The Georgian cuisine is unique to the country, but also carries some influences from European and nearby middle eastern and central asian culinary traditions. Each historical province of Georgia has its own distinct culinary tradition, with variations. Rich with meat dishes, the Georgian cuisine also offers a variety of vegetarian dishes and bread.

Georgian cuisine is the result of the broad interplay of culinary ideas carried along the trade routes by merchants and travelers alike. The importance of both food and drink to Georgian culture is best observed during a feast called supra, when a huge assortment of dishes is prepared, always accompanied by large amounts of wine, and that can last for hours. In a Georgian feast, the role of the tamada (toastmaster) is an important and honored position.  Toasting is an art and can last for long, a habit shared with many countries in the area, especially the ones which used to be part of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union.

Russian poet Alexander Pushkin asserted that "every Georgian dish is a poem".  I suppose that feeling is shared among peoples in the area as Georgian restaurants have a prevailing position in Russia and Ukraine today.

I have to admit that as a Greek of the north, I am very familiar with many of the Georgian dishes, but what I found in Georgia had a unique touch and a great imagination. 

Badrijai Nigvzit

Badrijai Nigvzit

Badrijai Nigvzit is an eggplant (aubergine) with walnuts and spices dish.  This is primary a summer dish due to the seasonality of eggplants of course and it is served cold. Thick slices of fried eggplant are wrapped around a paste made of walnuts, garlic and spices.

There is a love for eggplants in Georgia, as it is in all countries in the area, from Greece to Iran, and certainly my beloved summer treat.

backed mushrooms with butter

backed mushrooms with butter

There are plenty of mushrooms around, so what comes more natural than coating them in butter and throw them into the oven!?

The most popular Georgian version is the one of mushrooms filled with sulguni cheese and baked. Georgian cuisine is definitely celebrating putting various kinds of tasty staff into hot ovens.

Chakapuli is a sour stew made with tarragon. Typically it is served with lamb or chicken but we also tried the mushroom version which is just delicious: chopped mushrooms of any kind into a rich broth with tarragon.

Mushrooms with Sulguni in Ketsi

Mushrooms with Sulguni in Ketsi

Tolma – Stuffed Vine Leave

Tolma – Stuffed Vine Leave

Tolma is a dish of little vine leaf wraps.  Unlike the greek version “dolmades” which are normally stuffed with rice only, the Georgian version is filled with meat and/or vegetables and served hot.

Tolma is topped with matsoni (sour cream yoghurt) & garlic sauce.

Lobio– Beans in a pot.

Lobio– Beans in a pot.

One of my favourite simple sides (but, it also makes a good filling main course served with lots of bread) is Lobio. Salty and wonderful kidney beans baked in a pot. Sometimes with chilies on the side.

Chicken Shkmeruli – In milk and garlic sauce

Chicken Shkmeruli – In milk and garlic sauce

Chicken Shkmeruli comes from the racha region of Georgia. It is a simple dish of chicken roasted first and then added to the milky garlic soup – with plenty of butter.

beef shashlik

beef shashlik

Shashlik (meaning skewered meat in Turkish) was originally made of chunks of lamb. Nowadays it is also made of pork or beef, depending on local preferences and religious observances.

The skewers are either threaded with meat only, or with alternating pieces of meat, fat and vegetables, such as bell pepper, onion, mushroom and tomato.  In Georgian it is called mtsvadi and in Armenian khorovats. 

The best shashlik in Athens is served  in the Russian (Greek Pontiac) taverna Velentina in Kalithea.  Deliciously marinated big chunks of port, lamp, beef or chicken/turkey. 

food epilogue

Certainly, these plates I describe here are just a small portion of the opulence of Georgian cuisine.  You have to visit yourself and discover more.... I will certainly do it myself, as I am sure I will return to Georgia soon.

