Men and women of Georgia.

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Contact Giga on his Facebook page for a fun travel time in Georgia. 

The women:
Intelligent and somewhat repressed women, at least by Western standards. All of them dark-haired, with beautiful, thick and straight hair. The majority is between 5’2” and 5’6”.Most of them educated in some professional field, many of them at home not using those skills.
I know ladies with law degrees, teaching certificates, and MBAs. Not one can find a job.
They believe in “sticking together” as women, and will defend another woman with all their might. They believe their happiness depends on the happiness of their children.
All of them cook all day, unless they hold a job. Able to serve up to 7 meals per day. (Granted, sometimes, it is just reheated.) They consider you their charge as guests, you are in the best hands with a Georgian woman! They will feed you until you explode! Unless a man lives alone, he has no business in the kitchen, and will apparently roam aimlessly until a woman serves him food...Mmmmm...that does not fit my Western standards too well..

I have not been allowed, on the many trips over the five years in this family, to handle a dish, serve someone at the table, or clean anything...Even as a part of the family, I cannot do anything but sit and eat..So, I had a conversation last week with my sister-in-law, on the tradition of force feeding geese in France. After all, I am not a goose.. 

The result? After 5 years of being a royal guest, I heard last night that I was no longer a guest, and yes, I can now take the honey out of the cupboard to sweeten my tea MYSELF! Now, that took long enough, but it is just to say, the georgian welcome is something else!  :). How long does it take for your guests to earn these rights? Funny how cultures differ, eh?
the first thing I say to my long-haul friends is: " Don't hesitate to help yourself in the fridge!" That is an American way of welcoming someone. In France, people actually hesitate to enter the kitchen, because it is usually a room with closing doors. As a result, guests do not help themselves either, but they are at least welcomed to help me with the dishes..
Those differences in dining étiquette are certainly part of the fun of meeting people when traveling. You just don't get that out of a tourist bus!

As the days get shorter and the winds pick up, it is time to clean the rugs. That is done manually by ladies, with a hose and a sort of broom handle with a T attached. When the ladies clean the floors inside, the attach a cloth around it.
So, they hose the carpets and push away the water with that implement. Very tough job, as far as I can tell. Then, the carpets hang for hours! 

The men:

Fighting men, proud men, crazy, crazy drivers. Not a blond one in the lot. Hard-working men. Incredibly stubborn, for the most part. Macho men. The word is katsouri katsi, or viril man. Most men are short and stalky, about 5’10, with straight and thick hair. A small percentage is taller, up to 6’4” with curly hair and lighter in skin. I happen to have married into that group. Handsome man, my katsouri katsi..One king, Vakhtang Gorgasali, was actually 2 meters and 40 centimeters, king in the 5th Century. His horse was a huge beast!

The Mercedes, a most important part of the Georgian man's world, has replaced the horses, and, lately, so have the SUVs. The BTC (Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan) pipeline travels across Georgia, making it a strategic place, as the pipeline from Azerbaidjan competes with the Russian pipeline to feed Europe. It also makes for cheaper gas in Georgia. Prices today, Sept 2013: one liter of diesel = 1.95 GEL. In 2008, a liter could be had for under one lari GEL..

So, there are cars everywhere.. From the old Russian decrepit cars of the 1980s, advancing at 30mph,to the bran new SUVs, black, of course, or the latest Mercedes, prononced mercedes-ee. 
The cars are the status of the Georgians, who will often eat less to have a better car. Symbol of status in the outside world, for men who have nothing else, job, or future in the market place..They are always spotless, but they can also be in stages of repainting, bumper fixing, or dent repairing. Garages will fix, for a very modest price, anything that ails your ride. However, it will be done in stages, and you can pick up your car half-painted and come back for the second coat a couple of days later. They do a very nice job, for 10% of the price in the USA or Europe...if they have the part you need, of course..

The Georgian man is not to be separated from his ride. His car is part of him. What you see in the old neighborhoods are men, washing, shining, cleaning their cars. For some of them, it is all they do all day, aside from speaking to their buddies or..

...playing nardi. Quite close to the game of backgammon, it seems like. The nardi boards are usually very beautiful, with wood inlay, or "marqueterie". They have their own stand. The game can be played only by 2 people, and men play it, mainly. You throw dices and advance your game pieces while counting. Needless to say, you cannot play nardi with a Georgian unless you master your numbers.. That counts me out, pun intended.

The gardens of Georgia!

