Text and illustrations by Paata Shamugia
I had my first khachapuri cheese bread back when I was a student. That one time was enough to permanently galvanize all my taste buds.
I have no idea why I am so fascinated by it.
Maybe its form? It looks like a boat—it was invented in a seaside town after all—enticing you to adventure. But I have to admit that, after gobbling down a good portion of Adjaruli, all my adventures boil down to sprawling and dreaming—fair enough!
I love its content, and how you get to take part in its creation. Well, it’s not exactly you putting together the contents—and you don’t even serve it, the waiter does—but mixing together the ingredients, the cheese, butter, and egg, that’s when you get to have your say, which creates a sweet illusion of participation.
Adjaruli khachapuri is like Jon Jones of UFC—you can’t compare it to anyone or anything, be it khinkali dumplings, kebab, and so on, because nothing compares…
My favorite place to dine out in Tbilisi is Retro. They serve excellent Adjaruli.
Retro is my kind of place in Batumi, too, though the competition here for the title of best Adjaruli is much fiercer.
The Adjaruli at Askanelebi or Old Batumi is just as good as at Retro, if not better. The crust is out of this world, and so are the cheese and butter—mind you, butter, not margarine.
A doughy crust is the last thing I want in my Adjaruli cheese bread (ask for it “tsomgamotslili”, though if you do like your doughy crust, then ask for it “tsomit”). A self-respecting Adjaruli pie must be crispy and crunchy.
The setup and acquaintanceship with chefs mean nothing to me. In fact, I’ve never tried to make friends with them. I’d rather keep the mystery alive, so I can convince myself that the creator of such yummies must be a pleasant person—instead of becoming acquainted personally and, consequently, disappointed. I guess what matters here is how they do their job, and that’s when they are at their best.
Acharian Khachapuri (Cheese Bread)
Poetry by Paata Shamugia
Published for the first time in the culinary supplement to Indigo Magazine
Old truth, tried and tested, and trusted:
You are what you eat,
So four times a week, I am Adjarian cheese bread,
Medium-sized, and the crust removed,
Baked until crisp, with its mouth ajar
Like the characters of Erlend Loe.
No one can override a catchphrase,
Even Adjarian cheese bread;
So the saying goes:
Adjarian cheese bread has a big heart,
It is big with the big guys, and small with small fish.
There is also the Titanic cheese bread at the Machakhela diner,
Though I have no heart to bite into it…
Still, love, that’s all it is about.
Yes, so trivial it is.
Unless you love it,
You can’t make it—
It just won’t let you
Bake it until crisp,
Remove its crust
From boat-shaped body;
Nor will it let you anchor your fork,
Or lay your finger on its crunchy edges.
Therefore, love Adjarian cheese bread
As thou dost love thyself,
And only then set out to make
Smaller-sized, or medium, or even that Titanic,
With crust or, otherwise, without…
And dough, it must be silky soft, like babes babbling;
And cheese, make sure it is airy like Mona Lisa’s smile;
And butter, yellow in color just like the Vatican banner;
The egg you choose rough-textured, memories embarrassing to resemble;
The oven must be hot, hot as the lover’s mouth,
And then you shred the smile of Mona Lisa,
And fly the Vatican banner in the middle,
And scatter embarrassing memories here and there,
Then mix it all up, and stick it in the lover’s mouth—
Just like I said, love, that’s all it is about.