Legend has it that wine was invented 8,000 years ago in Georgia, a small country which still produces over 100 million bottles of beautiful wine varieties every year. Whilst immersing ourselves in this important part of the country’s heritage, we felt it necessary to soak up the potent grape juice with some of Georgia’s delicious array of culinary specialities and these are some of our favourites.
We lost count of the Khachapuri we consumed throughout the country owing to their availability everywhere, low cost and variety. Predominantly pastry based, these hefty parcels were sufficient for a lunch or dinner snack and sold on every street in many small bakeries producing them fresh from the oven. Triangles, squares, slices, circles stuffed with melted cheese, ham, garlic mushrooms, potato, salty panir, onion… whichever you point to and pick it’s a snack lottery with a win every time. Adjaruli Khachapuri from Adjara region is a particular speciality, the pie is shaped like a boat and brimming with hot melted cheese and butter swimming round a warm, runny egg.
Khinkali are the ubiquitous Georgian dumplings, the filling stuffed raw and cooked so all the piping hot juices stay inside, to be politely sucked out on the first bite. The tough, twisted top is purely for practical reasons and traditionally discarded on the plate (although then you can’t ignore how many you’ve devoured in one sitting). Filled with mixed beef and pork mince with onions and garlic, but also sometimes stuffed with herby mushrooms, cheese or potato, these delicious dough finger-foods are cheap and cheerful eats sold everywhere.
For a slightly more refined appetizer, my favourite was Badridzhani Nigvsit, delicious slices of lightly fried aubergine topped with a rough, garlicky walnut sauce and decorated with pomegranate seeds.
And for something sweet? Churchkhela is definitely unique to this region and looks more like a slightly mouldy, lumpy sausage than a syrupy delicacy. These odd-looking sweet snacks are a string of softened walnuts dipped in a thick, fragrant red or white grape juice and flour mixture, sometimes with honey. After the initial acceptance of such a novel taste and texture combination, chewing a Churchkela is actually very pleasurable and weirdly addictive.