'Supras' to Street Food: a Colourful Food and Wine Journey Through Georgia

© Zura Mchedlishvili
© Zura Mchedlishvili

If you’ve never tried the food or wine of Georgia before, you are in for a treat. If you’re already a fan, there’s always more to discover in this land of culinary treasures.

As the country with the oldest winemaking techniques in the world and a Unesco-listed tradition of feasting at festive gatherings named supras, you can expect a lot of good things to eat and drink in Georgia. But it’s not just about grilled meat and alcohol; Georgian cuisine also offers lighter, healthier dishes: think walnut-dressed salads and garlicky aubergines, spicy bean stews and sweets made from nuts and grape juice in the warm, autumnal countryside.

Street food in Tbilisi

Khachapuri is a soft homemade bread stuffed with melted cheese that forms an irresistible, usually circular but often boat-shaped pie. This versatile national dish is sold at roadside stalls but you’ll also find it served in high-end restaurants. At the riverside Puri Guliani bakery, where they sell meat- and bean-stuffed variations too, you can watch the cooks in action and try to stop your mouth from watering at the smell of fresh baking bread. A couple of miles north, through the leafy old town of Tbilisi, you’ll find heaps of crimson pomegranates or fragrant dill and coriander in the sprawling Dezerter Bazaar. It is local produce that makes Georgian food so tasty: spiced Svanuri salt – a magic ingredient in lots of dishes – or the firm, pinkish tomatoes that go into Georgian salad, with cucumber chunks, walnut sauce and fresh herbs. Or indeed the grapes and walnuts that form the basis of the super popular snack churchkhela, a traditional candy that Georgians consume as a tasty and healthy version of an energy bite.

These popular, traditional, cheese-filled breads are known as ‘khachapuri’ | © Lesya Dolyuk/Shutterstock

Great Georgian flavours

To find out more about the vibrant culinary scene in Tbilisi, take a food tour and learn how a cauldron of cultural influences (Roman, Byzantine, Persian, Russian and many others) have combined over the centuries into a world-leading cuisine. Try honey from monasteries, homemade farmhouse pickles and silky meat-stuffed khinkali dumplings, before ending with a Georgian feast, or supra. To savour the array of rich Georgian wines, stop off at the 8,000 Vintages bar for a tasting. Then, walk through the Open Air Museum of Ethnography to Rachis Ubani where you can eat grilled lamb on the vine-framed, wooden veranda as the sun sets over the city.

These pinched, twisted dumplings are a much-loved dish that originated in Tbilisi | © Elena Bush/Shutterstock

Classic dishes everyone will love

There are plenty of Georgian dishes vegans and vegetarians will enjoy too, including spicy lobio bean stew, clay-baked cornbread, badrijani nigzvit (divine garlic-walnut-aubergine rolls) and freshly made pkhali, which blends nuts and beetroot leaves. In the stylish Rooms Hotel Kokhta in Bakurian, a locally sourced menu showcases classic flavours such as smoked sulguni cheese and green ajika chilli sauce. At Khasheria in snow-capped Gudauri, revolutionary chef Tekuna Gachechiladze offers palate-tingling mushroom broth and colourful fermented veggies. It’s also a perfect place to try creamy shkermuli chicken or polenta-cheese elarji balls with spicy almond sauce. In the mountainous northwest of Georgia, Chalet Mestia serves regional specialities from Svaneti – don’t miss the tashmijabi mashed potato with lots of melty Svanetian cheese or, if you eat meat, the kubdari flatbreads spiced with cumin and fenugreek.

Chopped vegetables, combined with herbs and puréed walnut sauce, make up the bright coloured balls of ‘pkhali’ | © Ratov Maxim/Shutterstock

Ecotourism

For traditional food using fresh techniques, head to Kakhelebi, one of the restaurants in Tbilisi that sources seasonal fruit and veg from their own farm and orchards. Even better, go and stay on a farm and eat fresh fish and produce in the flowering Georgian countryside. At Volodia ecolodge, near the Vardzia Cave Monastery, you will find simple rooms and a log fire. The mountain-backed gardens have rows of sunflowers, fruit trees, grape-dangling pergolas and greenhouses full of ripening tomatoes. Try your hand at fishing on the trout farm or in the nearby Mtkvari River and eat the trout later, barbecued in the open air along with home-grown veg, homemade amber wine and dishes such as chakapuli, lamb stew with sour plums and tarragon.

If seasonal plates and homegrown produce sounds like your kind of thing, then head to Kakhelebi for a wholesome feast of Georgian cuisine | Courtesy of Georgia Tourism

Sweet, sweet Georgia

Georgian cuisine is not all about savoury dishes. The Sataplia Nature Reserve is known for having wild bees – the name roughly translates to honey place. There are murabba fruit preserves made with peaches, walnuts, cherries with nuts inside, dangling churchkhelas, made from strings of nuts dipped in boiling grape juice. The best churchkhela is made in the region of Kakheti, but if you find yourself in Borjomi, not far from the spa town in the green heart of the country, you can spend an autumnal day harvesting potatoes or learning how to make your own churchkhelas on Barbale Organic Farm. With wooded hills behind it and beehives in front, red-roofed Barbale is a pioneering centre for sustainable agrotourism.

Sticky, sweet dangling churchkhela made of walnuts and grape juice | © GOR Photo/Shutterstock

Wine

Georgia is the only country on earth where winemaking methods developed eight millennia ago are still being used today, producing excellent wines such as the deep reds made from saperavi grapes or amber-golden whites with subtle dried fruit flavours. There are more than 500 indigenous grape varieties and wine is still fermented in clay jars called Qvevri. The country is rich in vineyards where you can see these fine ancient techniques in action, including the Riuspiri Biodynamic Winery in Kakheti, which offers tastings every day. More modern methods are used at the Winery Khareba, where long military tunnels dug into the Caucasus Mountains now provide the perfect conditions for storing wine.

Make sure you sip your wine from a traditional tasi clay cup for the authentic Georgian experience | Courtesy of Georgia Tourism

Supras

With so much great food and wine, it is hardly surprising that traditional (now Unesco-listed) feasts or supras are central to Georgian culture. Georgians are very hospitable people, but if you haven’t had an invitation yet, you could book supper in a Georgian house online. Led by a tamada or toastmaster, supras revolve around a series of speeches and toasts (to Georgia, to God, to peace, to friendship) and an endless-seeming supply of delicious dishes. It might be useful to know the Georgian word for cheers – gaumarjos – so you can join in after each toast. Hearty dishes such as khachapuri cheese bread and khinkali dumplings should help cushion the large amounts of alcohol and although you might feel a bit fuzzy the next day, your experiences of Georgian food and wine will be unforgettable. You’ll also more likely than not be invited to the second day of the supra specifically designed to cure your hangover with the miracle combo of khinkali soup and Borjomi mineral water. Gaumarjos!

Be prepared for a gastronomical adventure at any wine-fuelled supra | Courtesy of Georgia Tourism

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