It is little wonder that Georgian cuisine reflects the nature of those who’ve travelled through this wonderful country. Her location at the heart of the Silk Road trading routes ensured that food in Georgia is unique, but also includes influences from not just surrounding countries, but also further afield. The Georgian Kitchen includes spices, fresh fruit and vegetables – and – the preservation and pickling techniques that come from long, hard winters.
Traditional Georgian Food may be inspired by the landscape of the country, but it’s stimulated by the spices and ideas from further afield. You’ll find hints of Persia, of Russia, certainly of neighbouring Azerbaijan. One thing for sure, you won’t tire of food to eat in Georgia!
Our Georgian Food Guide aims to identify the main ingredients and dishes of a Georgian menu – starters and sides, soups and main dishes, snacks and sweets. Georgian Bread is an entire topic in itself, so we’re covering that separately in our ultimate Georgian Bread Guide and to ensure that you’re hydrated, you can find details of what to drink in Georgia here.
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What Food is Georgia Famous for?
At first glance, you might think that the food of the Republic of Georgia might primarily feature cheese, bread and meat. That’s true of course and they are heavily featured and many Georgian recipes do focus entirely on them. Look a little closer, though, and you’ll find an abundance of fresh vegetables, innovative use of fruits, and plentiful protein with nuts and, yes, more bread than you can shake a stick at.
Famous Georgian Recipes include:
- Khachapuri, especially Ameruli Khachapuri
- Walnut Paste
This Georgian food list is by no means exhaustive – there are many regional variations on Georgian food recipes, but we hope we’ve covered the best Georgian dishes and the must try food in Georgia.
Georgian Recipes to Buy and Cook
This guide to Georgian Food will go through these (apart from Khachapuri, which you can find in our Georgian Bread Guide) and much, much more, we hope you’re hungry!
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Staples of the Georgian Kitchen
You’ll find some basics in every Georgian kitchen – Cheese and Walnuts feature heavily in many recipes. Traditional Georgian foods focus on vegetables and meat that are available in season, so expect the use of seasonal vegetables. Traditionally these have been used as fresh, but conquering nations brought with them pickling techniques and you’ll also find many varieties of pickled vegetables.
Bread is also in every kitchen – as in every other country of the Caucasus region it’s sacred – you’ll certainly find yourself worshipping some forms of Khachapuri or Puri.
Smoking techniques are also found in the Georgian kitchen. The most famous cheese of Georgia is Sulguni cheese – a salty cheese smoked for additional flavour and a longer life.
Georgian dishes also take on characteristics of the area of the country that they’re from. Svaneti salt from the mountain Svan area of Mestia and surrounds bring flavour to root vegetables like potatoes.
The Georgian’s aren’t huge fans of desserts, but you’ll find innovative uses of fruit and nuts everywhere. Walnuts pervade dishes, from salads to the sausage like churchkhela and meaty stews.
Georgian Spices, Sauces and Flavours
It’s in Georgia’s sauces and spices that the influences of the trade routes come through. Inhale adjika or Svaneti salt and you’ll be transported instantly to Persia or India.
Adjika, or sometimes ajika is a mix – salt, raw garlic, blue fenugreek and red chilli are ground together to form red adjika. (You can buy Adjika here – and use Georgian adjika recipes in your own Georgian meals). Adjika is usually served separately and is sprinkled on meat, eggs, potatoes. It can also be served as a paste and makes a Moorish addition to fried potatoes and pork. Red Adjika paste is reminiscent of an Indian pickle paste.
Replacing the red chilli with green chilli and adding mint delivers mint ajika which works especially well with goat cheese.
Svan Salt or Svaneti salt is unique to the mysterious mountain region of Svaneti. Svan salt is similar to red adjika – raw garlic, salt and spices like thyme and blue fenugreek (which is the main souring agent) combine to form an amazingly fragrant seasoning that my potatoes cannot live without.
Khmeli suneli is Georgian for dried spices and it’s a universal seasoning. Typically it will include coriander, fenugreek, parsley, dill and mint. The Khmeli suneli recipe will very much depend on the region you’re in or buying it from, there will also be local herbs added to the mix. You can buy khmeli suneli to use in your recipes at home here.
Bazha is a heavy walnut sauce or paste which is used to make satsivi – you can also get this as a general condiment. You’ll find walnut paste available for most dishes, it works especially well with aubergine.
Tkemali is a sauce made from plums which are stewed with garlic, dill and coriander. It comes in green and red varieties and you’ll find it on all menus and easily in Georgian markets and supermarkets. Its great added to Mtsvadi and fabulous on Khachapuri. We found it Moorish and incredibly addictive. Stock up on Tkemali at home now!
