While teaching in Georgia, you will probably hear “tchame” as much as the traditional Georgian greetings. These people love to make you eat almost as much as they want to hear your horribly broken Georgian. After two and a half months, it’s starting to get a little wearing, I admit, but at least I never go hungry.
There’s basically two kinds of Georgian food. There’s the authentic cuisine that they’ve been making for hundreds of years, like khatchapuri and kebabi. Then there’s what I like to call “Failed Georgian Interpretation.” It must be the Russian influence or a complete lack of Georgian communication with other countries, but any time a Georgian restaurant tries to do European or North American cuisine, it winds up being just a little…off. For example, I had a “burrito” in Tbilisi that came out as a deconstructed platter, with beans, rice, and chicken separated on a skillet and tortillas folded next to them (the salsa was pretty good though).
Something as easy as pizza, once put through the Georgian Interpretation Filter, winds up with loads of mayonnaise and a distinct lack of sufficient cheese or sauce. Maybe that’s how they do it in Italy, and if so, I like what we get in the States a lot better.
In fact, the only thing that feels like home in terms of cuisine is McDonald’s. I know that’s practically a sin to say at this point, but McDonald’s is the only real mark of globalization that seems to have hit Georgia (aside from some internet cafes and an overabundance of cellphones). Ah well, I guess when you commit to teaching abroad in a foreign country, you can’t expect to get the food you’re used to at home. But how I miss Slurpees, California Tortilla, and good Chinese food.
Georgian food is pretty fantastic though. The staple, khatchapuri, comes in several forms. Imerelian khatchapuri is sort of like a pizza: eggs and cheese are folded into dough which is flattened out a bit and baked for a while and then slathered with butter. This is the traditional way to do the dish since it’s easy to serve up to many people (just cut it into slices). Mingrelian khatchapuri, however, is my favorite. It’s sort of like a bread bowl that you get at Panera, but a little shallower and stretched out to look kind of like a boat. In the hollowed-out center, the cook dumps cheese and about half a stick of butter. The whole concoction is baked enough to cook the bread on the outside but leave it gooey toward the center. As soon as they pull it out of the oven, they crack an egg right on top which cooks on the molten cheese. It’s like a heart attack in bread boat form.
Khinkali is essentially dumplings with minced meat in the middle (other less common varieties include cheese and potato). Usually you want to eat these by biting a hole in the middle and sucking out the juice. Then, you eat your way around the little tie at the top, which you leave on your plate at the end. Not everyone does it this way, but it’s a safe bet that you should try to eat khinkali with your hands. And vodka. Lots and lots of vodka. Read more about Adam’s experience with Georgian cuisine and their excessive use of mayonnaise here…