Thursday, May 7, 2015

Georgia: All About the Food!

No trip to Georgia can ever be without absurdity, adventure, fun, discoveries, incredible encounters, and much more. While our short weekend trip had many highlights, including me failing at quoting the below calvin & hobbes strip in a situation that was almost too perfect for it, for this blog post I will focus on Georgian food.
This would have been a perfect quote when we were laughing at almost dying on the way
I have talked about Georgian food before, including my attempt at re-creating one of my favourite dishes, but only in fragments and never as a whole. Georgian food deserves to be discussed as a whole. Having lived in Armenia for some time now, I always had access to mini-tidbits of authentic Georgian cuisine (cause we be neighbours), but eating it in the land from where it came is of course always on a different level.

I love Armenian food--especially Western Armenian food, and have also found gems in local dishes here, which for me are the 'vegan-by-default' basooc dolma and jingalov hats

However, where Armenians tend to overdo it on the oil and salt, Georgians are masters of spices and luckily for me and all of the veg-heads out there, this goes well beyond meat and applies to bean and greens dishes as well.

Below are some of my favourite Georgian dishes (all are vegan too!). Many have already praised the better known options like khinkali or Ajarian khatchapuri (both also delicious and coma-inducing), but I will focus on these lesser-known taste-bombs. I can only assume there are so many more, and will continue to find reasons to travel there and finish all of the food:

Lobiani: When you think about a "bite-on-the-go", the actual food involved will vary depending on country. While in Canada hot dogs reign supreme in this sense, in Armenia khatchapuri (flat dough filled with cheese, but many other varieties exist) or perashki (a potato and dough deep fried medley) are the most popular choices. Both are clear examples of Georgian and Russian influences, and between the two they are oily, salty, fried, and heavy. In many cases, the "cheese" in the former is actually just salt (true story). In Georgia however, while you can definitely still opt for khatchapuri while you pretend to be in a rush (I see through you), there is another wonderful option: lobiani. Filled with mashed up beans (I suspect only kidney but it could include others as well), and spices, it is a delicious and filling alternative. If you have to eat on the go, why not opt for the fibre and protein filled option - especially since the rest is bread. In Kobuleti, we also ate it in a restaurant, which is even better as the dough is crispier - check it out here.
Serda & I devouring our first lobiani after the 6 hour trip!
Lobio: Bean stew in a clay pot. Sounds basic, but this is where the Georgian ability to use spices comes in to play. When Gohar and I finally asked about the spices during our first trip to Kobuleti, the woman there told us they included khmeli-suneli and spiced seasoned salt. I bought both spices from a shuga that day, and bought both again this time around as well. This dish is usually served with some raw onion spirals on top and fresh parsley or dill. A friend recently ordered a curry/turmeric version and of course it was fantastic as well. 
Pot of gold
Pkhali: Probably my favourite option. Greens (spinach, beet leaves) mixed with spices, garlic, walnuts, and topped with dried pomegranates. One of the most unique things I had ever tried and of course also vegan-friendly. I once overdid it with Gohar in Kobuleti as in Armenia they are served as small balls, whereas in Georgia it is flattened on a plate, and we ordered too many thinking they were mini balls like a bunch of silly tourists. But they are still one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten and I regularly get my fix in places that have Georgian cuisine options in Yerevan. I will soon attempt to make this as well - dun dun dun!
Here it was served with fresh pomegranate seeds!
Eggplant with walnut spread: I have a love/hate relationship with eggplant. Objectively I think it is a fine vegetable, but the 'hate' stems from being obsessed with hummus as a kid (and now, who am I kidding) and always getting annoyed when baba ghanoush was served as a 'replacement' or instead of hummus. I like baba ghanoush a lot as well, but many people seemed to serve it thinking it could replace hummus, so as a younger immature person, I took out my annoyance on the dish itself and by extension eggplant. However, I am older and wiser and therefore treat eggplant better now so I was open to trying this particular dish and I am so happy I did. Sliced eggplant slathered in a walnut paste, again topped with dried pomegranate. Yes, please.
I am learning to love you
Salad with walnut: Georgians take the simple tomato and cucumber salad we all know and love, and just add powdered walnuts and usually dill to it. Small upgrades, but they make it more filling, combine proteins, and it is still super refreshing!
These are my top five favourite Georgian dishes so far, and both Serda & Elizabeth were just as impressed by them so they wanted to find the ingredients that were responsible for the flavour. 

We went to the Dezerter Bazaar in Tbilisi to buy spices, and came home with bags upon bags, always with the goal of livening up dishes we make, or re-creating the ones above. Since I know I will return in June, I left with only khmeli-suneli, seasoned salt, and spiced seasoned salt. Interesting fact alert: It is called 'dezerter' because this is where deserting soldiers would sell their weapons. 
Cutie pie vendor selling us spices & communicating with hand gestures
On our second day, we bought two types of lobiani (made with different types of dough), fresh mint, lemons, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and created this delicious brunch for a busy day we needed lots of fuel for. We stuffed the lobiani with the the veggies and mint and it kept us full for hours:
Cheers to Georgian food!
After the trip in June I will post more about the individual spices, and elaborate on them as they are all key in making Geogian food so incredibly unique and delicious! 
The stash
Photos by Elizabeth Audrey (first) and Serda Ozbenian (rest).