Georgian cuisine: 5 traditional dishes to try

Formed over centuries by the influence of its European and Middle Eastern neighbours, Georgian cuisine is now very much its own concept – a unique combination of diversity and contrasts

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Nestled between two continents and once part of the great Silk Road, Georgia cherry-picked culinary techniques and seasonings from Mongols, Greeks, Arabs, Turks and other traders passing through. While many meals can be heavy on red meat, dairy, dough and walnuts, the Georgian’s balance of spices and fresh herbs help create flavourful, unique meals. Dumplings are boiled instead of steamed, a simple tomato and cucumber salad is seasoned with walnuts or unrefined sunflower oil, while meat stews have sour plums instead of apricots or prunes used in further east.

However, the country’s Mediterranean-like climate, mixed terrain and regional and ethnic diversities result in every corner having its own specialities. While visitors meandering through capital Tbilisi’s many restaurants and cafes can easily try many of Georgia’s regional staples – as well as contemporary eateries – its worth travelling to experience these dishes in their traditional environment. Heading out to the Black Sea, travellers will find the country’s western provinces offer spicy, tasty comfort food, while the dishes towards the eastern Caspian Sea side tend to be simple and minimalistic.

But wherever your Georgian journey takes you, there are a number of meals you just shouldn’t leave the country without trying – and the hospitable locals will certainly ensure that you don’t. The memorable bites on the next page will keep Georgia on your mind, stomach and maybe even in your kitchen too.

1. Khinkali dumplings

Using minced pork and beef, onions, chilli pepper and cumin, the Georgian cousin to the Asian dumpling is the first meal that locals introduce to visitors and the unofficial national dish. Khinkali originates from the mountain regions; Pasanauri village, on the way to Stepantsminda, is the place to savour it, seasoned with wild highland herb ombalo. Tbilisi has its own version called kalakuri, using other herbs such as parsley and coriander.

There’s a technique to eating khinkali. First you sprinkle it with black pepper, grab the topknot, hold it with both hands and take a small bite. Then, tilt your head back to slurp out the broth, before eating the rest, discarding the topknot. The idea is not to spill even a single drop of broth.

2. Khachapuri

A gooey cheese filling a shaped bread base, this is another local favourite. Made from sulguni cheese that resembles salty mozzarella, khachapuri has many variations.

Adjara, the Black Sea region in western Georgia, is home to a variation ‘made for sailors’: the bread resembles a boat, while the egg-yolk topping is the sun. To eat it, mix the egg yolk, butter and cheese well, then dip the bread in the cheesey mixture.
If you can’t get to Adjara’s capital Batumi, Cafe Stamba and Puri Guliani in Tbilisi are local favourites.


3. Pkhali

For a bite that’s less heavy on the carbs, dairy and meat, opt for pkhali. It’s a general term for plant-based and vegetable appetisers wrapped or seasoned with walnut paste and garnished with pomegranate seeds. Spinach, aubergine, beets, and carrots are the most common ingredients.

Try it at Shavi Lomi in Tbilisi, made from seasonal ingredients, accompanied by cornbread (mchadi) and slices of local cheese.

4. Chaqapuli

Typically made during Easter, chaqapuli is originally from the Kakheti region. Traditionally using lamb or veal (or beef or chicken), sour plums (tkemali), tarragon, and plenty of fresh herbs, it has a distinctive, unusual taste, while the vegetarian version made from mushrooms is as flavoursome.

5. Churchkhela

Despite its variety, Georgian cuisine is surprisingly lacking in dessert options, although this eye-catching sausage-like snack hits that sweet spot. Made from grape juice and nuts, it’s a source of sugar and protein, making it ideal fuel to explore cities or hike the mountains. In fact, churchkhela was a go-to snack for the Georgian military in wars.

Food tours in Georgia

For an immersive gastronomic experience, join Culinary Backstreets for a full-day tour to explore the delicious roots of Georgian cuisine.

Also, try a wine walking tour of Trails and Wines for hand-picked artisanal Georgian wines with stops at soda nooks, local bakeries, and courtyards.


More inspiration for Georgia

Your full Wanderlust guide to travel in Georgia

10 things we bet you didn’t know about Tbilisi, Georgia

Meeting Svaneti locals in Georgia's Caucasus Mountains

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