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When you first arrive in Georgia, try to not arrive in winter. Nothing is in bloom, the only color in town and in the country is …grey! A devastatingly depressing grey.. As things start blooming, you start seeing things that you didn’t think would exist in a country where depression in people seems to be rampant. You see gardens! You see grape arbors being trimmed, you see cherry trees, apple trees, almond trees, and other all wonderful happenings spring up everywhere! It turns out that even in the darkest of situations, people are still wanting to till the soil, and see things grow. A simple apple blossom made my day. Things are also being planted. A park that was full of holes and armed steel cement pieces became a real park in a matter of days! The city is rejuvenating itself with plants! What a wonderful idea!

In the era of communism, people all worked. Maybe the gardens existed already, who knows? After the separation from the communist Russia, people took it upon themselves to build all kinds of structures, mainly on their buildings, such as enclosed balconies and other very unsightly things. They also managed to claim small pieces of land on the parkings and lands, simply encircled them with all kinds of accoutrements, corrugated steel and all, and called them “gardens”! If the result is not always happy, it however offers an oasis in the cement world. It is a little like the people of the country came to town, and started planting. You see little old women all in black tending the gardens with love, to be sure.

Daffodils bloom and violets are everywhere. Most gardens are covered with a steel frame, to be able to grow grapes, and provide a little summer shelter in a hot summer.

In the countryside, gardens can be planted in late March, and you can already see plots of cilantro and parsley come up. Next to them, the ever present walnut trees, the apple trees, the sour and sweet cherries, the fig and the pomegranate trees. The Georgians depend on their trees to bring them “muraba”, or fruit preserves, or canned fruit, for their sweetness in the gloom of winter. They will put the sour cherries in their cup of tea in January. They will munch on a preserved fig.

Parsley and cilantro are grown extensively, since parsley is used in most dishes and also served fresh on a plate. Cilantro is also a staple. As it is a favorite of the rabbits, the plots are covered with wire cages.

Eating out, eating in, and shopping in Georgia

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Kupta, a sort of rice and meat soup. The base is a light broth made with beef ground beef. Then, the cooked ground beef is mixed with cooked rice, and made into balls. Into the broth go a good measure of rice also, along with parsley and cilantro, chopped onions, salt, pepper and a mystery spice, suneli…(Turns out, that is turmeric!, also called yellow flower by the Georgians!)The soup is, of course, eaten very hot, with “chotis puri”..

On spices…
One thing is for sure: you will not find cinnamon here! Well, you will find it, but people do not use it, or like it. Or ginger..or other of your “regulars”. But, you will find marigold powder, that seems to spice up everything with walnuts. Correction: I thought it was turmeric, and it is I found out this year , although turmeric is used also..(2013)
For a fantastic explanation, as well as great pics, Georgian Recipes is the best page to read. You will find a great wealth of information on Georgia as well.


It is common to serve a variety of greens, or bitter greens, such as dandelions, simply washed and served on a plate to be eaten folded, and dipped lightly in a communal salt dish. Boloki, or huge radishes, can also be cut and served with those greens. Cooked vegetables are quite unheard of, except for cabbage, combosto, that is served in a variety of ways. Green salads, you will not see either. But you will have grated carrots, mixed with grated beets and cabbage, mixed with mayonnaise.

In the market, or bazari, you will find almost everything. Everyone has his own little stand, and they all compete to sell their stuff.
Some areas are devoted to just fruit et vegetables, whereas others sell from toilet paper to soap, called “barf”…(no kidding! That is the name of the brand!)

The bazari can be just on the sidewalk, outside, as you see on the left, or inside, although it is just a "covered" version of the same, but in a more permanent setting, as seen below.

The bazari is also the place to go to buy jeans, clothes in general, all kinds of products coming from the East, for the most  part. It is a type of "souk", as it is called in Northern Africa. Tiny stands crammed one next to other, and covered with tarps, and all kinds of strange materials. There are several of those in each of the neighborhood in Tbilisi. The government is unfortunately trying to eliminate those and institute "normal" stores. The interest of the government is to be able to regulate the income of these little markets. Most of the vendors go to Turkey, some on a weekly basis, cross the border, which they can do legally, buy cheap products, and go sell them on the bazaris. They may also very well buy those on the newly installed large supermarket. They buy in bulk and resell in individual packs to those who cannot go to the new Carrefour supermarket (read playgrounds and ideas  for thoughts on this topic in my blog).

