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Twelve years ago in Moscow I sat inside a restaurant that resembled a small village. Slatted bridges curved up over a stream, and wooden awnings protected booths along the wall as if a rainstorm might break out at any moment. Dark-haired servers twirled in traditional costume. They brought food and dance, sometimes at the same time.

 

My surroundings were meant to resemble a Georgian village, a country to the south of Russia. The kitsch was captivating. Then I took a bite of the food.

 

Oh

 

My

 

God

 

Not quite like anything I had ever had before, I was instantly in love. Eggplant filled with a silky garlic walnut paste and pomegranate seeds gleamed in the light of the nearby indoor fireplace. Next to that was a bubbling crusty bread boat filled with golden-cooked farmer’s cheese.

 

The ingredients, both rich and tangy with the influence of Eastern Europe and the Middle East, blended in ways I’d never imagined. On that freezing winter’s day inside a wooden replica of a Georgian village on a street in Moscow, my love affair with Georgia began.

 

I wasn’t even entirely sure what this “Georgia” country was all about, but I wanted nothing else than to eat their food as often as possible. This was not easy to do if you lived in the United States with precious few Georgian restaurants ANYWHERE in the continental US.

 

So I went years without eating Georgian food, finding it mostly while living in St. Petersburg and the occasional restaurant in Europe. I dreamt of one day visiting the source of this culinary magic. It only took me over a decade to get there.

Georgian Food Juliana Dever guest table

 

Georgian Food Is A Vegetarian’s Dream

 

“The Russians think about Georgia how we think about Italy” my friend Sarah, who operates the wine and food tour company Taste Georgia, says. “They think of sun and wine and food.” I had made it to Tbilisi, and was finally eating my first meals in the country itself.

 

With its rich soil and favorable climates, Georgia designates over 40% of their total land to agriculture. Soaking up all of that sunshine, rain and dark earth, produce is king here. The tomatoes were intense, deeply red and juicy. Eggplants nutty and fleshy, their flavor a pure expression of what this vegetable (or is it a fruit?) was always meant to be.

 

Accented with aromatic herbs like licorice-y tarragon, leafy parsley and bittersweet fenugreek Georgian food to me is like the blending of Heaven and Earth.

 

Georgian lunch table in Kazbegi

 

In many ways, being in Georgia feels like the cradle of Mother Earth. Not only does the country grow an abundance of food, but there is a sense of connection to nature that you can feel everywhere, from the seas to the mountains. Even their wine, which has an 8,000 year history, ferments in clay pots buried in the ground.

 

There is a resilience and indomitable spirit that exudes from everything in this little country in the Caucasus. It’s energizing to be a part of. It’s in the air, the music, the wine, the food. When I ate there I felt like Popeye on a binge, every bite giving me life.

 

Georgians are also very religious, with an overwhelming majority of the country a part of the Georgian Orthodox church. What does this have to do with the food? On religious holidays they don’t eat meat. There are over 200 religious holidays a year, so you do the math. With that many vegetable dishes a vegetarian will never go hungry (or sad) here.

 

 

Georgian Food, an introduction

 

So what is this divinely delicious cuisine? At the trading crossroads of Europe and Asia, Georgian cuisine has been influenced by Western Asia, the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. The resulting fare is hearty, vibrant, fresh and unexpected.

 

Below is a list of some of the most popular vegetarian dishes you will come across at a Georgian restaurant. If you live near one, you are in the lucky minority. If you don’t, you need to book a ticket to Georgia because you need to try this cuisine.

 

 

Badrijani Nigvzit – Eggplant Rolls with Walnut-Garlic filling

The dish that started it all for me. Grilled or sautéed eggplant slices roll around a paste of ground walnuts and garlic. Often topped with pomegranate seeds or drizzled with a tart sauce, it’s a luscious combination of rich nuttiness, fragrant garlic and tangy sweet bursts of fruit. Don’t miss it.

Georgian food Badrijani Nigvzit

 

Dill new potatoes

Even though it’s a foundational dish found in many different cuisines, eating this IN Georgia is still a treat. Well, really, just being in Georgia is a treat, but still… this Russian-leaning staple has a freshness due to the sweet quality of the dill.  Small new potatoes are fried until the skins are dark gold and crunchy and then blanketed with chopped, just-picked dill. Yummmmm.

Georgian food dill potatoes

 

Khachapuri – Cheese bread on Steroids

Perhaps one of the biggest celebrities of Georgian food, khachapuri tends to have a following. Even if you don’t know any other dishes, this gondola of wood-fired bread filled with cheese might have made it onto your radar.

 

Served fresh from the oven, this dish is arguably best (and most fattening) when made in the Adjarian regional style: with a chunk of fresh butter and a raw egg yolk. Once the cauldron of dairy is placed in front of you, you vigorously swirl the orange yolk and butter inside the crunchy/steamy bread bowl until you’ve created a thick fondue. Break off the outside pieces of your bread to dip up the gooey masterpiece until you can no longer sit upright.

 

Warning: you may be full the rest of the day. Or week. So dive in sparingly.

Georgian food khachapuri

 

Khinkali – Soup Dumplings

Sourced to the Caucasus mountain regions in the north, the Asian influence is clear. These familiar parcels of steamed dough have their own personality in Georgia, and lucky for everyone who is a fan of fried food, a second life as a crispy dumpling.

Georgian food khinkali

With no less than 19 pleats, these fat, gorgeous bundles are filled with herbed, chopped mushrooms and a sauce that becomes soupy when boiled. You pick them up by the top knob, bite carefully to get the juice out first and then devour it. Meat is actually the most common filling, but vegetarians again luck out since these are often available in the aforementioned mushroom (my fav), mashed potato or cheese.