Day 4

(beyond Tbilisi)

the 180 km trip from Tbilisi to Gori and back

the 180 km trip from Tbilisi to Gori and back

The itinerary

The part of E60 Hwy seen from Jvary Monastery

The part of E60 Hwy seen from Jvary Monastery

If during your visit in Tbilisi you have an extra day to spare, try to visit some of the towns and other attractions away from the city.

A usual (and rather tiring) tour is the one we did:  Mtskheta (including Jvari Monastery), Gori and Uplistsikhe caves.  One can rent a car and do these and more at his own pace, but we decided to take a taxi (a privet car, that is), as our driver Evrard was more than eager to do this for 150 lari.

The itinerary Edvard chose, was: 

👍 From Tbilisi to Jvari Monastery (just outside Mtskheta) on "Leselidze Hwy/A1 (22 km),  

👍 From Jvari to Gori on Hwy E60 (52 km),

👍 From Gori to Uplistsikhe via “Zahesi-Mtskheta-Kavtiskhevi-Gori” & “Uplistsikhe Complex” provincial Roads (14 km),

👍 From Uplistsikhe to Mtskheta via “Zahesi-Mtskheta-Kavtiskhevi-Gori &  Zahesi-Mtskhata-Kavtiskhevi-Gori” provincial roads (60 km), and finally

👍 From Mtskheta to Tbilisi  (22 km).   

Typical landscape in the region.

Typical landscape in the region.

The first two legs of our jouney we traveled on well build highways. The rest we traveled on provincial roads. 

The provincial roads are in a very poor condition with unexpected deep pot holes, which are very dangerous, as they appear every now and then and could easily throw you out of the road or break your car down.  However,  Edvard decided to take the provincial roads (on our way back from Gori), for us to see the rural life.   Be very careful and always alert if you decide to do these roads on your own.

The countryside is really beautiful: valleys, high hills and green villages here and there.  On the E60 there are several refugee camps build during/after the wars in Abkhazia and South Ossetia (see the map at the very beginning of this page)

Georgian wild life

Georgian wild life

Jvari Monastery

Jvari Monastery hill.

Jvari Monastery hill.

Jvari Monastery stands on the rocky hilltop at the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers, overlooking the town of Mtskheta.  The view over the town and the surrounding area is stunning.

On this location, in the early 4th century, Saint Nino, a female evangelist credited with converting King Mirian III to Christianity, erected a large wooden cross on the site of a pagan temple. The cross was reportedly able to work miracles and therefore drew pilgrims from all over the Caucasus. A small church was erected over the remnants of the wooden cross.

 The present building, or "Great Church of Jvari", was built at the end of the 6th century.

(bottom right) Icon of Saint Nino holding the

(bottom right) Icon of Saint Nino holding the "Georgian cross" she made out of vines tied with hair.

One last tip

A general comment for your travel in Georgia between towns or when visiting isolated places of interest: I recommend using taxis or organized tour agents instead of marshrutkas, especially if you do not speak the language. 

Transport is in general very cheap and one can shop around offers as there are lots of travel agents (official or unofficial) in cities and towns.  Some times these “agents” are just mini vans or cars parked at central places or any street advertising their tours (by using posters or by just shouting).  

Mtskheta

Mtskheta seen from Jvari Monastery.

Mtskheta seen from Jvari Monastery.

Mtskheta is one of the oldest cities in Georgia and it is located approximately 25 km north of Tbilisi.  The trip from Tbilisi lasts 25-30 minute.  One can visit the city on public transport (minibus “marshrutka”) for just 1 lari (each way).  For taking the marshrutka: first arrive by metro at Didube metro station and then follow the crowds to Dadube Bus Station which is nearby.    

The fortification walls of Svetitskhoveli Cathedral.

The fortification walls of Svetitskhoveli Cathedral.

Due to its historical significance and several cultural monuments,  Mtskheta became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.  As the birthplace and one of the most vibrant centers of Christianity in Georgia, Mtskheta was declared as the "Holy City" by the Georgian Orthodox Church in 2014. 

Mtskheta is a small town and one can easily stroll around its streets and enjoy the little shops and restaurants (catering mostly for tourists) and buy tacky souvenirs.  