It is difficult to try to walk in this area when it is full of people, but that is part of the fun. You can expect to pay less than in a regular storefront. Watch your personal items, although I have yet to feel threatened in Georgia. Pretty safe country, if you are not around cars..


In the vegetable areas, you will also find people selling pickled items, such as regular pickles, called “pikuli kitri”, and pickled tomatoes, pickled grasses, pickled peppers, etc. They are sold by the kilo, and shoved into plastic bags for you. No jars to worry about!

The fish here is only soft water fish, since it comes from the Black Sea. No shellfish to be had. Besides, you would not want them, since the refrigeration is sometimes a problem. Most Georgians do not eat, nor want to try shellfish. Snails fall in the same category.

So, let’s look at some of the meals, and see what a person could expect to find on his or her plate.
First of all, sausme, or breakfast..
It is usually chai, or tea, mixed with a hefty amount of honey. Then, maybe some p’ap’a, which is a mixture of some grain, whether it is mani papa, cream of wheat, or gherkules, oatmeal, or or vermicellis p'ap'a, bringis p'ap'a, or cream of rice, or gretchkis p'ap'a, which is buckwheat kernels. All of these, except for the gretchka, are cooked in milk, and may contain kishmish, or raisins, comshi, quince or other fruit. It would not be unlikely to find savory dishes on the table, maybe even some spinach! Not so savory early in the morning..
Meals are a mix of all the leftovers in the fridge. It seems like the cooking in Georgia is a constant turnover of food, and no shame is to be had to serve just a couple of tablespoons of food on a plate left from yesterday. The point is to have a great assortment of foods, so that the guests can choose their favorite. Rice and potatoes are served with bread and gretcha, all at once. Usually, a new dish has been made for that meal, and it becomes part of the rotation.
Dinner can be anytime of the day. Since the goal is to feed people at all times, if a guest is hungry, everything comes out of the fridge again. Or, since it has been allowed to stay on the stove overnight (Argh! Food sanitation is a real issue here..), it is just warmed up.
So, dinner can easily be served 3 times a night. The children eat earlier, and people eat as they arrive home from work or school.
The table is easily set. It consists of a small dessert plate, and a fork. If there is soup, a soup plate is brought full to the table by the hostess, and this for every guest who wants to taste it. A soup spoon is then added. There are few glasses, unless people drink wine. A water drinker is not catered to here, but they can request a glass. A word of warning, it will be filled immediately with something other than water..usually a sweet drink of some sort, such as homemade blackberry juice, or lemonade…or rvino, wine in georgian, usually a home brew, since Georgia is a wonderful country for grapes.
There are rarely any knifes used on the table. A piece of bread is used to push the food around, or to hold it to allow the eater to cut with the fork. Since most food is boiled, it does not require the use of a knife. It does limit the number of dishes in the sink, which is a good idea, since the water can abruptly be turned off at the main by the water dept, and this for several hours.
The BBQs
Called shashliki in georgian, they are a fixture of the life here. They are held, obviously, during the warmer days, but they can be eaten in any restaurant at any time of the year. They are on long skewers called shampuri, and they are made of a variety of meats, whether ground or not. Veal, pork, but never chicken.
Once cooked in great ovens, they are either piled on a plate after being removed from the skewer, or, if they are made of ground meat, they are put into a piece of lavash, a sort of very flat bread that resembles a square tortilla..
the tradition of bbq's in Georgia is very ancient. They always use wood to cook on, never coal or charcoal. All natural ingredients, as always.

March 12th, 2013
As I march my husband to the Orly airport on Saturday, I will weep somewhere in my heart for not going with him this time..The family is just so incredibly nice to me, I miss them so..

So, I haven't mentioned yet the everyday use of a homemade product: the tkhemali sauce Made from green plums and other super ingredients, it goes on like ketchup, and tastes, well...better! I have a Georgian friend who does it with rhubarb, since it has this great tart flavor, too..It can be red, it can be green, kinda like Christmas...
It is a mixture of those non-ripe plums, garlic (niori),salt, coriander (kinzi), dill (k'ama), red hot pepper (tsitzaka) and the magic ingredient: pennyroyal, kondari in Georgian, which is kind of creeping mint. ..
It will keep in the fridge for weeks, and I bet, although I have yet to try, it freezes well too!

