Georgian cuisine has not really received its international due, and this is a shame. It is an exciting cuisine that takes its cues from points east and west, relying on an extraordinarily fresh local bounty.
Part of what renders Georgian food so insanely good is this very freshness. Shops and stalls in Tbilisi groan with local fruit and vegetables in mesmerizing variety. One example was the finger grape, a variety more elongated than any grape I’d ever seen before. While the meats are seasoned wonderfully in Georgian cuisine, it is the local vegetables, fruit, and cheese that really stand out. A happy byproduct of this focus on vegetables and fruit: Georgian cuisine is strikingly vegetarian-friendly.
One of my Tbilisi restaurant discoveries was Shavi Lomi, at Amalglebis 23 in Sololaki. Everything I samples at Shavi Lomi was delicious, but what brought me back three times, frankly, was the sunflower oil on their tomato and cucumber salads, which were tossed with herbs and tiny rings of very hot pepper. Never had I tasted such fresh and delicate sunflower oil; for that matter, every last thing in the salad tasted as if it had just been picked or rescued from the soil.
But for all of its healthy hallmarks, some of the most exciting culinary things on offer in Georgia aren’t exactly heart-smart. One of the star local dishes, a juicy dumpling called khinkali that requires a quick tutorial before being devoured, is typically stuffed with meat. Cheese- and mushroom-filled khinkali are also available, but the meat-stuffed variety predominates.
And then there’s khachapuri, specifically the Adjarian khachapuri, pictured above.
Shavi Lomi’s astonishingly good salad.
Khachapuri is one of Georgian cuisine’s most dependable mainstays, a delicious savory cheese bread that comes in a range of forms. The Adjarian khachapuri, shaped a bit like an illustration of an eye, is a particularly delicious variety. The center of the Adjarian khachapuri is filled with butter and a raw egg; the egg cooks in the hot cheese and butter of the savory pastry as it is being served. It is filling and very good, the sort of thing that the diet-conscious will necessarily experience as a guilty pleasure.
There are plenty of places to sample Adjarian khachapuri in Tbilisi. My first morning in Tbilisi I was taken to Mitrofane Lagidze at Kostava 19 to sample one of the most beloved specimens. Named after a soft drink inventor of the late 19th Century, this cafe also serves a range of quite sweet Georgian soft drinks, including a distinctive bright green tarragon soda. The cafe may blast dance music at midday under unflattering lights but it is a fantastic place to sample khachapuri. A very filling large Adjarian khachapuri here costs 8 lari (about $4.75).
Visitors should by all means strike out beyond Mitrofane Lagidze’s fluorescent khachapuri palace to try local food. Two choices popular among locals in celebratory mode are Shemoikhede Genatsvale (more than one location; I sampled the branch at Marjanishvili 5) and Restaurant Begheli (Tamarashvili Street). Begheli is a particularly grand place for a fancy dinner. I joined a feast there where I was introduced me to the deeply Georgian tradition of toasting. Kebabi in flat bread, two porridges, lobio, kinkhali, fish, cheese, soft drinks, two bottles of vodka, coffees, and some nondescript desserts worked out to around 17 lari ($10.25) per person.
Check out previous installments of Far Europe and Beyond.