Feasting Like a Georgian
I know that my site may be a little confusing at the moment, but I promise I’m working on it! In the meantime, please enjoy this abbreviated sum up on my culinary experience in Georgia (The Republic of) as I presented it to the Guides Association of New York City. Please stay tuned for more updates and more about Georgia!
I may have initially felt some bitterness about attending a conference in the country that beat us out in the bidding while we were in Iran. But, the pain of the loss drifted as the relief of all the work we’d be doing to host began to sink in. And once I’d been approved as a representative for GANYC to attend the 2019 WFTGA event, my eyes and ears suddenly became very attuned to anything pertaining to the food, wine, and culture in Georgia. What I couldn’t have predicted, however, was how much this food would begin to trend in our very own city.
In November 2017, the blog on The Standard Hotel’s website declared the khachapuri at narcbar an “Essential NYC Dish,” but being that narcbar is located within a Standard Hotel it’s less impressive than Eater New York’s call-out in April 2018. In a piece titled Khachapuri Has Crossed Over Into a New York Essential Dish, Stefanie Tuder wrote “Khachapuri — Georgia’s national dish of molten cheese bread — dates back centuries, but the pizza-fondue hybrid has never been more popular here in New York…The dish has moved beyond traditional Georgian restaurants and onto bar and brunch menus of various cuisines, mutated into very unorthodox riffs.” And, finally, in late December 2018, The New York Times declared Georgian would be the new “It” cuisine of 2019.
Between the hype for this cheese bread, and the recent discovery that dates Georgian wine-making back over 8,000 years—now pre-dating even the Persians, I was very excited to attend the conference and get a deeper understanding of these traditions, that are becoming New York traditions. So, the first workshop I signed up for was Georgian UNESCO recognized Gastronomy Traditions.
The workshop was given by Giorgi Kharatishvili, the head of Food and Beverage at one of the wineries visited on the pre-conference tour—which I missed. With limited time it wasn’t a full education, but a good crash course in Georgian cuisine, and the culinary tradition of the supra. The Supra is their celebratory feast, which would typically include many of the delicious Georgian dishes we’d become familiar with over the next few days—starting with that khachapuri. What we’d learn is that the version often discussed by NYC eaters is from the Ajarian region—where we’d finish the trip, in the city of Batumi. But the two types that are found on just about every single Georgian menu are the Imeruli/Imertian and the Megruli. The first looks like a pizza dough that’s been baked without any toppings, but in fact has cheese inside of it. And the latter looks more like a white pie as it has cheese both inside and on top. In addition to the khachapuri, the khinkali is another dish you’d frequently find which are their oversized soup dumplings.
Food aside, the supra would not be complete without lots of Georgian wine! As I mentioned, their traditions date back over 8,000 years—although they’ve had plenty of interruptions with the many invasions in their history. The number of grape varietals that are native to their country are quite impressive at 525 out of about 4,000 worldwide. Their method of production starts with clay pots called Qvevri, where the crushed grapes with their stems, seeds, skins and juices are fermented for 3-6 months before being filtered and then transferred to wooden barrels for further aging up to 3 years. One major characteristic of these wines is their drinkability, which would be important for a long-lasting supra. Especially if you have a devilish Tomada. The tomada is their toast master and is essentially responsible for pacing the amount of alcohol consumed by all at the supra. So, it would be rather important that your wine is not too boozy if it’s to be consumed over hours of your celebrating. It’s also the reason white wines were more traditionally consumed at these events than red. In fact, according to our post-tour guide, there’s a Georgian legend that they were able to defeat the Muslims because they were drinking wine rather than smoking opium.
After the many delicious meals and glasses of wine consumed, I will say that it’s well worth a trip to Georgia, where the flight may be long, but the culture is rich, and at quite a bargain for us dollar-holders. And most surprisingly, in my final Georgian city, the most memorable dish I had was their traditional Georgian Salad with a walnut dressing. So, I will leave you with a recipe to try in your own kitchen—if you’re too tired to venture out to one of the 20 or so Georgian restaurants in our own hometown.
Recipe from Georgian Cook
Tomato Cucumber Salad with Walnut Sauce
2 tomatoes, sliced
2 small cucumbers, sliced
1 scallion, chopped
½ cup walnuts
1 garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon each, coriander, blue fenugreek, marigold
1 teaspoon jalapeno pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
Place the tomatoes and cucumbers in a bowl.
In a food processor grind the walnuts, garlic, spices, and salt. Add vinegar and water to thin the paste in the food processor. Drizzle the sauce over the tomatoes and cucumbers, toss well, garnish with the scallions and serve.