Georgian food khinkali fried

The best part? As the night carries on (as it often does during a Georgian dinner) and the piles of dumplings get cold, they are carried back into the kitchen, fried up in a pan and brought back out for a second life as a hot little crunchy snack bundle.

 

 

Lobiani – Bean bread

Made with mashed and seasoned beans, this savory filling is either put into another airy bread gondola or baked inside what looks like two pizza crusts. This dish was new to me when I was in Tbilisi and quickly rose to be one of my favorites. I found myself often wishing it was on every menu when we stopped to eat.

 

You can also eat it with a variety of sauces like tkemali (a tart plum sauce) or ajika (a spicy sauce made with hot red peppers), or simply eat it with yellow peppers, making the flavors of the bean bread both zing and comfort simultaneously.

Georgian food lobiani

 

Pkhali – Vegetable Balls

Another delicious way to eat your vegetables, pkhali is served cold, often rolled into bright orange, green or magenta balls. Made from carrots, spinach or beets they are finely chopped and then mixed with ground walnuts and garlic and spiced with fenugreek and coriander. These fragrant spheres are typically topped with pomegranate seeds and look really ornate, which makes them pretty fun to smash.

Georgian food pkhali

 

Georgian Salad (with tomatoes and walnuts)

If you have a walnut allergy, Georgia might not be your country. Sorry to say that, but it is in just about everything. The typical salad resembles the Greek version with tomatoes and cucumbers but it’s topped with ground walnuts, which makes it a little sweeter.

 

Dressings of walnut or sunflower oil often slide around the vegetables making them glisten. My favorite was at an incredibly delicious restaurant in Old Town Tbilisi because LOOK at the amount of ground walnuts on top. Wowza.

Georgian food salad with walnuts

 

Tarkhunis Ghvezeli – Tarragon Pie

I’ve loved tarragon since I first tasted it gracing a béarnaise sauce when I was fifteen. It’s a pungent herb and often used sparingly. Nowhere have I seen it used in such MASS quantities, as if it were a mild lettuce.

 

The Georgians take loving tarragon to the next level (they even make a bright green soda from it). This peppery herb is the main attraction of this stuffed-bread dish and, seriously, it demands your taste buds’ attention.

Gerogian food tarragon pie

 

Fresh Raw Vegetables and Herbs

Much like I’ve seen in restaurants in the Middle East and parts of Europe, every meal is accompanied by a big bowl of green and red raw veggies. Topped with herb branches the size of pom-poms, I used to think it was a table decoration. Then I realized you’re supposed to just grab a veg, cut some for yourself and share. Usually fresh from the garden, it’s a pretty intense burst of earthy flavors.

Georgian food - fresh vegetables

 

Puri – Bread

Made by slapping dough up against the side of a circular clay oven this airy bread is served at nearly every meal. It’s crunch on the outside and light and moist on the inside.

Georgain food bread

 

Cheese

Thick slices of cheese are also typically served at every meal. Mainly from sheep and cows’ milk, there are many varieties and styles, though most of the ones that I tried were sharp and even somewhat sour.

Georgian food | Georgian cheese

Do you have a favorite Georgian dish? Share it in the comments.

 

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Georgian Food is rich in vegetable dishes. Read what to eat in Georgia the country.

 

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Georgian Food is delicious, rich and vegetarian-friendly. Read what to eat in Georgia the country.
Georgian Food is delicious, rich and vegetarian-friendly. Read what to eat in Georgia the country.
Georgian Food is rich in vegetable dishes. Read what to eat in Georgia the country.
Georgian Food is rich in vegetable dishes. Read what to eat in Georgia the country.
Georgian Food is rich in vegetable dishes. Read what to eat in Georgia the country.
Georgian Food is delicious, rich and vegetarian-friendly. Read what to eat in Georgia the country.
Georgian Food is rich in vegetable dishes. Read what to eat in Georgia the country.
About the Author

Hi. I’m Juliana Dever and according to science I have some sort of "exploration" gene. Embracing this compulsion, I spend a lot of time hurtling around the planet in metal tubes experiencing other cultures and writing humorous essays about it. Enjoy.

6 Comments

  1. kelly palicki / August 5, 2017 at 2:19 pm /Reply

    Beautiful looking food. I’d be happy to try all of it and to try cooking all of itlolololol.

    • Juliana Dever / August 8, 2017 at 2:20 pm /Reply

      Isn’t it gorgeous? My next step is to go back and take cooking classes there!

  2. Helga / August 7, 2017 at 10:03 pm /Reply

    Travelling to Georgia in September with my husband to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. We are vegetarian and cannot wait to try some of these beautiful dishes! Definitely saving your article!

    • Juliana Dever / August 8, 2017 at 2:25 pm /Reply

      Oh my goodness, I’m so excited for you Helga! Do you already have plans in place? I was able to do some really special stuff that mostly only locals know about, like meeting winemakers at their homes and secret restaurants inside apartment buildings. It really made the experience that much richer. Stay tuned for more articles and photos. 🙂 But also let me know if you need any specific help – I’d love to point you in the right direction to get the most out of your trip!

  3. Lane Beck / August 8, 2017 at 1:16 pm /Reply

    Do I have a favorite Georgian dish? Not yet… but hopefully soon. That puri bread sounds like something I would love to eat all day everyday!

    • Juliana Dever / August 8, 2017 at 2:25 pm /Reply

      Well get to work on this! Everyone needs to have a favorite Georgian dish! 🙂

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