Georgian Food Overview (Cuisine from the Republic of Georgia)

Khinkali - Tbilisi, Georgia
A Georgian Feast of Khinkale

In Georgia, the food is quite appropriately an expression of the culture. Warm, gooey comfort food like khachapuri (cheese-stuffed bread) finds balance with matsoni (sour yogurt). Herbs like tarragon, flat parsley, dill and coriander combine with walnuts and garlic for rich fillings and sauces.

Eating, hospitality, toasts and the supra bind family and friends and snare visitors into long, table-bound interludes. Georgian food and hospitality surrounds you…and can sometimes suffocate you under its weight.

We developed a deep appreciation for Georgian food during our travels there, particularly due to helpful friends and host families who enjoyed providing us a quick and tasty education in Georgian cuisine. Words of wisdom from Lali, our host and instructor in Kakheti resonate: “Onions take parsley; garlic needs walnuts and coriander.”

The following is just a taste, arranged in the order of our experience. Restaurant listings follow. If you do visit Georgia, just ask people where you can find a specific dish and people will be more than happy to help you discover their cuisine.

If you are interested in a specific recipe, post a comment. We are collaborating with a Georgian friend to gather a batch of recipes and we’ll publish what’s of interest.

Favorite Georgian Dishes and Snacks

Khachapuri

Khachapuri - Mtskheta, Georgia
Oozing khachapuri in Tbilisi, Georgia.

No visit to Georgia would be complete (or possible) without a few tastes of khachapuri, the warm, gooey cheese-stuffed bread that oozes and drips with heart-stopping goodness. In addition to the standard round pie stuffed with cheese, other variations include egg-topped (Adjarian khachapuri), the four-fold filo dough pocket, and tarragon, mushroom and rice-stuffed pies.

Arguably the best khachapuri can be found at a home stay when it’s made fresh for breakfast (for us, in Tbilisi and Kisiskhevi) or in Svaneti, where you may also find it stuffed with leek. If you aren’t staying with a family, don’t despair – you can find khachapuri stands on almost every street corner in Tbilisi.

Khinkali

Beautifully twisted knobs of dough, usually stuffed with meat and spices (served boiled or steamed). The trick: to eat without making a mess of yourself with the hot broth inside. Sprinkle with black pepper and grab the dumpling by the handle and turn upside down. Take small bites from the side, slurping broth as you go. The traditional khinkali includes meat, but vegetarian fillings of mushroom, and cheese/curd are sometimes available.

Making Khinkali - Kakheti, Georgia
Learning to make khinkale in Kakheti, Georgia.

Lali taught us how to make khinkali from scratch when we stayed in Kakheti. After a few disastrous attempts, we finally got the hang of how to turn and tuck the dough around the meat. Remarkably, our dumplings maintained their form as they boiled and the broth remained inside. We’re told our khinkali-making certificate is in the mail.

Puri (Tonis Puri)

The Georgian bread staple. Baked in a ceramic circular hearth oven with the dough stuck to the side (like Indian naan), puri comes out moist and sourdoughy, perfectly tainted with black bits from the oven. Its edges are browned and taste faintly of matzo. The best we found was in Borjomi, next to the bus station.

Badrijan Nigzit

Roasted eggplant strips, served flat and topped with walnut paste. Sweet and savory, it’s one of Audrey’s favorites.

Pkhali

A paste made from spinach, walnuts, and garlic. Excellent with tonis puri or khachapuri. Another favorite.

Sulguni

As far as we could tell, *the* national cheese. A salted water-soaked cheese with a stringy shell and moist middle. Eat by itself or with a round of tonis puri bread and a plateful of herbs and tomatoes.

Matsoni

A rather sour yogurt that usually shows up topless (well, without a lid) at the table. Trial and error usually works to suit your taste – with warm meat, vegetables, khachapuri, or blend with fresh honey or fruit. After matsoni straight from the farm, store-bought yogurt will never taste the same. Made from boiled fresh milk and a bacterial starter, matsoni is certain to have medicinal qualities.

Lobio

A cross between bean soup and refried beans. Its consistency and taste varies widely, bears a resemblance to Mexican bean dishes and is almost always satisfying. Eat with mchadi (Georgian corn bread) for full effect. We were always on the search for lobio, finding it in some unusual locations.

Lobio (Bean Soup) - Mtskheta, Georgia
Beautiful bowl of lobio, one of our favorite Georgian dishes.

Qababi (kebabs)

Grilled minced meat sprinkled with sumac and onion slices, wrapped in a thin lavash-like bread. In some small towns, this was the only dish available. We were surprisingly never disappointed by it.

Mchadi

Georgian corn bread so dense you’d think it was a paperweight. Eaten with lobio.

