საქართველო or simply Georgia - in addition to fabulous experiences related to culture, mountains and loads of snow I experienced a culinary shock there. Though in the beginning I might have thought that the ever welcoming Georgians just wanted to introduce their traditional cuisine, I realised the next moment that this was the only cuisine there was. There are places that offer international cuisine in the capital city, but these can be counted on one hand's fingers rather than visited on every corner. But not seeing that fact - the dining table will be full of traditions from morning till evening, from evening to morning.
We escaped the capital. But wherever we went, alcohol was always an important part of meals. Wine is so much more than just wine there - it's sunlight caught into a bottle, it's energy. Weaker than we Estonians are used to, their wine is served in large jugs. The red one I liked, but only sipped the white one with politeness as Georgians were saying passionate toasts again and again. Oh and once as we were eating breakfast in some small place on the road, a whole bottle of cognac (or more probably brandy) was emptied. I took three men and driving continued afterwards without any hesitations. It's safer outside cities, I was told... But I was actually present when our host invited a bunch of friends over one evening (it was an honor being there, beacuse women don't usually sit at the table on those occasions) and can honestly say that these men were drinking intelligently, although jars of wine were filled and filled. If they go to extremes with something, it's not alcohol - it's sometimes rather their talk (although I was rather confused after that cognacy breakfast).
So, a look onto the table. There was always the 'green bowl' full of spring onion, parsley, tarragon and radish. These traveled straight into one's mouth between fingers or were first dipped into salt. Yes, I was constantly being taught to eat with my fingers. Almost every dish in Georgia seems to have tarragon in it (including the notorius lemonade Tarhun) and salt was used quite much.
Fresh salad always contained tomato and cucumber - if seasoned, then with tarragon, onion and parsley. Marinated tomatoes, cucumbers or green peppers were also often on the table.
As for bread they have lavash and cornbread in every shape and size. My absolute favourite is khachapuri filled with Suluguni cheese - a must-try and must-make. Though, yes, the cornbread's taste was quite numb.
Shashlik was the usual meat dish and once we tried kabab - seasoned with barberry and rolled into thin sheets of lavash.
The Georgians seem to love their chakapuli - it's very basically a meat stew containing, among other things, three piles of coriander. Although interesting in the beginning, I didn't want to eat the herb afterwards. At all. It had been everywhere.
It was a really shocking experience when we stopped beside a shepherd on the road when with our hosts one day. They had the idea of cooking goat for supper. So one goat was chosen, the shepherd killed the animal just some meters away, hung it on a tree by its hind legs, removed the skin and some organs and then threw it into our luggage room. We had chakapuli that night.
Is there someone who hasn't heard about the Georgian hinkalis? Well shame on you! These pockets of dough are usually filled with minced meat mixture and served with black pepper. And here's another lesson about eating with hands - hinkalis have to be eaten with too hands, carefully trying not to spill the broth that has stayed inside them. The top may be left uneaten, but doing that is tricky itself at first..:) When we stayed in Gudauri (over 2 km above sea level), I quietly went peeking into the kitchen of the restaurant where we dined to see how hinkalis are really made. Surprising. These are a must-try and believe me this time!
What I found interesting as well were aubergine slices with greek nut topping (which was a bit bitter and had quite much garlic) and a garlic sauce made only of garlic and water. So very simple, but great on meat.
And mineral water could be drunk fresh. As fresh as it's possible - with useful minerals, gas and everything. There were sometimes places like the one on the picture beside the road. Of course we also visited the park in Borjomi where the famous mineral water was still warm on its first moments above the ground.
As for desserts, we settled with orange and kiwi - the locals didn't seem to love deserts much when there was a chance to eat savoury dishes. So an Estonian sweet bar Mõnus Maius that we had accidentally taken with us, almost saved the lives of me and my father.
The Georgian market is already another story for another day. So cheese is yet to come and so are my first experiments with Georgian cuisine.