgian bread (yes, more bread). It’s filled with a sauce of kidney beans. Sometimes bacon is added. Some versions of lobiani are round, others rectangular. Best eaten when fresh (which is not difficult to find in Georgia)!
Gluten-intolerant and planning to go to Georgia? Don’t despair! There’s an alternative to wheat bread and it’s called mchadi. Mchadi is Georgian corn bread. It’s golden and crunchy and often eaten with lobio or cheese. Personally, I found it a tad dense and dry, but it’s quite nice when you want to take a break from all the regular bread eating.
Shkmeruli is a chicken dish from the village of Shkmeri, in northern Georgia. Nowadays, it can be found in many restaurants across Georgia. Be warned, though: shkmeruli is not a light dish. The chicken is cooked in a clay pan, in a creamy sauce of milk and garlic. Given the limited number of ingredients, shkmeruli is surprisingly tasty!
Did you know that Georgia is the oldest wine producing region in the world? People here have been making wine for more than 8,000 years. That’s quite some time indeed! Traditionally, Georgian wine ferments in clay barrels that are buried beneath the ground. Nowadays, though, many commercial producers rely on the ‘European’ fermentation method, using oak or metal barrels. The south-eastern region of Kakheti is the epicentre of Georgian winemaking. The most famous variety in this area is Saperavi, which makes for a very full-bodied red wine. For a truly immersive Georgian wine experience, attend a tasting at one of the many wine houses in Kakheti.
Wine ice cream
Love wine? Love ice cream? What about wine ice cream?! Wait, what…? Yes, in Georgia red wine ice cream is a thing. I kept on seeing it everywhere when I visited the country in early autumn. Although it’s marketed as wine ice cream, it’s basically sweet soft serve with a red grape flavour. Really good, though. Especially after hours of sightseeing on a warm sunny day!
Ketsi is actually the name of the clay and stone pan that is traditionally used to prepare a range of Georgian dishes. A well-known ketsi dish is baked mushrooms filled with sulguni cheese. A superb starter if you’d ask me!
Because of Georgia’s moderate climate, you’ll find the most delicious local veggies here. Expect deep red tomatoes, juicy cucumbers, large red onions and much more. The perfect ingredients for a lovely, flavourful salad, for instance. And trust me, after days on end eating khachapuri there’s not much better than a refreshing Georgian salad!
Who doesn’t love croquettes?! To be honest, I didn’t see them on that many Georgian restaurant menus, but the one time I did I was so glad I ordered them. Served with bazhe, a walnut sauce, the Georgian croquettes I had at restaurant Chveni in Tbilisi were delish.
Locals cleverly sell these as a ‘Georgian Snickers’. But the nuts in a churchkhela bar are not covered in chocolate but in solidified grape juice. Probably way more organic and healthier, but not really to my taste… They’re full of energy though and can be found in almost any small shop in Georgia.
Chacha is Georgia’s answer to grappa. It’s a type of brandy that’s made of the grape residue that’s left after making wine. As with Georgian wine, chacha is still made at home by many families. But it’s now also produced on a commercial scale. Often aged in oak barrels for various periods of time, commercial chacha is aromatic and rather tasty. Here’s to Georgia!