How to Cook Georgian Food at Home
Tomatoes and cucumber feature heavily in Georgian salads. So to do walnuts, whether it’s as a dressing, a sauce or even actually as part of the salad. You’ll also find, from the Soviet influences, heavy mayonnaise covered chicken or vegetables, masquerading as salads. They’re not salads to my mind, so be aware, it might not be the fresh sweet vegetables that you’re expecting!
Similar to the amazing taste of tomatoes in Bulgaria, Georgia grows some fabulously flavoured tomatoes. And similar to the farmer’s salads in Bulgaria, the salads here feature chunks of tomato and cucumber – you’ll also get the Georgian walnut salad dressing too – ask for it on the side, or prepare to have your salad coated!
We’ll start with the heavier, soviet style salads and then work our way to the lighter, fresher dishes.
Russian (or Soviet) Salad
We had several iterations of this type of salad. Some were purely vegetables, others contained chicken. Each was covered in heavy mayonnaise and felt like an artery clogging heart attack about to happen. However, others report that it’s relatively light.
Russian salads generally contain potatoes, grated carrots and sometimes chicken – although if they do this will be noted on the menu. They’re seasoned with garlic, walnuts and mayonnaise wraps it all together. If you see “Chicken Salad” on the menu then it will likely be this type of salad and mayonnaise will be featured prominently.
Badrijai Nigvzit (Rolls of Eggplant stuffed with Walnuts)
I’m generally known to dislike eggplant, or aubergine, intensely. Call it a bad experience making moussaka as a student. BUT, this is incredible. Eggplant is cut into long thin slices, then cooked until soft. A paste of walnuts, vinegar and spices are spread on the eggplant and then they’re rolled. The walnut paste usually contains vinegar and blue fenugreek and it’s an amazing taste. You won’t want to share! They’re seriously Moorish and a great taste. Now if only walnuts weren’t so expensive at home…
Georgian Pkhali is a selection of Georgian pates made from vegetables. You may also find them called vegetable mousses. Are they a cold salad? A dip? A mousse. Unclear. They’re worth trying. Vegetables are finely chopped or ground, boiled up, pureed and added to the walnut paste, lemon, garlic and herbs. Depending on the time of year you visit, you’ll likely find a leek, beetroot, spinach, red pepper and eggplant. You’ll want to eat these with the regular Georgian bread (tonis puri).
Georgian Lobio Salad and Lobio Nigvzit
Georgian Lobio Salad is a dish of boiled beans dressed with onion rings and pomegranate seeds. Add walnuts and it becomes Lobio Nigvzit. Get hold of a Georgian Lobio Salad Recipe here.
Traditional Georgian Summer Salad – Kitris da Pomidvris Salata Nigvzit
And finally, the lightest of them all. Kitris Salata or Kitris Pomidvris Salata. The traditional summer salad of tomato and cucumber, perhaps some red onion rings and parsley. That’s the traditional Georgian summer salad. You can usually get this type of salad with the walnut and garlic paste that is ubiquitous in Georgia. If you see it on the menu with nigvzit, then that means its served with nuts or has the walnut and garlic dressing.
Georgian Appetisers, Sides & Vegetables
This has to be my favourite Georgian starter. I’ll warn you now. There’s cheese wrapped in cheese and mint is involved. Fresh cheese is mixed up with mint and wrapped in a layer of thin Sulguni cheese. It’s a fabulous combination, never enough and I’m definitely not sharing it.
You’ll only find Jonjoli in markets and homestays. They taste like olives but are in fact vegetables from a bush similar to sprouts. They’ve been pickled with salt and onion.
You’ll often find salted fried potatoes on the menu. Think more like potato wedges than fries or chips. Think salt, tasty and if you add Tkemali, the sour plum sauce to them you’ll be in heaven. (Buy Tkemali now and use at home)
Tolma (meat and rice wrapped in vine or grape leaves)
Many countries will claim Tolma or Dolma as their own. We found them in Turkey, Greece and Armenia. We found various versions of Tolma in Georgia. Less rice filling, more meat, which was usually lamb, onions, peppers, herbs and vegetables. They were always served hot, and usually with a matsoni (sour yoghurt) and garlic sauce on the side.
Mashed Potatoes with cheese (Mestia Area only)
We ate this traditional Svan farmers food in the main square in Mestia. We’d had a cold night in the tent, I’d broken my toe, we couldn’t hike (easily) because of it and I was feeling sorry for myself. It is what it says on the label. Mashed potatoes with cheese. Creamy, tasty, food coma-inducing.