Tkemali sauce

Taken in small doses alongside cheese, khachapuri, or meat, this sour plum sauce is said to be a cleanser. Whenever we had a meal with a family, out came the canning jar of tkemali sauce.

Lobiani

Khachapuri-like bread stuffed with bean paste. Just slightly healthier than the original cheese khachapuri.

Mushmala

A juicy, persimmon-colored fruit about the size of a walnut. It’s dark, shiny seeds look like tiger-eye jewels or something you might play Mancala with.

Tatara

Confection made from boiled, pressed grape extract. Think fruit roll-up without the added sugar.

Churchkhela

Brown rubbery truncheons made from strings of walnuts dipped in tatara and dried. Sometimes referred to as “Georgian Snickers.” Don’t eat the string!

Dolmas

Steamed, roasted, or boiled vegetables or leaves stuffed with minced meat, herbs and rice. Though we don’t especially associate dolmas with Georgia, Rusiko’s rendition with fresh grape leaves from her garden was something special.

Chakapuli

Herbed lamb stew from Kakheti, normally eaten at holidays (e.g., Easter)

Mtsvadi (Shashlik)

Fire-roasted chunks of pork, salted. Cut some fresh onions and put in a metal bowl over a fire. Among some of the best barbecued meat we’ve ever had. Be careful, chunks of the prized chalahaji (or back meat) are usually in limited amounts and meant to be shared with the group. Audrey learned this after unknowingly taking the whole skewer for herself to shrieks of objection. She then shared.

Adjika

Spicy Indian pickle-like paste. We were always served this with cucumber and tomato salad.

Kubdari

Khachapuri-like dough stuffed with small chunks of meat, spices and onions. A Svanetian specialty. The place to get it is the restaurant/stop between Zugdidi and Mestia or at a home stay along the route from Mestia to Ushguli.

Svaneti salt

A perfect complement to vegetables, cheese or salad. Made from various spices and herbs. You’ll think you’re inching closer to Persia or India when you smell it.

Mashed potatoes and lots of cheese

Svanetian farmer food. We’ll never forget waking up to a giant plateful (for each of us) of the stuff in Adishi. We took just a few spoonfuls and could barely move.

Cheese and mint

Small bits of moist cheese served with chopped mint (and other herbs). A surprising treat at the opening of the Svaneti Tourism Center in Mestia.

Chvishtari

Cheese corn bread (a Svanetian version of mchadi with cheese)

Satsivi

Poultry (chicken or turkey) served with a thinned paste of walnut, garlic and herbs. Considered a winter dish (“sivi” implies cold in Georgian) and eaten often around the Christmas holiday and the New Year, particularly in the region of Adjari. Though we’ve enjoyed this at Georgian restaurants abroad, we unfortunately didn’t have an authentic opportunity to try it this time around.

Georgian Drinks

In no way does Georgia suffer from a lack of alcohol…or toasts to go with it.

Georgian brandy

Surprisingly smooth and easy to drink. Though Armenian brandy gets a lot of press, Georgian brand is worth a taste.

Cha cha

The drink of sadists and masochists throughout the Georgian countryside. Oddly enough, it’s common practice to have a small drink of the stuff in the morning, apparently to ease the effects of a heavy morning meal.

Rachi

A lower octane hooch/moonshine that makes frequent appearances at the table and in the streets of Svaneti.

Georgian Wine

Go for the Saperavi. We discuss it a bit more here.

What we didn’t eat in Georgia:

“Mushrooms with brain and tongue in the pottery,” an actual dish on offer that reminded us of dishes like “pork sweat and sour” from our days in Southeast Asia.

Photo Essay:Georgian Food and Markets

 

Where to Eat in Tbilisi

Many of our eating experiences took place with friends or host families. Below are a few restaurants and cafes worth a visit in Tbilisi.