If it is to visit just one place in town that is the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral.  Known as the burial site of Christ's mantle, Svetitskhoveli has long been one of the principal Georgian Orthodox churches and is among the most venerated places of worship in the region. The present structure was completed in 1029 by the medieval Georgian architect Arsukisdze, although the site itself dates back to the early fourth century. 

While inside the church, look for a 13th century fresco of the "Beast of the Apocalypse", the Symbolic copy of the Chapel of Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and several buriers, as Svetitskhoveli was not only the site of the coronation of the Georgian kings but also served as their burial place.

Outside the walls of the Cathedral there are street vendors selling everything from fruit juice to rags.

Decorative detail of the main entrance to the  courtyard of the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral.

Decorative detail of the main entrance to the  courtyard of the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral.

The museum square outside the entrance of the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral.

A street close to the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral walls.

The interior of the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral.

Uplistsikhe

The three-nave basilica at the summit of the Uplistsikhe complex.

The three-nave basilica at the summit of the Uplistsikhe complex.

Built on the high rocky left bank of the Mtkvari river, Uplistsikhe contains various structures (cave clusters and buildings) dating from the Early Iron Age to the late Middle Ages, and is notable for the unique combination of various styles of rock-cut cultures from Anatolia and Iran, as well as the co-existence of pagan and Christian architecture. 

At the summit of the complex there is a Christian three-nave basilica built of stone and brick in the 9th-10th centuries. 

Uplistsikhe is located just some kilometers east of Gori

Uplistsikhe is located just some kilometers east of Gori

Uplistsikhe caves

Uplistsikhe caves

There is an entrance fee of 5 lari for the archeological site, but visiting the place is not recemented to those who have mobility problems: there are just a few stairs at the beginning of the tour and then almost nothing.  Further up, there are some steps curved onto the rock, but for most of the visit one has to climb up and down steep rocks based only on the good friction between his shoes and the rock

The exit is not signed well and I was wandering around for long (my knees still ache) trying to find it.  You better ask a guide (there are lots around) for "the tunnel out": there is a tunnel curved into the rock which leads you out of the structures down to the banks of the river.

The nature around the Uplistsikhe complex is rewarding, as the river shapes a beautiful valley with scattered mild hills here and there.  The valley is bounded by rocky mountains.

The nature around the Uplistsikhe complex is rewarding, as the river shapes a beautiful valley with scattered mild hills here and there. The valley is bounded by rocky mountains.

Next to the Uplistsikhe caves there are ruins of various settlements.

Next to the Uplistsikhe caves there are ruins of various settlements.

Gori & the Stalin museum

The Stalin Statue outside the Stalin Museum in Gori.

The Stalin Statue outside the Stalin Museum in Gori.

The city of Gori houses several notable cultural and historical landmarks: the Gori Fortress, which is built on a cliffy hill overlooking the central part of the modern city, the 18th century St George's church of Gorijvari, a popular place of pilgrimage, the town hall, etc

But, let's be realistic, Gori is principally known as the birthplace of Joseph Stalin, and tourists flock to visit the Stalin Museum, which is the main touristic income of the city. 

A painting of Stalin sitting behind his desk.  The

A painting of Stalin sitting behind his desk.  The "couleur rouge"  is my camera's initiative!

Despite what we have been told in the west, Gori is very proud of its son Stalin and until recently there was a huge Stalin monument in front of the City Hall. The monument was a source of controversy in a newly independent Georgia in the 1990s, but for several years the post-communist government acceded to the Gori citizens' request and left the statue untouched. It was ultimately removed in 2010 (in the middle of the night).  

However, in  2012, the municipal assembly of Gori voted to reinstate the monument.  I do not know the reason of the delay, but the monument does not stand in front of the City Hall, yet.

The Stalin Museun complex.

The Stalin Museun complex.

The Stalin museum is a complex consisted of three sections, all located in the town's central square.