Mushrooms With Sulguni in Ketsi
It’s a simple recipe. Butter your mushrooms stuff them with Georgian Sulguni cheese and bake them. Nom nom nom.
A traditional Georgian lobio recipe is cooked in a clay pot and this gorgeously tasty dish of beans is so filling I don’t know whether to put it on a side, starter or main course! We ate all our meals in Georgia as family meals, so shared everything, where Lobio was available we ate it. As well as a great taste Lobio is generally pretty cheap to eat, so if you’re filling up on a budget you can’t go wrong with a pot of Lobio and some puri (bread).
Kidney beans are slow cooked and then mashed slightly, with fried onions, coriander, vinegar, chillies and dried marigold added just before they’re served this is comfort food gone to heaven. Some folks will say you should each with the Georgian cornbread (mchadi), but I reckon you can’t beat a regular Georgian bread.
Khinkali deserve their own section in any article on the best Georgian food to eat. Oh, they’re just like dumplings from China, you’ll say. Or like Pelmeni from Russia. Or Manti from Central Asia Or… They’re not. Georgian Khinkali are in a league of their own. And out of all the food we talk about in this article, this is a must eat in Georgia.
Khinkali can be eaten as a meal on their own, as a starter, a snack, or a hangover cure. They’re always served in orders of 5. They’re either meat, vegetable, mushroom, cheese or a combination of all four. You can’t mix and order (that is, you order 5 meat or 5 vegetable for instance).
They are dumplings made of flour. They’re stuffed with meat (usually beef or lamb with coriander and parsley), vegetable, mushroom or cheese. Make your own Khinkali with these fabulous Georgian Khinkali recipes.
How to Eat Khinkali
Khinkali should ALWAYS be eaten without cutlery as this is considered rude. Grab the dumpling by the little top knot – which is generally quite difficult as they’re hot and slippery. This topknot is called a kudi. Once you’ve got a firm grip on your khinkali, sprinkle it with black pepper. Bite into it carefully and suck the very hot juice out of it. Then once you’ve got the juice out you can start eating it. Good luck with this. I never quite managed it. Don’t eat the small top knot that you’ve been using to hold the Khinkali.
For a variation on Khinkali, try fried Khinkali – for those dumpling afficianados it will remind you of Yangs Fry Dumplings in Shanghai.
Experience Georgian Food and Wine
Why not take a private food and wine tasting tour in Tbilisi – you’ll get the expert advice of local guides and see the places that the tourists don’t go to. Check prices and book now to experience the best of Tbilisi cuisine.
We visited Georgia in the heat of summer so didn’t get to try many of the hearty soups that warm you through on a cold winters day. There are a couple that we’ve noted down to try when we visit again in colder months.
A meat stock soup usually made with beef – what makes this unique is the sour taste. The Georgian souring agent, in this case, is the sour plum that you’ll find in Tkemali (you can as with any other cuisine use vinegar). The soup is thickened with rice. Nuts (hey you’re in Georgia get used to it) are also added. Kharcho is designed to be served HOT and spicy. Kharcho tastes of garlic and uses the mixed spice blend khmeli suneli and coriander. You might even find torn pieces of tklapi (the Georgian fruit leather) in it.
Despite visiting in summer we didn’t try this “designed for summer” soup either. Chicken broth in it’s most base form it has flavours of garlic, cinnamon, coriander and lemon juice. You’ll also find egg whites in here and, at the bottom of the bowl a chicken thigh on the bone. It’s like light sweet, but sour soup.
Georgian Main Dishes
The main ingredient of the main dish in Georgia is the Georgian meat dish. Here’s a selection of the very best of must try Georgian food.
Mtsvadi – Georgian Shaslik
Mtsvadi is kebab. Pieces of meat on a skewer cooked over the fire. The same, I think in language. Dip it in a little Tkemali sauce and all is right with the world. Use Georgian bread (puri) to grab it off the skewer and devour. The meat is lamb or pork. You might know this dish as shashlik in other countries. Eat with fresh onions and share! Unlike neighbouring Turkey and Armenia, Georgian’s don’t cover the meat with herbs and spices, but usually just rub with salt. We found Mtsvadi everywhere and it was delicious everywhere. Fabulous when eaten with Tkemali and other sauces (get some now!)
