Georgian food

Georgian food: an ultimate culinary guide

Georgia, a country on the border of Asia and Europe, has got both from two different worlds and cultures. Georgian food reminds me of Greek, Turkish and Arabic cuisine, but also Iranian, Indian and even Chinese. It is a mixture of different dishes, spices and fresh products. Despite of fast food trends throughout the world, Georgian kept their traditions in preparing fresh meals and that is the reason this food is so delicious. Georgian food actually depicts their history, the influence that Persia and Russia had on Georgia.

Spoiler alert, Georgian food has a lot of cheese, pastry, bread, meat and walnuts involved. If you decide to travel to Georgia, or to visit a Georgian restaurant in the USA, check out this ultimate good on Georgian food. I have listed the traditional Georgian food you should try, and created a culinary map of Georgia if you are interested to learn about specific parts of Georgia and the food there. At the bottom of my article you can find Georgian food for vegetarians and the list of Georgian restaurants in the USA. So, let’s start!

Traditional food to try in Georgia

Khinkali – Georgian dumplings stuffed with meat and various spices, served boiled or steamed. There are different variations of meat stuffing they use to prepare khinkali, and good news for vegetarians, they also have meatless stuffing. If you are a vegetarian scroll down to check the section “Georgian food for vegetarians”. By the way, these dumplings are usually full of hot broth so watch yourself when you eat them.

Badrijani Nigvzit– Baked eggplant strips topped with walnut paste.

Sacivi– It is a chicken dish served with a sauce that is made of onion, garlic, walnuts, spices and herbs. Sacivi is prepared in advance and chilled for one day before it is served. It has a distinctive taste, and usually served with coriander.

Lobio – A bean soup similar to Mexican bean dishes. Its taste and consistency can vary a lot from place to place. Traditionally, lobio is eaten with mchadi, Georgian cornbread.

Qababi -Similar to Turkish kebabs, made of minced meat on a grill, topped with onions and sumac, wrapped in a thin bread similar to pita bread in Greece and Cyprus.

Dolmas– In Greek, it is called dolmades, which are cooked or roasted grape leaves stuffed with minced meat, herbs and rice.

Chakapuli– Traditional lamb stew from Kakheti in Georgia, usually prepared during holidays. For chakapuli they use meat like veal or lamb, and put onions, tkemali (sour plums), white wine, garlic and mix of herbs.

georgian food
mtsvadi

Mtsvadi (Shashlik)– Similar to Greek souvlaki, meat skewers. They are usually made of pork and prepared on a grill. It is a typical barbecue meat in the Balkans and Turkey, no surprise that is also popular in Georgia.

Satsivi– This Georgian food is usually eaten in winter, especially during holidays. It is made of chicken or turkey served with a paste of walnut, garlic and herbs.

Ojakhuri– It reminds me of Greek kleftiko because it is cooked and served in a clay pot, but instead of lamb, it is pork with vegetables (potatoes, onions and garlic).

Ostri– If you like meat stews and Hungarian goulash, you should definitely try this tasty beef stew. Ostri stew has a lot of spices and herbs, and apart from beef they add tomatoes and mushrooms in it. This is a perfect Georgian food for winter.

Trout with pomegranate sauce– Fried trout served with a sweet and savoury pomegranate sauce, usually known as pomegranate molasses. Although there is a sea coast in Georgia and a lot of rivers and lakes, seafood dishes are not so common on Georgian menus.  

Kharcho–  This is a Georgian comfort food which is also very popular in Russia. They use chicken or beef meat to prepare this dish, and they season it with khmeli suneli which is a Georgian five-spice blend, plus cilantro and garlic. The meat is put in a sauce made of walnuts and it has to rest for a few hours before being served.

Gebjalia– Very tasty cheese rolls filled with mint and hot and spicy Georgian sauce called green ajika. The preparation of gebjalia is very interesting, the cheese is boiled in water until softened and looks like dough. They roll a cheese dough with a roller and spread a layer of mint and green ajika and then roll it and cut it into small pieces. Gebjalia is typically served cold with Georgian yogurt matsoni and Georgian cottage cheese called nadughi.

adjaruli khachapuri
khachapuri

Khachapuri – This cheese bread is probably the most popular Georgian food worldwide. It looks like a round pie but tastes like really nice bread, stuffed with tons of hot and melted cheese. The most popular variation is adjarian khachapuri, topped with egg but there are also other versions such as imeruli khachapuri and megruli. There are khachapuri stands all over Tbilisi and Georgia but the best khachapuri in Georgia is homemade. So if you are staying in an apartment or any accomodation type with bed and breakfast, you will be lucky to try homemade khachapuri.

