Georgia is now on every traveller’s ‘wish list’ for its delicious food, important wine history and cultural riches. Set within the spectacular scenery of the Caucasus Mountains and the Black Sea, Georgia offers visitors the possibility to experience exciting culinary, winemaking and cultural journeys throughout the country’s varied landscapes. They include the beautiful city of Tbilisi – with its mix of historic and cutting-edge architecture and lively food scene – the colourful markets of Kutaisi and Telavi, and the extensive wine regions of Kakheti and Imereti as well as the highland specialities of Svaneti, Tusheti and Kazbegi.
Georgian food is a fantastic mix of the familiar and the exotic. The vibrant, delicious recipes use seasonal vegetables, ground walnuts, handfuls of fresh herbs and delicate spicing of coriander, marigold and blue fenugreek to produce the sharing dishes that fit so well into our modern lifestyle. For meat-lovers there are grilled kebabs, juicy dumplings – khinkali – and stews flavoured with tarragon and sour plums. Khachapuri – the iconic national cheese-filled bread – is as moreish as pizza and is one of the next great food trends outside of Georgia.
Georgia’s ancient and unique winemaking tradition has been unbroken for over 8,000 years and boasts over 500 native grape varieties. The country’s traditional wines are still made in qvevri – handmade terracotta pots buried in the ground – and are the inspiration behind the current ‘natural’ wine movement. These ‘orange’ wines are made by families throughout the country.
Georgian wines marry superbly with Georgia’s vibrant food, especially at a traditional supra, or Georgian feast. The supra brings together great food, wine and music, and it underpins the Georgian concept of hospitality. During the meal, an array of dishes, cold and hot, are placed along the table as guests help themselves to their favourites. The flavours range from earthy to spicy, from sharp to sweet.
Wine flows freely. But a supra is given structure by the tamada, or toastmaster, who is nominated as the master of ceremonies. For Georgians, the guest is ‘sent by God’ so there are always inclusive toasts to make even the loneliest traveller feel welcome. The final supra element, and one of the most exciting, is the music. Georgia’s ancient polyphonic tradition lives on in families and singing groups throughout the country and makes the perfect accompaniment to a great Georgian meal.
Carla Capalbo is a food, wine and travel writer and photographer. Her award-winning book, Tasting Georgia, takes the reader on a journey around culinary Georgia, and includes 70 recipes. www.tastinggeorgia.com