07 Nov Georgia – The Land of Hospitality
A Phoenix of Sakartvelo
The Republic of Georgia, or how Georgians call it, Sakartvelo, is not just one of the small yet proud Caucasian countries with a Soviet past but also an under-explored jewel for the traveling world. After the Soviet Union collapsed, Georgia, which used to be one of the most flourishing and prosperous republics, was scattered and thrown into an utter state of poverty. No electricity, no heating, and no food supplies – it was literally a dark time for the country. Having survived various military conflicts and natural disasters, the nation grew stronger and more united than ever before.
Within the past few years, Georgia has grown into an attractive tourist destination offering quite an impressive set of cultural revelations for adventurous visitors. Georgia makes you forget urban fuss and dive into a pool of safe serenity with its relaxed and almost siesta-like lifestyle. This country gently takes place in the heart of everyone who experiences it.
The Nature of Art and the Art of Nature
It might be a daring comparison, but Georgia can be called a Caucasian France regarding the number of artists from all over the world flocking there. Fine arts, photography, music, and fashion design find a constant expression in the country’s everyday life with the spirit of creativity that’s shared by everyone. Maybe it’s also thanks to a fantastic diversity of landscape within the small country. There is not a minute of dullness with its snow-covered mountains, lakes, ancient churches, traditional villages, and vineyards. Georgia is divided into several historical regions, each with a specific culture, including food traditions, clothing, language peculiarities, and mentality. Hard-baked highlanders from Tusheti and jolly masters of good humor from Guria represent different sides of the culture.
Becoming a Supraman
The hospitality tradition in Georgia breaks all limits: a guest is a cherished treasure, a family member, a friend, and the center of the universe. Therefore, a community feast culture is so robust in this part of the world. There’s even a particular term for an authentic Georgian feast – Supra, an experience after which you face not a food coma but rather a complete awakening of body and mind. As tradition demands, dining tables have to be covered entirely with delicacies in a Rabelaisian style. An intense supra is often followed by lunch the next day called ‘Khashi,’ named after the star dish, also known as a hangover soup. It’s made with tripe, more than a generous amount of garlic, and lemon. Khashi roots back to medieval times, and the dish is considered to have an astounding healing effect.
Dough & Co.
A whole new article (or two) will be needed to at least shortly embrace Georgia’s culinary diversity. But just like an Oscar movie has two or three high-level celebrities, this cuisine can boast at least two gourmet heroes of all time. One of them has almost become a national emblem with its easily recognizable shape and a signature taste – it’s Khinkali, a Georgian dumpling. There are many fillings, but one of the most loved ones (at least in urban areas) is the kalakuri type with minced meat and herbs. Vegetarian versions include khinkali with sulguni cheese, button mushrooms, and mashed potatoes. Boiled khinkali are served on a platter and are usually consumed with bare hands. Any utensils are strictly prohibited. Making khinkali with as many pleats as possible is a special form of art. Twelve pleats are considered a mediocre achievement.
The second Caucasian favorite is Khachapuri, which is a Georgian interpretation of the ‘bread-and-cheese’ culinary archetype. Imeretian khachapuri is a round buttered flatbread stuffed with cheese; Megrelian khachapuri is like Imeretian, but with extra cheese on top. But the king of all khachapuri is the Adjarian one – a giant that impresses and awes at first sight and smell. An open ‘boat’ of dough filled with cheese and topped with a runny egg yolk and an impressive pat of butter. Traditionally, this ‘boat’ is not expected to be shared but eaten solely.
Georgian is also known as the birthplace of wine. Its winemaking tradition counts around eight thousand years, which makes it the oldest in the world. Currently, there are two most popular styles of winemaking. One is a traditional Georgian way, where grape juice, skins, and even woody parts of the grape, are crushed and fermented together. This way, white wine gets its beautiful amber or orange color and tastes like dried fruits, wild herbs, and ripe apricots. The second style is European – the wine is filtered before fermentation, and as a result, tastes more elegant and refined.
Georgia is the only nation in the world to use unique earthenware egg-shaped vessels Qvevri for making and storing the wine. Qvevris are buried in the ground; they can be of various sizes, with the biggest one giving enough space inside for an adult. A model of strong ties and time-proof traditions, almost every family in Georgia has its winemaking history and secrets rooted in a uniquely preserved culture.
White wine is a most common festive drink, while red wine (which Georgians call ‘black’) is considered too heavy and rather a medicine than a beverage. Often used during the feasts, a traditional Georgian wine vessel ‘Kantsi’ is made of mountain goat’s horn. The trick is that you can’t put it on the table without drinking all the wine inside at once. It’s quite a challenge, considering that some kantsi can hold up to 3 liters of wine!