Georgian food is arguably one of the world’s most underrated cuisines, featuring flavors from Greece and the Mediterranean, as well as influences from Turkey and Persia. This Georgian food guide is drawn from experiences traveling across the country — visits to local markets, meals in family homes and restaurants, and even an impromptu cooking course. It offers an extensive list of traditional Georgian dishes as well as tips on what to eat and drink when you visit the Republic of Georgia.
Georgian food is quite appropriately an expression of the culture. Warm, gooey comfort food like khachapuri (cheese-stuffed bread) finds balance with matsoni (yogurt). Herbs like tarragon, flat parsley, dill and coriander combine with walnuts and garlic for rich fillings and sauces.
Understanding Georgian Food
Eating, hospitality, toasts and the supra bind family and friends and snare visitors to Georgia 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 and dishes.
The following is just a taste of Georgian food and some of our favorite dishes from almost two months of traveling throughout the country, from the capital city of Tbilisi to Kahketi, Svaneti, Borjomi and other areas in the east. We sampled Georgian food in restaurants, markets, street food stands, and family homes. In other words, we dove deep into Georgian cuisine during our visit to this fascinating, unusual destination.
If you do visit the Republic of Georgia and can't find a particular dish, just ask local people where you can find it and they will be more than happy to help you discover their cuisine. Georgians are proud of their cuisine and culture, and happy to share it with curious visitors. And, you'll likely have a great story to tell about that experience and meal.
Note: This post was originally published on July 20, 2007 and updated on October 19, 2018.
Traditional Georgian Food
Khinkali (Georgian Dumplings)
Beautifully twisted knobs of dough, khinkali are typically stuffed with meat and spices, then served boiled or steamed. The trick with khinkali is to eat them without making a mess or spilling the hot broth inside all over yourself.
How best to eat khinkali: sprinkle with black pepper, grab the dumpling by the handle and turn upside down. Take small bites from the side, slurping some broth as you go.
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.
Although traditional khinkali typically features meat, vegetarian khinkali featuring fillings of mushroom and cheese/curd are often available if you ask for them.
Roasted eggplant (badrijan) strips, served flat and topped with walnut paste. Sweet and savory, this dish is one of Audrey’s favorites.
Lobio (Bean Soup)
A cross between bean soup and refried beans. The consistency and taste of lobio varies widely. That it often bears a resemblance to Mexican bean dishes is almost always satisfying.
For full effect, the traditional way to eat lobio is with a round of mchadi, Georgian corn bread. We often searched for lobio after we'd been exhausted by meat and bread, and found it quite often, including in some unusual locations.
Grilled minced meat sprinkled with sumac and onion slices, wrapped in a thin lavash-like bread. In some small Georgian towns, this was the only dish available. We were surprisingly never disappointed by it.
Steamed, roasted, or boiled vegetables or leaves stuffed with minced meat, herbs and rice. Though we don’t especially associate dolmas with Georgia, our friend Rusiko's rendition — featuring stuffed fresh grape leaves from her garden — was something special and tasty.
Traditional herbed lamb stew from Kakheti, chakapuli is typically eaten around the holidays (e.g., Easter). Chakapuli typically features a meat like veal or lamb, and is further flavored by onions, tkemali (sour plums), white wine, garlic and mixed herbs.
Mtsvadi (Shashlik, meat skewers)
Fire-roasted chunks of pork, salted. For the perfect mtsvadi, cut some fresh onions and place in a metal bowl, then stir it over a fire. We were lucky to have mtsvadi in an impromptu barbecue in the mountains. It was 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.
Poultry (chicken or turkey) served with a thinned paste of walnut, garlic and herbs. Considered a winter dish (“sivi” implies cold in Georgian), satsivi is usually eaten 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.
Mashed potatoes and lots of cheese
Mashed potatoes are the traditional Svanetian farmer food. We’ll never forget waking up at our host family's in the town of Adishi to a giant plateful (for each of us) of the stuff. We took a few spoonfuls and could barely move.
Khachapuri (Georgian Cheese Bread)
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 – just as we enjoyed it in Tbilisi and Kisiskhevi. You can also find khachapuri in the Svaneti region, 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.
Puri / Tonis Puri (Georgian Flatbread)
Tonis puri is 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, with a tinge of sourdough flavor, and perfectly tainted with black bits from inside the oven.
You'll notice that the edges of tonis puri are often browned and taste faintly of matzo. The most memorable version of tonis puri we tasted was in the town of Borjomi, next to the bus station. This might not come as a surprise, as Borjomi is famous for its water, a key ingredient in Georgian bread.
Lobiani (Bean-stuffed bread)
Lobiani is similar to khachapuri-, except that it is stuffed with bean paste rather than cheese. Lobiani is typically quite moist and is just slightly healthier than its original cheese cousin, khachapuri.