  • Shemoikhede Genatsvale Restaurant (25 Leselidze street): Khinkali as art – some of the nicest looking khinkali we’ve had. Also very tasty.
  • Kronenburg Restaurant (corner of Leselidze and Diuma): Home-made boiled khinkali. Try the mushroom. Good lobio and badrijan. Friendly waitresses will wrap everything up for you if you order too much.
  • Salobio: Located near Mtskheta, this large outdoor restaurant is a Georgian institution. Apparently, it’s always been dishing out great lobio, even during the civil war of the early 1990s. Lena and her family introduced us to many of the greats of the Georgian table here – khinkali, lobio, qababi, mchadi.
  • Rasta Café (right behind Sioni Cathedral on the river): Rasta refers not to Rastafarian, but to the name of the market (rasta, from the Persian meaning “narrow”) that once thrived behind the cafe. Photos line the walls and tell the history of old Tiflis (Tbilisi). Aleko, one of the owners, possesses an amazing knowledge and passion for Tbilisi and is happy to share. We became regulars here and always felt welcome. Georgian and continental cuisine, with 38 varieties of coffee on offer.
  • Hole-in-the-wall deli and bakery (Vashlovani street): That’s not really its name, but we know it’s located near the Chinese restaurant Picasso between M. Kostava and G. Akhvlediani streets. Offers trays of pkhali, badrijan and tomato ratatouille dishes to go. Each dish is 3 lari. Next door is a bakery with lobiani and various forms of khachapuri. Perfect for assembling a picnic or light evening meal.
  • Lotus Café (Pushkin Street and Freedom Square): Inexpensive vegetarian restaurant with a visually delightful selection of savory and sweet bites on display in a deli case – stuffed eggplant, soy kofte (meatballs) in a rich gravy, khachapuri and much more.
  • Mitropane Laridze on Rustaveli: The site of our first khachapuri experience. Once a Tbilisian institution, this underlit mosaic-lined soda fountain on Rustaveli makes for an inexpensive mid-afternoon break of khachapuri and gaz voda (egg cream-like syrupy soda).

If you have a high-speed connection, stick around for the slideshow below.

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Comments

  1. says

    After eating the same 4-5 Central Asian dishes (all very heavy on meat) for the last 3 weeks, we’re dreaming of lobio and pkhali! We found a Korean restaurant in Tashkent with delicious bimbimbap and wifi to boot! Heaven for our tastebuds and we’re loving the fast connection : )

  2. says

    Neil, unfortunately, we don’t have a recipe on hand for Kubdari. I’ve asked a friend in Georgia to see if she can send the recipe. I’ll be sure to pass it on to you if she has one! It is delicious stuff!

  3. Tony Moritz says

    Hello, I was wondering if you had the recipe for “adjika”? I will be going overseas for 2 years and I can’t go without this for 2 years. Please let me know if you are willing to give this up to me? You can email it to my home email :shellymoritz@bellsouth.net.
    Thank you in advance!

    T Moritz

  4. says

    Tony: Unfortunately, we don’t have our own personal recipe for adjika, yet.

    After a quick search, this recipe seems to one of the better ones out there:
    Adjika Recipe
    I doubt the consistency will be what we had become accustomed to in Georgia, however.

  5. giorgi says

    these are some great photos and resepies as I come from georgia I know how they taste and I just love every one of them. gagimarjot

  6. says

    Ia: We too love hinkali (or khinkali, khingali if you like). We were just talking about them (again) yesterday. We may even try to make them in our own kitchen one of these days.

  7. Irakli says

    Originally Kubdar was made from bear’s meet(i have tasted it when my neighbour returned from Hunting in Svaneti). It is something you will never forget. But other variations of Kubdari are more spread(with beaf and meat). I will send you the recipe for it as soon as i have one. As for my favourite Georgian dishes – Mtsvadi is a reall winner!!! But do not forget to serve it with pomegranate sauce :)

  8. says

    Irakli: Kubdar from bear’s meat – that would be interesting! We’d love to have the recipe. We’ve talked about trying to make Georgian food at home, but haven’t tried just yet…there has always been a Georgian restaurant around and this has made us lazy. Georgian cuisine really is special and it warms the soul. I’m glad you’re enjoying our stories about Georgia!

  9. says

    @Diana: Oh, khinkali are SO tasty! They are bigger than xiaolongbao and the seasoning/herbs are a bit different. Just make sure to take a little bite out of it first on the side to let the steam out, slurp up the broth and then leave the knob behind (you can eat it, but you’ll fill up quickly!).

  10. says

    Hi Dan, hi Audrey! I had Georgian food while I was in Moscow and fell in love with it – unfortunately there are no Georgian restaurants in NYC! I was googling for recipes and saw that you guys might have a few – do you have recipes for khachapuri, Badrijan Nigzit, and Chakapuli? I would appreciate any advice or resources you guys had to offer, thanks!

    Cristina

  11. says

    @Cristina: Oh, I really miss Georgian food a lot. There’s nothing close in Central America. I asked one of our friends in New York City who also loves Georgian food whether she knew of any Georgian restaurants there. Here’s what she wrote:

    “I know of 3 places but I haven’t eaten at any of them. In Brighton Beach, there’s Georgia 21 on Brighton Beach Ave. There’s also a place on Coney Island Avenue near Kings Highway that might be called Tamada, but I’m not positive – it’s the friendliest looking of the 3. The last is on Avenue U near the Q train station, maybe between 16th and about 20th streets.”

    I’m afraid we don’t have any of our own recipes, but this website has some great recipes and mouthwatering photos. Good luck finding Georgian restaurants nearby and cooking Georgian dishes at home!

