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Georgia’s fusion cuisine

Situated at the crossroads where Europe meets Asiaand was once part of the great Silk Road, Georgia, a gem ofthe Caucasus, is renowned for its cuisine that proudly reflects the country’s dramatic past and geographicaldesign.Influenced by neighbouring countries and diversecultures over centuries, Georgian gastronomy is adelicious amalgamation of ingredients, spice mixes,recipes and cooking techniques that the Mongols,Greeks, Arabs, Turks, and traders from around theglobe brought with them as they passed through itslands. Creative Georgians added their twist to all thosedelicate flavours and aromas, giving rise to a brand-new cuisine to suit their palate while keeping Georgia’sidentity intact.

A vegetarian-friendly fare

Think garden-fresh salads with walnut dressing, juicydumplings, hearty stews and gravies, succulent grilledmeat skewers, appetising spreads and a variety of cheeses and bread to pair with it all. While red meat,dairy, dough, eggplant, walnuts and tarragon featureheavily in local staples, there’s no dearth of freshness and flavours that come from the abundant use ofseasonal fruits and vegetables, fragrant herbs and avariety of mild spices. This also means there are ample plant-based options and vegetarian and vegantravellers wouldn’t feel the need to reach for a pizza ora plate of pasta when travelling around the country.Most dishes with meat and dairy have a veggie versionwith tomatoes, eggplants, mushrooms or potatoes, makingsavouring local cuisine a whole lot easierand delightful.

A supra invitation

There are ample contemporary restaurants andhole-in-the-wall eateries where you can sampleGeorgia’s regional cuisine and wine but nothingcompares to a home-style lavish supra which reflectsthe country’s warm hospitality, ancientcustoms and traditions, vigorous spirit and more. Supra,which translates to “tablecloth,” is a traditional feastorganised on special occasions. It consists of agenerous spread of local favourites and countlesstoasts by the Tamada or a toastmaster who is ofteneloquent, intellectual and witty. While every region in Georgia has its own set of must-try dishes, here are some of the classics:

Khachapuri: The first thing you’ll likely eat after settingfoot in Georgia is Khachapuri — a gooey, cheese-filledbread that comes in more than a dozen differentforms. It could be open or closed, pillowy soft orflaky like parathas, and with or without egg yolk.Part of its charm is that it varies by region. One ofthe most popular versions looks like a boat and isstuffed with local sulguni cheese and topped with anegg yolk and a cube of butter. The rule of thumb:Break the egg yolk and stir it into the soft, whitecheese. Dab butter onto the crunchy crust and dig in.

Khinkali : The giant Georgian cousin to the delicate Asiandumpling, Khinkali is shaped like a modak, filled with asoupy mix of raw, minced pork and beef, onions, chilli pepper, cumin and herbs, boiled and served steaminghot. The unofficial national dish of Georgia, Khinkalioriginates from the mountainous regions and is hence called ‘shepherd’s food’. There’s a way to eat it: Hold itby the stem or the topknot, sprinkle some black pepperon the base and take a small bite. Slurp out the soupand juices before you eat the rest and discard thetopknot. The idea is to relish it without spilling even asingle drop of the soup. If you’re a vegetarian, opt for Khinkali stuffed with cheese, mushrooms or potatoes.

Pkhali: Dressed up and full of colour, a Pkhali platter is one ofthe most inviting dishes on the Georgian menu.More like a vegetablepâté or a spreadable salad, Pkhali is mainly cookedvegetables and boiled greens pounded with walnuts,garlic, mountain herbs and spices, shaped into littleballs and garnished with pomegranate seeds andwalnuts. Spinach, beetroots, carrots and auberginesare commonly used for making Pkhali, often served on a charcuterie board.

Churchkhela: The first time you look at bundles of jewel-toned churchkhela hanging in the bazaars of Georgia, you could easily mistake them for colourful candles or some kind of sausages. In reality, churchkhela is a candy made by threading walnuts, dipping them in a thick mixture of concentrated grape juice, sugar and flour, and allowing them to air dry for about five days. Since Georgia lacks dessert options, churchkhela, also known as ‘Georgian Snickers’ could gratify your sweet tooth.

Kharcho: Hailing from the Black Sea region of Mingrelia and now a staple all over Georgia and other former Soviet countries, Kharcho is a nutty, piquant and comforting beef stew. Some versions are thick and creamy with ground walnuts and spices while others are more broth-like and speckled with rice.

(Published 14 October 2023, 23:16 IST)

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