Kubdari, a bread specialty originally from the Svaneti region, is a khachapuri-like dough stuffed with small chunks of meat, spices and onions. The best versions of kubdari that we tasted were in restaurant stops along the road between Zugdidi and Mestia, as well as in home stays along the hiking route from Mestia to Ushguli.
Cheese corn bread (a Svanetian version of mchadi with cheese). This will stick to your bones for days. It makes excellent trekking food.
Georgian Cheese and Yogurt
Matsoni (Georgian yogurt)
A rather sour fresh yogurt that usually shows up topless (well, without a lid) at the table. Trial and error usually works to suit your taste. You can eat it savory served with warm meat, vegetables, or khachapuri. For a sweeter version at breakfast-time or for dessert, you can blend matsoni with fresh honey or fruit.
After matsoni straight from the farm, store-bought yogurt will never taste the same. Matsoni is a culinary and cultural Georgian staple. Since it's made from boiled fresh milk and a bacterial starter, matsoni is certain to have medicinal qualities.
Sulguni (Georgian cheese)
As far as we could tell, sulguni is *the* national cheese of the Republic of Georgia. A salted, water-soaked cheese that features a stringy shell and moist middle, sulguni is typically eaten by itself or with a round of tonis puri bread and a plateful of herbs and tomatoes.
Georgian Condiments, Pastes and Sauces
Adjika (Chili Paste)
Adjika, a spice paste condiment, is best compared to spicy Indian pickle-like paste. We were always served adjika with cucumber and tomato salad.
Tkemali Sauce (Sour Plum 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.
A paste made from spinach, walnuts, and garlic. Excellent with tonis puri or khachapuri. Typically served as an appetizer, or mezze-style with other small, flavorful dishes, the fresh, local flavor of pkhali made it another of our favorites.
So-called Svaneti salt serves as a perfect complement to vegetables, cheese or salad. Made from salt, dried garlic, chili pepper and a blend of various spices and herbs like fenugreek and coriander, Svaneti salt and its aroma will have you thinking you’re inching closer to Persia or India.
Tatara or Pelamushi
Confection made from boiled, pressed grape extract. Can be eaten as a sort of pudding as dessert. The liquid is the sweet coating used to make 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!
A juicy, persimmon-colored fruit about the size of a walnut. It’s dark, shiny seeds look like tiger-eye jewels.
In no way does Georgia suffer from a lack of alcohol…or the endless toasts to go with it. Here's a quick rundown of Georgian wines, brandy, and grappa.
Georgia is believed to be the birthplace of wine, with the oldest evidence of winemaking dating back 8,000 years. Traditional Georgian winemaking used qvevri, terra-cotta containers that are buried underground to store and ferment the grape juice after it has been pressed and stomped.
Georgia's wine landscape features many different unique and ancient grape varietals. Our recommendation: opt for the Saperavi (red wine). Separavi is the most famous of all Georgian varietals; when it's of quality, it can be really good. But Saparavi often needs a bit of time to come into its own, so be sure to decant it in advance and let it breathe for a bit of time.
If you're curious about Georgian wine, consider booking a walking tour of Tbilisi that includes wine tasting, a one-day wine tour around Kakheti or drop in on a Georgian wine bar in Tbilisi and fashion your own wine-tasting to learn about the various Georgian wine varietals.
Surprisingly smooth and easy to drink, Georgian brandy is worth seeking out. Though Armenian brandy gets a lot of press, Georgian brandy is under-appreciated.
Chacha (Georgian Grappa)
The drink of sadists and masochists throughout the Georgian countryside, the Georgian grappa-like firewater called cha-cha is the choice of toast-makers, particularly as the night or occasion advances. Oddly enough, it's common practice to have a small drink of cha-cha in the morning, apparently to ease the effects of traditionally heavy morning meals in the countryside.
A lower octane version of hooch/moonshine that makes frequent appearances at the table and in the streets of Svaneti.
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.
- Chashnagiri Restaurant (25 Leselidze street): Used to be called Shemoikhede Genatsvale Restaurant, but changed its name recently. It serves artful khinkali. Some of the nicest looking khinkali we've had. And very tasty.
- Salobie: 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 times of the early 1990s. Our friend, Lena, and her family introduced us to many of the greats of the Georgian table here – khinkali, lobio, qababi, mchadi.
- 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.
- 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).
Georgian Cooking Courses and Foodie Tours
To go even deeper into Georgian cuisine, consider a home-cooked meal in a family home, a food tour, or get your hands dirty and take a Georgian cooking course.
Our friend had a great experience with this home-cooked family meal experience in Tbilisi. It's not only delicious, but also lot of fun with a warm and personable host. For a more comprehensive experience you can also book a Georgian cooking class in Tbilisi.
Alternatively, opt for the “best of” Georgian food by sampling nine traditional dishes by booking this food tour around Tbilisi's Sololaki neighborhood, one of our favorite areas of the city.
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