The Georgian Feast, 24th Jan 2011
Post date: 01-Jan-2011 21:58:41
Spending on feasting and wine is better than hoarding our substance.
That which we give makes us richer, that which is hoarded is lost.
-Shota Rustaveli, 12C Georgian poet
Georgian cuisine is not well known, but those who know Georgia know that it's famous for its hospitality and its Georgian Feasts (see attached photo). An independent nation until the early 1700s (when it was annexed by the Russian Empire), Georgia has a proud and long history, was the second Christian nation after Armenia in 327AD, and in fact the Golden Fleece of Jason and the Argonauts is likely to have been Georgian. It was also an important nation despite its size, controlling part of the Silk Road trade routes. When it became part of Russia, Georgia was the most southern part of the empire, with a sub-tropical climate, and the only region able to grow grapes (Georgia supplied all the wine and champagne in communist Russia) and tea (ditto), as well as many fruits and vegetables. Due to the "exoticness" of Georgia to the Russians, and perhaps also because Stalin was from Georgia, it is the one nation which has been able to keep its own language and writing in schools, even through the Soviet years. Georgian in fact is its own whole branch in the evolution of languages and bears no relation to any others. Thus its culture has remained very distinct, and to a great extent, so has its food. Russian food does not use much aubergines, coriander, walnuts and pomegranates, for example (and if it does, they came from Georgia!).
Another highly unusual aspect of Georgian cuisine is that it uses both dill and coriander leaf in the cuisine, often in the same recipes. This to me exemplifies the location of Georgia - straddling North and South, in between Russia and Turkey. Dill is such a northern herb, and coriander leaf such a southern one. But Georgia also straddles Asia and Europe, being in fact on the Silk Road, so you also see aspects similar to Middle Eastern cooking in the meze-style feasts, as well as northern-style dishes such as dumplings, and of course Russian influenced dishes. There is one more odd thing about Georgian cuisine and that is the fall of the Iron Curtain. Georgia became so cut off from the south that imported spices that previously existed in the cuisine like saffron and cumin became unobtainable. So when I was there I found that although similar-looking (but not tasting) spices shared similar names, they were clear substitutes for what I presume originally were the real thing. That also contributes to making Georgian food quite distinct from other world cuisines.
Come and try a real Georgian feast for yourselves. The menu will include such staples as Khachapuri, the ubiquitous Georgian cheese bread; the fabulous and unspellable Adzhapsandali, a vegetable dish; Georgian dolma, stuffed cabbage leaves which were the first dish ever cooked for me when I arrived in Tblisi; Chanacki, a lamb and vegetable baked dish; Badrijani, aubergines stuffed with walnuts and pomegranate seeds; Ispanakhi Phkali a spinach and fenugreek dish, Charkhlis Mhkali, a beet and walnut puree; Lobio Tkemali a bean and plum dish, and a selection of other dishes.
A REAL GEORGIAN FEAST