Nazuki– Another type of Georgian bread but you cannot find it in every part of Georgia. It is a typical food in the western Georgia, in Surami town. Nazuki bread is flavoured with garlic clove, cinnamon and raisin.

Puri/ Tonis puri– A Georgian flat bread baked in a ceramic oven, similar look and taste as Indian naan. This bread is white but with brown or even darker edges, because it is baked in the oven.

Lobiani– A bread stuffed with beans. So, it is similar to khachapuri but instead of cheese, it is stuffed with beans. Lobiani is moist and healthier option than khachapuri, especially for those who avoid cheese.

Kubdari– Another type of Georgian bread, filled with small pieces of meat, onions and Georgian spices. The best kubdari you can find in the areas between Zugdidi and Mestia, and between Mestia and Ushguli.

Chvishtari– A cornbread like mchadi but filled with cheese, typical for Svaneti area.

Qatmis Salati– If you like meal salads, you would be delighted to know that in Georgia they serve chicken salad with mayonnaise, seasonings and onions.

georgian food
kuchmachi

Kuchmachi– This meal is only for the brave ones. On the top of the meal you will see pomegranate seeds and walnuts, but you should better not know what is inside. They put kidneys, liver, heart of pigs, chicken or beef. If you like to taste new flavours, you should not skip this interesting Georgian dish.

Ajapsandali– This Georgian food is similar to ratatouille, and usually served cold. But in some places you can find it hot too. It is made of tomatoes, potatoes, garlic, eggplants and red pepper.

Jonjoli– A unique appetizer, also a part of traditional Georgian food, made of pickled bladdernut sprouts. You may wonder what is a bladdernut, it is a Caucasian plant that Georgians collect in the nature and use it to prepare this pickled appetizer. Jonjoli is not served in restaurants but you can find it in any big market in Georgia. If you like pickled food, you should definitely try it.

Matsoni – a traditional Georgian yogurt, and similar to other yogurts, you can eat it with fruits and nuts for breakfast or with khachapuri and other breads.

Sulguni – The most popular Georgian cheese that comes from Samegrelo region, usually served with tomatoes and seasoning. It is moderately salty, moist and it can be white or pale yellow. Sulguni has texture that is similar to mozzarella and it can melt nicely.

Adjika – A Georgian spice condiment, like a chili paste. It is typically served with tomato and cucumber salad.

Tkemali Sauce – A sauce made of sour plum that is sometimes topped on cheeses and meat, or khachapuri.

Pkhali– This traditional Georgian paste goes well with khachapuri and tonis puri. It is made of spinach, garlic and walnuts and mostly served as an appetizer.

Tatara / Pelamushi– This Georgian dessert is similar to pudding, and it is made of pressed grape extract that is boiled and thickened with corn flour. They usually serve pelamushi during holidays, topped with pomegranate seeds and walnuts.

churchkela
churchkela

Churchkhela– I have tried similar dessert in Cyprus, called soutzoukos or sweet sujuk because it looks like sausage but it is sweet. Cypriot version is made of almonds, they put almonds on the strings and dip them into a jelly that is made of grape sauce. But they also have sweet sujuks prepared with other fruits, like pomegranate. Cypriot sweet sujuk actually originates from Georgian churchkhela. In Georgia, they usually put walnuts on the strings and dip them in grape sauce.

Karaliokis Chiri– These are actually dried persimmons (type of fruit).  Georgian people like this dessert, they peel persimmons and strung them together. Then they drie them in the sun for a couple of weeks, similar to churchkhela. When they are completely dry, they are ready to eat. You can find these dessert anywhere in Georgia.

Mushmala– In Serbia we call it musmule, I guess that originated from Georgian mushmala. This fruit is very tasty, and it has a rich flavor. Its colour is khaki or light brown, and they are of size like plums. Mushmala has a very distinctive flavour and I cannot compare it with any other fruit.

Tklapi– If you travel to Georgia and see colourful desserts that look like a rolled paper, that is tklapi. Sometimes they even roll it to look like a pancake. Tklapi is made of different fruits, figs, apricot, cherries, plums. That’s why you will see eatable rolled papers in different colours. For the best taste, try to find handmade tklapi. They are usually sold on the roads, near villages.

Kharcho– This Georgian soup is perfect in winter time. When you hear what are the ingredients you will understand why. Kharcho soup is made of beef, lamb or pork meat, rice, nuts and tklapi (yes, that sweet dessert)or tkemali sauce (they put it instead of tklapi). This soup can be very spicy.

Chikirtma– If you travel to Georgia in summer time, you can taste this chicken soup. They add egg yolk in the soup as well as cinnamon, garlic, lemon and coriander. So, it’s not an ordinary chicken soup.