  12. Tim Pollard says

    Hello ! I am searching, in vain thus far I fear, for the recipe for that lovely flat bread you can buy at just about any neighborhood store in any town anywhere in Georgia. It is flat, elongated, brown on bottom and sort of crisp,
    looks sort of like a ping pong paddle but with a handle on both ends – sort of like an ” O ” with the sides stretched out. Generally there is a slight depression in the center of the loaf. It is served at most meals in and around Tbilisi and is either cut into sections with a knife or just pulled apart with the fingers. Usually in every section of town on side streets, there is a baker
    who makes this bread. He has a very dimly lit cavelike little shop with a wood or gas fired oven and bakes these loaves all day . . . I don’t remember the name of it – perhaps Lavosh ? or Puri ?

  13. says

    I loved seeing your website. I have a page on Georgian cuisine that you might like and find helpful. Feel free to share with others. You’ll find some Georgian recipes there too. We also accept recipe requests and will do our best to get them online as soon as we can. and thanks for such a nice write-up about our country!

  14. says

    I am an Armenian, originally from Iran, and delight at reading all the recipes and their names to see the simialrities between thos we use and those of surrounding regions.
    There are far more similarities than differences, so travel must have been quite abig thinkg over the centuries for these ot have spread so far and wide.
    The world is shrinking, so thanks for bringing a smile to my face via your post and the opporyunity of commenting here too.

  15. says

    @Charles: While we were in the Caucasus, it was always fascinating to see the similarities in so many things (food being just one of them) throughout the region. Food in general (and Georgian food specifically) provides us a lesson in sharing at a distance and the constructive use and application of differences!

  16. Chris says

    I really enjoyed reading about your experiences and the food of course!! My wife and I are hosting a young lady from Georgia and would like to prepare some of her traditional food as a surprise and wanted to know what you thought would be good to make. Let me know!
    Thanks!

  17. says

    @Chris: If you are going to try making Georgian food for a visitor from Georgia, I’d go for khinkali. We just made some for the first time last week. Photos of the raw khinkali dumpling and the cooked khinkali. I’ll send you an email with some details. It may be worth trying them once to perfect the recipe. Or, better yet, you might have your guest help you. Sounds like fun regardless.

  18. Rusudan says

    I have Georgian friends in NY, they said that food in Georgian restaurants are not good. I wanted to take my son for his birthday, he is missing Georgia and I thought it would be a nice surprise for him, but my friends said we would be very disappointed.

    We cook Georgian very often, I invited my American and friends and I am going to make Chakapuli. By the way who ever tries eggplants with nuts and spices love it!

    Thank you very much for your beautiful story!!!! I am missing Georgian bread so much!!!!

  19. says

    @Rusudan: We are also missing Georgian bread (kachapuri) a lot as well! I am glad to hear that you are cooking Georgian food at home and sharing it with your friends. I am sure the food you cook at home will be much better than any Georgian restaurant in NY :)

  20. Tamuna says

    Hello, I am originally from Georgia and I live in US, for over 8 years now. I have been cooking all day today for new years, I made badrijani nigvzit, pkhali, vinigreti,tolma, satsivi and khachapuri is on the way, I am having some Georgian and American friends over. I brought lots of spices from Georgia with me, that’s the key ingredient in Georgian cousin. there are few Georgian restaurants in Brooklyn,NY and they are pretty good. there is also a store were they sell pre made Georgian food and the are very very tasty and they make lavashi there as well.

  21. Tako says

    I am from Georgia and I live in Georgia. I’m happy… :D:D:D:D most i like hkinkali and acharuli hkachapuri. I am 10 years old.

  22. says

    @Tako: Great to hear from you! Acharuli kachapuri — that’s the kachapuri from Ajara, with the egg inside?

    We love, love, love khinkali, too. Some of our favorite food in the world.

    Thanks for your comment. Lucky for you to live and eat in Georgia!

  23. Anya says

    Hello….we are planning a trip to Georgia sometime in June. We are travelling with our one year old son. We are looking for rustic places to stay among the vinyards and the mountainous regions. Do you have any suggestions? We are real foodies, so a place that could cook up some nice local cuisine as well would be great.

  24. says

    @Anya: Sounds like you have a great trip planned for yourself. My suggestion would be to contact the tourism office or a tour company in Kakheti or Telavi. They could probably direct you to bed & breakfasts in the area where you could learn local dishes as well. The place we stayed was owned by a friend, so it was a private affair. Good luck and enjoy your trip!

  25. Colleen says

    Going to Georgia in Nov. Already excited about trying out this awesome food! Wonderful pictures of the different foods and the spices & veggies in the market. I look forward to reading more of your blog posts and seeing more pictures of your travels.

    • says

      Thanks so much, Colleen. Have a great trip. Georgia is a special place. If you have questions, just let us know. We’ll keep the stories, food round ups and thought pieces coming.

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