Saturday, May 30, 2015

Georgia (the country): Eating in and around Tbilisi

I could give you a detailed description of every aspect of our Tbilisi experience, but in the interest of time and attention-span, I have decided to abbreviate the site-seeing and instead focus on the food. 

Because Georgian food [swoon], Georgian food! It's your new favorite cuisine that you've never heard of. The best dumplings (khinkhali) and kebabs (shashlik) and tomatoes and eggplant and bread and cheese! So so so sooo much cheese! 

Where do I even start? Each meal was a tour de force, with our trusty Kyle leading us across the region's cuisine, our six hungry bellies ready for whatever he deemed desirable.

The first night we walked to a basement hole-in-the wall in Tbilisi, which ended up being one of my favorite meals of the trip. We had a spinach and walnut and herb pesto-type of "salad," roasted eggplant with walnut paste, the best tomato and cucumber and parsley salad (there is nothing better than a perfectly fresh tomato with a sprinkling of salt), and the piece de resistance: a plate of warm melty cheese that tasted like a combination of mozzarella and super-mild cream cheese and pulled up in long luscious strings from the plate (not pictured in its full glory because we were distracted by eating...sorry but not sorry).

And the best part is that even when cold this cheese maintains its creamy texture (unlike moz, which when cooked turns into an unappetizing rubbery chewy ball in my opinion). The waitress scolded us for putting the cheese on the bread. Apparently it is to be eaten plain, and the same goes for all Georgian food. They're really opposed to mixing, so I snuck my mixing while her back was turned.

On the way to see churches outside of Tbilisi (we saw Georgia's ancient capital including its 5th century church, the tombs of the first Christian king and queen of Georgia, and a church high atop a hill overlooking the river), we stopped for lunch at a well-known roadside restaurant. There the specialty was pots of Georgian beans and dense fried cornbread. Plus savory kebabs of ground beef wrapped in lavash-like bread, and another peasant's salad, this time with a ground walnut dressing. 

And now that brings me to the bread! After an evening of bathing in Tiblisi (literally, we went to a natural sulfur spring bath house and rented a room to steam and soak and scrub for an hour and a half), we finally tasted Georgia's most famous food: kachapuri. There are two kinds of this magical dish. One is a flat pizza-like pastry filled with chunky white cheese. 

The other comes like a bread boat -- the bread is like pizza dough and completely full of melty cheese, with an egg yolk and pat of butter on top to be stirred in before eating. We destroyed a flotilla of kachapuri boats that night, plus a few more the next day. Healthy they are not, but 100% worth it. 

Not pictured in this post are the dumplings, which are round pockets of juicy broth and meat. You bite into them then suck the juice out before it spills, then proceed to enjoy the dumpling. Soooo good! 

On our second full day we drove a couple hours out of the city the wine region of the country. This so-called City of Love, high up looking out at the countryside was absolutely beautiful. We sat down to a luxurious lunch and wine tasting at Pheasant's Tears Winery. Georgian wine is delicious! Really dark dry reds, and surprisingly good whites. If you're in the DC area apparently this winery export to you, so pick up a bottle if you can!

Apparently there are no Georgian restaurants in the US. None. This is a travesty and any entrepreneur reading this should seriously consider starting one. Preferably somewhere I live.