The Culinary Muse of the Caucasus

By Lauren Collins

As Americans look to Georgia for inspiration, Georgians are looking to Barbare Jorjadze.

Right now, that is Georgian food. The hospitality-trend forecaster af&co. recently named it “Cuisine of the Year”. The “Dish of the Year”, the company says, is khachapuri, a term that refers to any number of Georgian cheese-filled breads (the 2018 winners were Israeli food and rotisserie chicken).

As Darra Goldstein explains, in The Georgian Feast, one of Georgian food’s hallmarks is its use of walnuts, whose richness is often set off with a souring agent, like vinegar or yogurt. Cilantro is the most common herb in Georgian cooking, but tarragon is the most talismanic, flavoring everything from stews to a carbonated drink that you can order at restaurants, like a Coke. Blue fenugreek is used frequently, as are dried and crushed marigold petals, but, if Georgian food has a presiding color, it’s green. Many of the most tantalizing parts of its repertoire derive from vegetables and fruits. I’m counting the days until I can try making chrianteli, a cold soup. Goldstein’s recipe brings to mind a William Carlos Williams poem: Pit and stem two pounds of cherries. Pass through a food mill. Mix the puréed fruit with one-eighth teaspoon salt, half a pressed garlic clove, and three minced sprigs of cilantro and dill. Chill. Garnish with minced scallion.

Then, there’s Georgian wine...

 

 

Into the Caucasus and Back in Time

By Henry Wismayer

A trek along Georgia’s Svaneti Trail offers a time-warp world of medieval villages and jaw-dropping scenery.

At daybreak, we set off early, climbing around 2,000 feet out of the Svan Valley. We hit the ridgeline in brilliant sun, emerging from the forest onto a gravel river stalked by chair-lift stanchions—monuments to the nascent Tetnuldi Ski Resort that operates here in winter—then forked off into a gorge tumescent with wild flowers.

If the Svan Valley had marked a transition-point between new world and old, then Adishi, the village we reached a couple of hours later, was complete immersion.

 

The Georgian Cooking at Chelsea’s Chama Mama Is Gobsmackingly Good

By Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld

On increasingly frequent visits, the Underground Gourmet gobbled renditions of such old-country classics as tolma, hot lamb-stuffed grape leaves; ekala, pickled sarsaparilla greens mingled with a spicy walnut paste; and gebjalia, little roulades of fresh cheese seasoned with mint and chilis. Among the large plates, you want the shkmeruli (essentially roast chicken in a bowl of cream-of-garlic soup) or the butcher’s special whenever it’s a minced beef-and-pork kebab rolled up in a lavash like a Persian rug. Better than both is the chakapuli with braised lamb, a soupy stew of tender meat whose superb flavoring agents are a sour-plum sauce and a truckload of tarragon.

 

These Eastern European Countries Are Home to Some of the Most Dynamic Winemakers Right Now

By Jim Clarke

Georgia, too, relied on the Russian market until a decade ago. “Georgia lost 90% of its market when Russia banned the import of Georgian wine back in the middle of the last decade,” says Lisa Granik, a master of wine, currently at work on a book about Georgian wine.

“Thus, since at least 2010, there has been an ongoing promotional campaign in Georgia to increase exports to specific markets.”

 

A Wine-Soaked Ball Unites a Georgian Village, But Only After Dividing It

By Andrew Keh

Every spring in Shukhuti, a black leather ball is sewn together to play Lelo Burti, a brutally physical folk game. The winners carry it straight to the cemetery.

Every spring in the village of Shukhuti, in western Georgia, a single black, leather ball is sewn together to play Lelo Burti, a brutally physical folk game—a singular blend of a large-scale rugby match and an even larger street fight—that was once popular all around the region of Guria but is now only played here, once a year, on Orthodox Easter.

The ball is the only equipment and the eventual trophy. It is kept by the winning team and, immediately after the game, set down at the grave of their choice to honor that person’s memory.

Lelo Burti was granted status as a “nonmaterial monument” of culture five years ago by the Georgian government. But once the actual game begins there is little ceremonial about it. It is a living, breathing, brutal pastime. It arouses genuine passions and profound injuries.

 

 

Thanks to the debut of single-dish spot Tony Khachapüri in Hollywood and the opening of several restaurants in New York City, khachapuri has become an Instagram hot dish.

By Claire Downs

With its glistening, gondola-shaped boat of chewy dough topped with an egg oozing a perfect string of golden yolk, how could it not? But the dish is nothing new.

Khachapuri predates social media by nine centuries. Its roots stretch back to the 11th century and the Georgian Golden Age, when art, literature, culture, and cuisine flourished in the kingdom of Georgia. Before that, a variation of khachapuri may have come from India thanks to traders traveling along the Silk Road. In Los Angeles, the pull-and-tear deliciousness of khachapuri has been delighting Georgian, Armenian, and Lebanese communities since the 1920s.

Adjarski, adjarian, adjaruli, adjarakah, hachapuri, egg boats, egg pizza, gondola pizza. Khachapuri has many aliases. It depends on who you ask and what the sign next to the football-shaped bread icon reads.

 

Singer and song collector Sam Lee travels to Tbilisi to explore the ancient polyphonic folk songs and sacred chants of Georgia. He discovers a nation where singing is in the blood.

With some of Georgia’s finest singers and musicologists as his guides, Sam is introduced to the ritualistic folk songs that are said to control the weather and even cure the sick. He is invited to a feast, high on a mountainside above Tbilisi, where he meets the Chamgelianis—a singing family from the remote region of Svaneti who are keeping the tradition of age-old pre-Christian folk songs alive.

At the beautiful Kashveti Church in the heart of Tbilisi, Sam meets singer and ethno-musicologist John Graham who introduces him to the liturgical chanting tradition. These orthodox Christian chants feature sacrosanct melodies that are said to have been passed down by God and transmitted orally over the centuries.

 

Bone Collector. This Caucasus Ghost Town May Be the Creepiest Place on Earth

by Benjamin Kemper

Peek inside and you’ll be met with skulls, femurs, vertebrae, and teeth piled so high you can’t see the floor. Something horrible happened here, and no one is quite sure what.

Dark tourism, the type of sightseeing that revolves around tragedy and death, is more popular than ever—just ask the half a million people who queued up last year to wander Paris’ catacombs. But one of the world’s most bone-chilling destinations, the Anatori Crypts in northern Georgia, has surprisingly flown under the radar of the goosebump-seeking masses.

From afar, it doesn’t look like much: three crumbling stone structures perched on a ridge. An abandoned hamlet, you might think, or an old lookout post (after all, Chechnya is just two miles away). But peek inside a cobwebbed window, and you’ll be met with a scene so macabre it might knock you off your feet: skulls, femurs, vertebrae, and teeth piled so high that you can hardly see the floor. Something horrible happened in Anatori, and no one is quite sure what.

Why would these ancient tribesmen knowingly, willingly lock themselves away to die among dozens of rotting corpses? According to historians and local oral history, they were making a last-ditch effort to save their compatriots from the plague.