Khashi– In Georgia they say that this soup is perfect for hangovers. So if you have so much fun in Georgia, next morning you should try this soup. It is made of sheep intestines and other meat parts of less quality.

Shkmeruli chicken– A roasted chicken, Georgian style, that is cooked in a clay pot and soaked in garlic sauce. This dish is for two people, because they serve the whole chicken. Don’t worry, the chicken is not so big, but the smaller the chicken the tastier it is, believe me!

Tabaka chicken– Another popular chicken dish that is usually served with tkemali sauce. It is fried in a pan but has to be flattened out completely, because the whole chicken is cooked.

Culinary map of Georgian cuisine

culinary map of Georgian food

These traditional Georgian dishes I listed above, you can find in most parts of Georgia. But, the thing is, every part of Georgia prepares a certain dish the best. So, if you travel to a particular region in Georgia, you would like to know what Georgian food is typical for that region.

That’s why I created a culinary map of Georgian food and below you can see explanations for each meal and region.  

Region Adjara

Borano– this is a typical dish for this region and less known to tourists. It is similar to fondue, made of salted butter and soft Adjarian cheese. They put melted and hot butter over cheese and then it gets softened even more.

Adjaruli khachapuri, as I mentioned before, this cheese boat khachapuri is very popular worldwide and this region of Georgia has its own version. Actually, this version is the most popular one, it is made with cheese and baked with one egg and some butter. I promise I will soon share with you recipes for khachapuri, all three versions.

Achma– a version of khachapuri, often compared to Italian lasagna because of its texture and look. This is another type of Georgian cheese bread with a crispy top and layers of cheesy and buttery.

Satsivi, prepared with turkey or chicken and walnut sauce is another specialty of the Adjara region. Pkhali is a spinach salad with walnut sauce, garlic and cilantro but you can find phkali made of other vegetables like eggplant, beetroot, beans. Khinkali are Georgian dumplings filled with spiced meats, cheese or potatoes and also traditionally prepared the best in Adjara region.

Svaneti region

If you like Georgian food you have probably heard of sulguni cheese, which is characteristic to this region, together with kaarz, cheese with mint boiled in milk. Sulguni cheese originates from Samegrelo region but many people say the best sulguni you can find in Svaneti. I am not quite sure if this is true, if anyone reading this Georgian food guide knows better, enlighten us.

Khachapuri is also good here in Svaneti, but it isn’t topped with egg, they put green onions instead.

Farmers in Svaneti regions eat mashed potatoes with tons of cheese mixed with corn flour (tashmijab) , no doubt when Svaneti regions has so many delicious cheeses. Here, they also bake cheese in a corn bread and that dish is called pishvdar, and sham – corn flour porridge with sulguni cheese.

In addition to famous cheese, Svaneti salt is widely used across Georgia. It is a mixture of salt with different spices and hot pepper and it is used for preparation of many Georgian dishes.

As for the main meal, you should try kubdari – minced or cut beef and pork meat baked in wheat bread (its dough is similar to khachapuri).

Samegrelo region

Samegrelo, a western region of Georgia, has a variety of spicy dishes. If you visit Samegrelo be sure to taste these dishes:

Gebjalia is a meal of the God, according to Samegrelo locals. These are cheese rolls filled with mint and green ajika.

Elarji– similar to ghomi, a traditional cornmeal dish boiled with cheese. Like I said before, Samegrelo is known for sulguni cheese but here you can also try the best smoked sulguni and gebzhalia cheese, which they serve as rolls with mint. Svaneti region has the best salt, and Samegrelo this hot red pepper sauce called ajika.

Shida Kartli region

This region is less known to tourists, but there you can find rare type of bread nazuki, especially in town Surami. Here you can find the recipe for nazuki bread, if you like cinnamon and vanilla you should definitely try it.

Kartli is famous for fruits, especially apples and peaches. If you are a vegetarian you should definitely visit this part of Georgia because they have a variety of vegetarian meals. I’ve already mentioned jonjoli, pickled sprouts made from the plant that grows in this region.

Samtskhe-Javakheti region

This southern part of Georgia is famous for Tatarberak dish, which reminds me of mlinci, a Serbo-Croatian pasta. It is boiled dough topped with melted butter and fried onions. In Borjomi town you can find delicious bread called tonis puri.

Racha region

Shkmeruli chicken is typical for this region. It is a chicken dish, made of roasted chicken that is further boiled in a garlic sauce.

Kakheti region

In eastern part of Georgia they love to eat meat. Mtsvadi is the most popular dish from this region, prepared with at least 3 types of meat, por, veal and mutton. They first marinate the meat in pomegranate sauce and then grill it. If you like barbecue you must try mtsvadi. Kakheti is also known for the bread called shoti, they goes perfect with mtsvadi.

