The region of Adjara boasts a number of regional specialties, all revolving around some combination of cheese, eggs, and butter. The only one to enjoy widespread popularity throughout Georgia is adjaruli khachapuri, or Adjaran cheese bread. This was the first dish our group of teachers was treated to upon arriving in Batumi, and it is the first dish locals name when they want to know whether we like the food here.
My host mother Shushana showed me how it’s made this morning. First she mixed up a standard yeast bread dough (flour, water, yeast, salt, and eggs), punching it down and letting it rise again three times. Then she grated a kilo’s worth of brined cow’s milk cheese, moistened the shreds with water, and added flour as a binding agent. (Meanwhile, her grandson Datiko pounded on the table, sang, and ate the cheese as she grated it.)
After creating six boat-shaped forms out of the dough and filling each with the cheese mixture, she brushed the rims with mayonnaise and placed them in the portable oven she’d set out on the balcony. (There is a real oven in the kitchen, but she stores pots and pans inside it, and it’s still too hot to bake inside the apartment comfortably.) When the bread boats begin to brown and blister around the outside, she cracked an egg into each and returned them to the oven for two more minutes until the whites turned opaque.
Just in case you thought that wasn’t enough cholesterol for one meal, you could add a large pat of butter in the center “to make it taste good,” Shushana says. I’ve been there, done that, but prefer mine without. Perhaps I’ve been unfairly conditioned to avoid perfectly natural animal fats, and it’s no secret that your average Georgian weighs significantly less than your average American. All I know is, I’m never going to feel guilty about grilling a piddly grilled cheese sandwich in butter again.
I was about to rip a hunk out of the side of the boat with my hands and take it for a swim in the molten egg and cheese mixture as I’ve seen other Georgians do (and done myself with them), but my host parents weren’t having it. “No, no, the insides will leak out all over your plate!” my host father cried and demonstrated some magic fork-and-knife technique they don’t teach us at home. The trick is to cut out the inner half of the rim without piercing the bottom of the boat, thereby keeping the cheese mixture trapped inside until most of its liquid has melted into the bread itself and no longer threatens to sprout a leak.
My attempts to master this skill provided comic relief for the meal, and I’ve yet to understand how anyone can finish a whole boat in one sitting. There’s always next time–I’m sure there’s plenty more where that came from.