Qababi – Kebab
Qababi is different from Mtsvad in that this is minced meat, that has been reformed onto the skewer. This type of kebab is usually served with the thin Georgian lavash style bread. It’s generally sprinkled with a sumac spice and served with onion slices. It’s good, but Mtsvadi is better.
Chakapuli is traditionally made with lamb, but it’s also possible to try this with veal. The dish is flavoured with white wine, tarragon, the sour green plums that make Tkemali and coriander. Want to make Georgian Chakapuli? Here’s a chakapuli recipe so you can do that!
Chicken is roasted and then boiled in a garlic sauce, there’s usually a lot of butter going on as well. You’ll be served this in a clay pot (and it’s probably one of the more expensive items on the menu).
Ojakhuri – Baked Pork with Potatoes.
I tasted this and thought I’d died and gone to food heaven. Pork (in all forms) is roasted in a clay oven dish with potatoes, onions and butter. It’s comfort food in its best form.
I love this dish because the name just makes me laugh. Chizi-Bizhi. That and it’s great to eat. We found two versions, the one with Sulguni cheese, and another with walnut paste. The recipe will vary depending on where you are in the country. It’s amde prmarily with stewed tomatoes, onions, peppers and whatever spices are to hand. Additionally you’ll find cheese, walnuts, eggs, meat. Whatever version you have, we hope you’ll find it as delicious as we did.
Kupati is a Georgian spicy sausage – usually served on its own, you’ll need to buy separate side dishes to go with it, or go family style like we did and have a table full of dishes to pick and choose from.
You cannot come to Georgia and not eat cheese. Well, I suppose if you’re lactose intolerant you can, but otherwise, you’re missing out on one of the great parts of this cuisine. I love cheese but ate so much of it while I was in Georgia that I had to lay off it for a while.
The main Georgian Cheese that you’ll want to try is Sulguni. You’ll see it in the markets in large white rounds. The texture will differ between vendors. And they’ll all offer you a taste, so go on and taste and pick the one that you like the best. Smoked Sulguni cheese rounds are those that are more orange in colour. And they’re amazing.
Sulguni is the main cheese you’ll find in the amazing Georgian Khachapuri bread.
This is a much saltier cheese than Sulguni. It’s crumbly but quite firm, similar to a feta-style cheese.
Teneli String Cheese
You’ll find this primarily as a snack to go with beer. It’s moorish and highly addictive. Georgian String Cheese comes salted, or smoked and braided. See what other snacks you might want to try with your beer in our guide to the best beer snacks!
Georgian Desserts & Sweets
Georgians aren’t known for their desserts and sweets, however, you will find something to satisfy a sweet tooth in most markets and restaurants.
Churchkhela is a traditional Georgina sweet. The uniquely Georgian churchkhela is ubiquitous and once you’ve figured out these are not strings of sausages hanging everywhere you won’t be able to miss them.
The look like a huge peapod, or yes, strings of colourful sausages. The most common churchkhela are made with walnuts but you can also find them with hazelnuts and almonds. The nuts are threaded onto a string and then repeatedly dipped into a glutinous mix of grape juice, flour and honey. The grape juice is that which is left over from the winemaking process. After each dipping, the churchkhela is left to dry until a chewy almost waxy substance covers the nuts. They’re chewy, full of protein, sugar and energy and are great for hiking as they’re also lightweight. In years gone by the Georgian military even took them to war. You may find them referred to as the Georgian “Snickers”. Buy Churchkhela to eat at home.
Want to know how to eat Churchkhela? Chop a section off to chew on or bite it as much as you can chew, and don’t eat the string!
Tklapi – Georgian Fruit Leather
Tklapi is made by drying grape (or other fruit) juice with flour to thicken it. The concoction is spread thinly and dried as sheets. They look like a cloth or a placemat. This is a fruit roll up for want of another description, although you may find it described as “Georgian Fruit Leather”.
There are sweet and sour versions of Tklapi. Tklapi recipes include apricots, figs, apples, plums and cherries which generally make up the main flavours that you’ll be able to buy in markets on roadside stalls. You can make your own Tklapi with these genuine Georgian Tklapi recipes.
Matsoni is Georgian yoghurt. It’s served at room temperature and is slightly sour. It’s not as thick as Greek yoghurt and infinitely more tasty than “yoghurt” that you’ll buy from a supermarket. It’s served as a dessert with honey and nuts, although you’ll also find it on the breakfast table and as a marinade and in sauces.
Enjoy Georgian Food at Home
We adored Georgian Food. It’s comforting, and hints of the exotic travellers who once ventured through these lands. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do! You can read more on Georgian food, it’s history and recipes here.