Man, makes a person hungry, doesn't it? Time to reach for the champuri, those super long kebab skewers, on which, by the way, you can skewer entire eggplant (badridjan), or peppers (tsitzaka bulgaria) or tomatoes (pamidori) and place them directly in the fire, as seen below..

..then you make your kababi, like our lovely Armenian friend Robert does here and the shashlik can start!

A hefty dose of Khinkali(upper left), wine in the pitcher, bread (shotis puri) to the right, and msvadi on champuri skewers, cheese in the front and on the bottom left, the typical tremali sauce, made with sour plums in the spring. The party can start!

Let's talk cheese, here..
They say here that they have all kinds of cheese..mmmmm....more like degrees of saltiness in the same cheese. 
Sulguni cheese is used to fill khatchapuri or cheese khinkali, and is really pretty salty. It is made of cow's milk. Apparently, cheese from sheep's/ewe milk is also made but it is not the cheese of choice. It is called....Gooda!

This French girl is slightly jonesing in the Republic of Georgia, to be sure..cheese country, it is not..

And you will say, what is this picture of carb loveliness?
This is called bulki, or bulkebi, since there are 2!
This little baboushka makes them and sells them by announcing " bulki, bulkebi ak aris", or simply "The bulki are here!"
They are very light, similar to an airy challah bread, but with less eggs. The top is brushed with butter and a mix of superfine sugar and flour is sprinkled on top. 
Most appreciated at 9 in the morning, with a "nalekiani khava", or georgian coffee. 
Our little lady started peddling her bulkebi in 1995, to get an income when times were hard. They are still hard.. How this little lady carries her bulkebi from street to street, day in, and day out? Who knows? She doesn't miss a day. 

Carbs are your friends in Georgia...

The food in Georgia!

an ongoing love story..

So glad you came to visit. Please feel free to leave a comment.

Contact Giga on his Facebook page for a fun travel time in Georgia. 

Meet “puri”, or bread in Georgian! This one is a special shape because it goes through a special process.
Here in Georgia, they cook bread in a round clay oven. It looks somewhat like a washing machine tumbler, and has hot ambers and a small fire in the bottom. The sides of the oven are hot, very the baker takes a ball of dough, and, in order to stick it to the side of the oven, has to stretch it a bit, hence the shape of the bread. When the bread is done, it falls from the side of the oven into the middle. It is then rescued and sold..It tastes, amazingly enough for us French in persuasion, like a crisp baguette! It has holes, and is crunchy on the outside and tender in the inside. Very yummy!

Other breads are cooked in regular ovens, and they don’t equal the taste of this cool one. They have loaf shapes, donut shapes and all kinds of other shapes.
Now, for a little treat, imagine this bread in a smaller size, the size of a hefty trout, let say. Now, make a slit in the middle, insert crumbled cheese, such as feta. Put it back in the oven, melt the whole mess, take it out, and then crack an egg on the top! Now, all you need is a fork! That is called “khatchapuri imayruli” and it is served on the western side of Georgia. That will equal and then surpass pancakes, I assure you! You will not want to eat for hours..but you will have to! :)
And now, for Khatchapuri, the answer to quesadilla in Georgia..devoured hot and melting..or cold and still hyper yummy! If it is filled with refried beans, like the dish on the left, it is called lobiani, because lobios are beans...just as yummy! In fact, this is not unlike Mexican cooking!

Since food is being served at all times of the day, the khatchapuri is eaten when it comes out of the fry pan, or oven. Mostly, with a cup of chai or tea. It is cut with scissors and served in pie-shaped portions. Jame! is the expression for "Eat, eat!", a national obsession, make the guests eat...

Khinkali, the answer to raviolis in Georgia. Here, they are prepared at home, or can be bought ready-made, but the taste suffers. The way to make this at home is to mix flour and water, no yeast, into a sort of bread dough. The dough is then kneaded with the fists and allowed to rest a while. Then, the dough is rolled very thin, and cut into rounds. Then the khinkalis are filled with a mixture of veal, beef, onions, cilantro, salt, garlic and water. The mixture is quite runny, for a very good reason. The water will eventually separate from the meat but stay in the little pouch made. That is the secret of the khinkalis: They have to
have a large amount of “juice” in them when you bite into them.
The little “bags” are sealed at the top and dropped into hot water, allowed to cook boiled for 10 to 12 minutes, and then devoured after a hefty pepper shaking. To be enjoyed with a very large beer..

