As my time in Georgia winds to a close (I’ll be back in the States in just over a week), I’ve been taking some time to think about the things I’ll miss most about this place. I’m hoping to indulge in many of the food-related pleasures at least once more before leaving. Some, like the delicate “Japanese” persimmons so soft and sweet you can eat them with a spoon like pudding, are nowhere to be found, their all-too-brief season having passed not long ago. But the hardest to leave behind will be those things which are so ubiquitous here that their constant presence goes almost unnoticed.
Here are my top five:
1. Khachapuri in all of its steaming, cheese-stuffed incarnations. Whether wrapped in puff-pastry and baked on the walls of an earthen kiln, tucked inside a doughy pocket and smeared with butter, or bubbling in an eggy puddle inside a freshly baked bread boat, this is comfort food par excellence.
2. Tetri Irisi caramel cake and Literaturuli Cafe, my home away from home here in Batumi. Layers of honey cake sandwiched between swaths of cream and caramel frosting made from sweetened condensed milk, with chocolate drizzled lightly over the top. It sounds like overkill, the kind of thing that makes your teeth feel brittle just thinking about it, but someone in this kitchen has the Midas touch. This is heaven on a doily.
3. Shushana’s spicy ketchup, which enlivens everything from meat and potatoes to fried eggs and bean stew. If the thought of it didn’t make me feel so sheepish, I would eat this stuff straight up. (See the recipe in a previous post.)
4. Hot, freshly baked bread available at multiple locations within walking distance of my apartment. There are always sweet and moist white loaves to be found, but my favorites are the chewy, diamond-shaped loaves baked on the inner walls of a kiln and the soft, round loaves with a dent in the middle that leave the barest hint of salt on your lips when you swallow. They embrace peanut butter like, well, jelly.
5. Khinkali, or large, twisted dumplings stuffed with ground meat and herbs (or mushrooms, cheese, or potatoes), boiled, and served seething hot. You order them by the piece for about 30-40 cents per dumpling: the most I ever managed to eat in one sitting was eight. You sprinkle a generous helping of black pepper over each one, pick it up by its convenient dough-twist “handle,” and bite in, being careful to catch the near-boiling broth in your mouth rather than letting it dribble out onto your plate. My Thanksgiving dinner this year was a plateful of these babies washed down with a cold pint of Georgian lager (which I will not miss, but it did make a refreshing accompaniment to the hearty dumplings).
I could go on: waking up to Turkish coffee every morning, the ease with which warming soups are whipped up from scratch on a nearly daily basis, the stunning variety of uses Georgians have found for walnuts, the mountains of firm, tart tangerines for sale at less than a dollar per kilo on the next corner (and every corner) in November and December…. I’ll stop myself: I’m getting emotional.
You can expect chronicles of my attempts to recreate these dishes and other Georgian favorites in my American kitchen once I return to the States and have sufficiently gorged myself on the things I miss most about home (which are equally numerous and will be featured in a forthcoming post).