Adjaruli Khachapuri, a variety of the famous Georgian cheese bread. Image source: DanielSedoff on Wikimedia Commons
Actually, Georgian food as a whole is on my mind, but khachapuri, the ubiquitous Georgian cheese bread, in particular has really caught my attention. But let me back up a little bit and wander slightly away from bread and into the greater Georgian cuisine.
I first got a taste of Georgian food during an evening in 2009 of The Sunday Night Dinner, which is an underground supper club run by my friend Tamara. The title of that evening’s dinner was Ramadan, Deconstructed, With A Little Georgian Influence. The food was spectacular—here is the menu from that night:
Spicy Caramel Popcorn
Grilled Duck with Tomato/Sesame/Saffron Sauce
Rice Pilaf with those Dates
Green Beans with Cinnamon and Clove and a Garlic Yogurt Sauce*
Beets with Sour Cherry Sauce*
Qatayef married to Jean Halberstrom’s Fried Peaches
The two dishes I marked with an asterisk were the Georgian dishes. I absolutely loved them! They had fresh, vibrant flavors that really took my palate by storm. Here’s a shot of the green bean dish—that is a fantastic amount of mint, too.
And as a lover of beets, you can bet I was really into the beets with sour cherry sauce dish. Sadly, I did not take a photo of it. I probably was so eager to dig in, I forgot to pull out my camera for that.
As an aside, the other dishes that night were absolutely delicious, including the amazing dessert of peaches and qatayef, a kind of pancake popular during Ramadan that is often filled with things like cheese or nuts). In fact, as I write this we are in the middle of Ramadan, and one of my favorite shops on Steinway, Al-Sham Sweets, makes a wonderful version.
But back to Georgian food. I think some of the reasons I like this particular cuisine are how flavorful the food is, as well as the Middle Eastern and Central Asian influences. There are plenty of fresh vegetables, meats (grilled meats known as shashlik, and sausages, such as kupati, both popular in the Kakheti region), yogurt and cheeses, pickles, walnuts, fresh herbs, plus there are the giant dumplings, khinkali. They look like soup dumplings and are filled with broth and beef. Regarding khinkali, I really like this video—I can’t understand Russian (yet), but love that they make the dough from scratch, and show how to cook and eat the dumplings (including a “Master Khinkali”—indeed, it’s big).
Georgia also has a long tradition of wine making—as far back as 6,000 BCE—with vines throughout the country. In the earliest days of wine making, they’d bury wine in pits and let it ferment over winter.
Georgian grapevines. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
According to Wikipedia, “wine is made in the regions of Kakheti (further divided onto micro-regions of Telavi and Kvareli), Kartli, Imereti, Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti, and Abkhazia.” This map easily delineates the different regions in Georgia (tourists are often discouraged to visit the disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia). Apparently Kakheti is a particularly major player in the Georgian wine scene, and has been called “the cradle of wine” in the country.
I would love to get my hands on some Georgian wines. I will do some investigating next time I’m in Rego Park and Forest Hills, an area of Queens with a Georgian population (mostly Georgian Jews who left Georgia in the late 20th century). By far, though, Georgians in NYC live in the southern part Brooklyn, and that’s where the restaurants and bakeries are. NYC is home to the largest enclave of Georgians in the United States.
But back to khachapuri. As it is so common (some people like to call it Georgian pizza, perhaps because both can be round and cheesy), there are variants. In Georgia, it will be stuffed with sulguni, a pickled cheese from the Samegrelo region, which apparently the United States doesn’t import (maybe I’ll try to make it sometime). Bakers here have figured out a workaround, and they often combine mozzarella and feta, plus butter to create as close an approximation as possible.
Many are named after their region. The most well known is the Imeretian (a.k.a. Imeruli) khachapuri. This is what most people think of when their hear khachapuri—it’s round and filled with cheese and really does look pizza-like.
Then there is the Adjarian (a.k.a. Acharuli/Adjaruli) khachapuri, which is pictured at the top of this post. That’s actually the very first style I laid eyes on (virtually). The dough is formed into a sort of open boat shape. When the bread comes out of the oven, it is topped with a raw egg and butter, which of course cooks the egg somewhat and melts the butter. I dream of eating this kind of khachapuri.
Wikipedia has a great list of regional khachapuri, including Mingrelian (Megruli), Abkhazian (Achma), Ossetian (Ossuri), Svanuri, Rachuli, and Phenovani. I’d love to try the Ossetian in particular, because of the inclusion of potato in the filling.
Some Georgian breads can be baked in an oven called a toné, which is like a tandoori oven. A convection oven is often used to make various kinds of khachapuri. Check out this great video by James Boo on Serious Eats of khachapuri—you can see examples of what looks like the Imeretian and the distinctive Adjarian types of bread.
I spend so much time eating in Queens, that traveling to one of the far corners of Brooklyn is a real adventure. I expect to head down there soon, so stay tuned for a first hand report of my projected devouring of khachapuri. I plan to hit up bakeries Georgian Bread and Georgian Food a.k.a. Brick Oven Bread, both in Brighton Beach. A stop at Tibilisi Restaurant or Prisomani may also be in the cards, if only to chow down on a plate of khinkali, and maybe some borscht and eggplant with walnut paste. My mouth is watering just thinking about it all.