The quince, or “comchi” here, is used in a variety of ways. It is boiled with a little sugar and the water that it is boiled in is served as “comchi compote” in a cup, to be had like a cup of tea, hot. Very interesting!

The pieces of quince are also eaten in a mashed form, a sort of heavy jam, used on bread. They can also be eaten in their hot syrup, or mixed with cooked white rice. Comchis are supposed to be good for your stomach and for someone with a persistent cough.

One cannot think of Georgian cooking without thinking of walnuts or "nigosi". They appear in almost every dish! Aside from satsivi which we will be covered later, they are used to season sweet and savory dishes.
One of these dishes consists of slices of eggplant, or badrigiani that have been partially peeled and then broiled to get a smoky flavor. The walnuts are then ground, spices are added, and the slices of eggplants are then slightly filled with the nuts, and folded in 3. Easy, yet delicious..By the second day, the juices of the eggplant and the walnuts mix and marry and the result is awesome!
Another use for walnuts is for a sweet dish called dzandili made of round wheat berries, cooked and cooled, mixed with honey, white raisins, and ...walnuts! Served cold in a glass.

An amazing product is made out of ...walnuts..and grapes, the second main ingredient in Georgia. It is called choorchrela. Walnuts halves are threaded on a light string, a few feet long. Then, grape juice and flour are boiled to make a heavy paste, called pelamushi, and the strings of walnuts are dipped repeatedly in the mixture to become completely covered and sealed in a tough covering. Strangely enough, it does not taste sweet! The taste of the walnuts is there, and the grape taste equally present. A most interesting use of walnuts! Can be kept for months! But better eaten in the fall, after the harvest.
Walnuts agrement fish sauces, chicken sauces, turkey dishes, vegetable dishes, desserts. You will find them hidden in layer cakes, one here and there..very sparingly..

Yogurt soup! Or mazoni soupi! Now, that is odd! First, onions are fried in butter, water and rice are added, then, a little dusting of flour, then, a hefty dose of yogurt, plain, of course, and at the end, beaten eggs. Imagine Chinese egg soup and put in some yogurt. Quite tasty, but surprising. The slight bitterness of the yogurt and the blandness of the eggs mix elegantly. And where do you get your yogurt, brought home in simple glass jars and covered with a heavy cream, you say? Well, the man from the hills will sell it to you! He comes on foot leading his horse!Incredible!
The use of fruit in Georgia is equally surprising. From the pitcher of blackberry homemade juice, complete with the berries at the bottom of the pitcher and served later as a dessert, to the alubali or sour cherries dropped into your cup of tea, the uses differ so much from the Western culture!
The markets here abound with citrus fruits, principally lemons and oranges. Georgia is also well known for its citrus, as this is a country where subtropical plants grow. The lemons are used for tea, another production of Georgia, in slices, and the oranges are cut in slices, together with kiwis and bananas for fruit platters.

So, how about pakhlava? I know what you are thinking...It's Bakhlava, right? Well, no...Took me 3 years to hear that it started with a "p" sound, and it is very different from what you would think of in Greece or in Turkey, for example.It is made with mock puff pasty dough, handmade, evidently, and then, you whip egg whites and sugar until it becomes very white and thick, like a stiff meringue prior to cooking, and you add ground nuts. Walnuts are good, but almonds are nicer. Then, you make a couple of layers of that, then top with melted butter. Half-way through cooking, add honey with a brush and let it cook a little longer. You can't imagine the goodness of that. Not syrupy like bakhlava, but sticky and yummy.

Here, shown with "f or peikhoa" ..I still don't know what fruit that is, but all I know is...It's very good! any ideas of what that would be? Citrusy, and almost gelatinous, and you can eat the skin. Almost tastes like a tart kiwi or a tart passion fruit? Yummy..and it cuts the sugar high of the pakhlava..

Tried to make this delicious pakhlava at home in France last week, and, yes, as expected, it was a dismal failure...Argh! Eka is just a specialist, and I will not try to outdo her. Pretty obvious it's better in Georgia..
And now for a summer treat....MSVADI!!!  One cannot go to Georgia and not have a bbq! It would be totally unacceptable!
So, msvadi is just that, a bbq of meat. Done on champuri, or skewers, they can be pieces of meat, or kababi, a blend of ground meat that is very carefully attached to the skewer, taking particular care to take the air out of the meat. Then, it is rolled in flat bread, called lavashi, and eaten with ajika, or other hot sauce..Yum!

Happy eating, everyone!