“We want to eat street food!” we announced to Irakli, the host of our guest house in Tbilisi’s old town.
“No, not street food” Irakli instructed. “Instead you’ll eat fresh-cooked food from simple restaurants.” It was more of a demand than advice, and since Irakli is a expert on making people happy in Tbilisi, we set out to eat in simple restaurants.
We ate a lot.
Let’s start with my favorite: khinkali. Khinkali are dumplings which Georgians have the good sense to eat in large quantities at all times of the day. They’re stuffed with meat (or cheese/vegetables and herbs) and a savory broth that we eagerly slurped. Etiquette decrees eating khinkali only with your hands and leaving the pinched dough end of the pouch uneaten on your plate.
One dish turned out to be mini khinkali baked with a lid of bread and cheese inside a clay pot. I’m not certain of the name of this dish, but it’s comfort food squared.
Khachapuri is the other iconic food of Georgia. Shortly after arriving in Georgia I noticed people lugging huge bags of flour everywhere—flour dusted men emerging from flour packed vans with sack after sack of it. You can probably guess what all this flour is for, bread (called puri) and most of all khachapuri.
Khachapuri is stuffed bread and in Tbilisi there’s quite a variety of it. Here’s HOB about to cram his face with spinach khachapuri.
Acharuli khachapui, a bread boat baked with cheese and served with a sizable pat of butter and raw egg on top, is not a light dish, but it turned out to be perfect fuel for a day of hiking the hills of Tbilisi.
This is Machakhela, a Tblisi chain restaurant. You order your khachapui at the counter and it’s cooked up fresh (with fast food prices!)
Not gonna lie–there were times when I groaned “Please God, NO MORE BREAD!” Fortunately, Georgians are masterful at preparing vegetables. Pkhali is a mixed plate of vegetable and walnut based pâtés, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. One version we ordered came with a bubbling pot of lobio (red beans).
I never even one time thought those pkhali balls in the center looked like green boobs, promise.
Other vegetarian delights we devoured included this divine cauliflower in yogurt walnut sauce and mushrooms sizzling in a clay dish with potatoes and herbs.
Our favorite vegetable dishes were served at Chashnagiri in Tbilisi’s old town. We went here on our last night to spend the rest of our Georgian lari, since they can’t be exchanged outside the country. The bill for a ridiculous amount of food was about 40 gel (about 20 USD) including drinks.
I’d be slacking if I left out Georgian mineral water—there’s a wonderful selection, each brand with a nuanced flavor. I was partial to Borjomi, well chilled.
Sorry Irakli, but I couldn’t leave Tbilisi without sampling just a bit of street food. Stands like these, with piles of fruit leather and churchkhela, are all over Tbilisi. Churchkhela is the official name for walnuts on a string, dipped repeatedly in a mixture of grape juice and flour, until they form a sausage shape. As far as I can tell, churchkhela are never actually referred to by their real name, but are universally known as “Georgian Snickers”.
I tried the Georgian Snickers and pronounced it tastier than it’s junk food namesake.
And in the chip aisle of a Tbilisi supermarket I found these. Finally, the food of my people.
How we got to Tbilisi: flight from Chicago via Munich.
Where we slept: SKAdaVELI Guesthouse. Price: €35 for a double. Recommended: yes.