The museum begun in 1951 ostensibly as a museum of the history of socialism, but clearly intended to become a memorial to Stalin, who died in 1953.

It was officially dedicated to Stalin in 1957.

Outside Stalin's house.

Outside Stalin's house.

1st Section: Stalin's House

Enshrined within a Greco-Italianate pavilion is a small wooden hut, in which supposedly Stalin was born in 1878 and spent his first four years. The small hut has two rooms on the ground floor. Stalin's father, a local shoemaker, rented the one room on the left hand side of the building and maintained a workshop in the basement. The landlord lived in the other room.

The hut originally formed part of a line of similar dwellings, but the others have been demolished.

There is big controversy weather the house is the real one or "just a house".  But, this is not of any importance, as this is a typical house of the late 19th century anyway. 

The house originally formed part of a line of similar dwellings, but the others have been demolished.  Here's the side entrance to the house.

The house originally formed part of a line of similar dwellings, but the others have been demolished.  Here's the side entrance to the house.

Me in one of the six halls of the museum.

Me in one of the six halls of the museum.

2nd Section: Stalin Museum

The main corpus of the complex is a large palace in stalinist gothic style.

The exhibits are divided into six halls in roughly chronological order, and contain many items actually or allegedly owned by Stalin, including some of his office furniture, his personal items and gifts made to him over the years, his huge fur coat, etc. There is also much illustration by way of documentation, photographs, paintings and newspaper articles.

The display concludes with one of twelve copies of the death mask of Stalin taken shortly after his death.

The overall impression is that of a shrine to a secular saint.

The display of the Museum concludes with one of twelve copies of the death mask of Stalin taken shortly after his death.

The display of the Museum concludes with one of twelve copies of the death mask of Stalin taken shortly after his death.

Stalin's armour plated carriage

Stalin's armour plated carriage

3rd Section: Stalin's Railway Carriage

Just to the  side of the main building of the complex is located Stalin's personal railway carriage.

The green Pullman carriage, which is armour plated, was used by Stalin from 1941 onwards, including his attendances at the Yalta Conference and the Tehran Conference. It was sent to the museum on being recovered from the railway yards in 1985.

(top right) Stalin's fur coat

(top right) Stalin's fur coat

Epilogue

I asked several people in Georgia, our driver included.  What are their feelings of today's life.  What do they think about the Russians and mainly what do they think about the Soviet Union Years.

Most of them (100% of the older ones), replied without hesitation:  "It was better during the soviet years, we had free time, we had work, we did not have luxuries but we had food and we had no worries.  Education and medical care was free.  Now we have nothing of these and we struggle to have a decent life".  

One of them told me: "Look at all these theaters and culture venues which are closed today!  All these were full of people every day, because tickets were affordable even for the working class and in addition people had the education/culture to value performing arts".  Today, of course there is culture, but it is available only to the few". 

Our driver told me (as we drove in the countryside):  "You see all these people just sitting outside their houses?  They are all old people having nothing to do.  All young people have left to find a job in Tbilisi or abroad.   The countryside is dying:  there is no one to pick up the fruit of the trees, or work the land".

 I do not want to be accused of trying to glorify the Soviet Era, because certainly this is not my intention.  But, all the people I asked were working people, people that I came in contact during my humble stay:  waiters, drivers, hotel employees, street vendors.  I did not have the opportunity (you see I am a budget traveler) to contact reach and privileged people, who had the opportunity to do well after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Besides, I am not really interested to them.

Maybe there is one more reason for getting these answers:  Georgia used to be a privileged State in the Union.  Both heavy Industry and agriculture were very advanced and enough to feed the locals and export to the rest of the Union. I am sure the golden son of Georgia had something to do with this.

More pictures

Useful external links 

Bourdain’s Tbilisi.

Guide to georgian food.

Georgia's addictive cousin.

Comments

17.12.2017 08:43

Alex

Such a smart story teller. I live in Tbilisi and reading your post made me love this place more. Reading the way a foreigner sees my city made me love it more!