A food scene promising to blend middle eastern with Russian with European influences and some almost alarming wine choices, including orange and a red product that ferments in clay pots were part of the reason I was so keen to do this trip to Georgia. I’m posting daily over this weekend to cover all the essential components of a rugby junket taking in finals day of the Under 20s Rugby Championship.
Looking a lot like Shanghainese soup dumplings, Xialongbao, the Georgian Khinkali is promoted as the essential Caucasian snack and was available from pretty much every other cafe or restaurant. I’d not had them before, but my colleague and friend Gigi had, providing warnings that they weren’t available with booze and would probably presented in a lukewarm puddle of water.
A typical Tbilisi dwelling seems to be an America-style 1920s veranda/balcony wooden construction so it was off the top floor of a beer hall of this design we took in 20 dumplings, admittedly small size, in a puddle of lukewarm water. The stuffing is pot luck, but a cumin and coriander lamb was the highlight, washed down with an apparently essential Georgian beer and Russian staple sour cream. Lunchtime amusement came from a Georgian family eating a huge slab of pork and drinking a bottle of vodka, while cars got towed away and pensioners ducked across six lanes of motorway-speed traffic outside.
Of course if you’re taking in some rugby a heavy meat diet is required for sustenance and it does seem to be a staple. Most restaurants with Georgian cuisine do Shashlik, the Georgian equivalent of the pork kebab I’d spent most of the week before in Greece eating, with servings including paprika, onions and pomegranate seeds. This was trumped all out by a Georgian meat special at Organrique, however, with grilled meat for two providing a course of four different meats on a board, and nothing else. It was impressively oppressive.
Booze and toxic alternatives
Within the last couple of years, Georgian orange wine has cropped up a number of establishments including Tom Kerridge’s pub, the Hand and Flowers and a wine bar I frequent in Acton, Vindinista. Made with white grapes the way of a red, it’s an initially startling taste that goes well with cheese and otherwise non-red meat. It’s the colour of a dessert wine, but the taste is opposite. I’m still searching for this, however, with the half the shops that don’t sell dumplings selling wine, it shouldn’t be too hard to find.
Georgian local beer, lager or black and red wine have sustained us so far. Beer is scandalously cheap and seeming sold with the intention of drinking on the street. The slightly preferable lager seems to come out at GBP 1.60 for a two litre bottle, perfect for train beers and sneaking into a stadium. Clogger gets stuck in, below. Dry red wine seems most palatable: Saparevi is the local grape which comes out somewhere like a less fruity Malbec. The Shashliks combine well. It can be had for a few GBPs a bottle and 90 Georgian Laris for a litre with your meat board.
Without doubt the most startling drink so far was not, I suspect, alcoholic but a heavily mineralated sparkling water, Borjomi. Opening this bottle instantly rendered our table heavily contaminated with a huge sulphurous whiff, identifying us as farters while it set away neutralising the wine and cake on the table. It had startling amounts of Hydro Carbon Trioxide (If my secondary school chemistry is correct) and had me rushing for the toilet several times that evening. Rugby tours need this, somehow.
More from Georgia