I have mentioned churchkhela, a string with nuts that is dipped in grape juice over and over again until it gets thick as sausage. This delicious dessert you can find in Cuprys originated exactly from this part of Georgia.

For wine lovers, you should know that Kakheti region has the best wines in Georgia and if you travel make sure you reserve some days for this winemaking region.

Imereti region

Those who like to eat khachapuri may already heard of this region, because the classic khachapuri recipe is imeruli (Imeretian) khachapuri. This traditional version of khachapuri looks like flatbread and it is stuffed with cheese.

If you like to eat eggplant, you should try Nigvziani badrijani – it is a unique dish for Imereti region, eggplant with walnut filling.

Georgian food in the USA

If you live in the States and you would like to try Georgian food, no need to travel all the way to eastern Europe when you can find many authentic restaurants in the USA that serve Georgian food. I did research and based on that compiled a list of best places for Georgian food in USA. Share your suggestions in the comments section if you have any.

New York is the top choice if you want to try international food but I have also included restaurants from other parts of the USA.

1. Toné Café

It is called Toné because of the clay oven that Georgian people use to cook food, and that is how they call it in Georgian language. This restaurant has one of the best adjaruli khachapuri in New York city, according to the number of reviews they get. People also recommend pkhali, mcvadi, lobio.

2. Georgian Dream

In addition to khachapuri imeruli here you can try a dish called ojaxuri, which is meal prepared in the clay pot. It is made of pork, onion and potatoes. Also, if you like sausages try kupati sausage.

3. Oda House

Here you can try classic Georgian food such as adjaruli khachapuri and phkali, but also some original dishes that you won’t find anywhere else.

4. Cheeseboat is a restaurant in Brooklyn owned by a Georgian girl who tries to present a modern-way of making khachapuri. There you can find hipster khachapuri dishes, topped with varieties of cheese and meat.

5. One of the best Georgian restaurants in California is called Bevri, which means “a lot” in Georgian language. If you live nearby Palo Alto, you can try Georgian dumplings khinkali in this restaurant, as well as, pkhali, and of course adjaruli khachapuri.

6. According to tripadvisor review, the best Georgian restaurant in Washington is Supra, where you can try traditional clay pot wines from Georgia, varieties of cheese bread, lobio beans stew, khinkali dumplings and more.

7. Kargi Gogo is the best Georgian restaurant in Portland, Oregon. They serve traditional Georgian dishes, even jonjoli, which is hard to find elsewhere. Kargi Gogo has the largest Georgian wine selection in the US.

7. On the West coast, you can go to Kolkhida restaurant to eat Georgian lamb skewers, soup dumplings, and of course khachapuri.

8. In San Francisco, you can check out Cinderella Bakery & Cafe. Although it doesn’t sound like it is Georgian, they actually serve really good food.

If you have read the whole article you probably know what does every name of the dish means, and if not, check out the first part of the article where I have listed all traditional Georgian dishes.

Georgian food for vegetarians

georgian food pkhali
pkhali and nigvziani badrijani

If you’ve got interested in Georgian food but you are vegetarian, you may feel disappointed to learn that they eat a lot of meat. Fortunately, there are a lot of dishes you can try in Georgia that are made of cheese, vegetables and spices. You may be surprised with the flavours. Let’s see what Georgian food you can try if you are a vegetarian:

Khachapuri– pastry with cheese, and usually egg on top of it, but there are versions of khachapuri that don’t include eggs, only cheese and leeks maybe. Adjarian khachapuri is the one that is always made with egg.

Khinkali– these are Georgian dumplings, and some are filled with meat, but you can also find those only with vegetables, mushrooms, cheese.

Nigvziani badrijani– I already mentioned this dish made of eggplant, so no meat here, it is safe to eat it.

Lobio– it’s like a bean stew, without meat. You can eat lobio with mchadi, Georgian cornbread.

Lobiani– similar to cheese boat, but filled with beans instead of cheese.

Pkhali– vegetable balls made of spinach or beetroot, eggplant, mixed with walnut sauce, garlic and cilantro.

Tarkhunis Ghvezeli – Tarragon Pie, something like flatbread stuffed with tarragon.

Baked mushrooms with sulguni cheese– Stuffed mushrooms you can find everywhere but these are with sulguni cheese, a special type of Georgian cheese

Jonjoli–  It is made of pickled bladdernut sprouts. Bladdernut is a Caucasian plant that Georgians collect in the fields and pickle it in the jars. Jonjoli is hard to find in restaurants but you can find it in any market in Georgia.

Churchkhela – this is very delicious treat, made of grape sauce or other fruits like pomegranate. It looks like a sausage because they put walnuts on the string and dip them into the fruit sauce multiple times until it thickens.

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