It’s fairly certain that everyone…in some way or another loves food. I must admit that my palate is not broad or accepting of the more ethnic varieties or the more exotic choices. I grew up in Texas and my three food groups when nurturing my young taste buds were steak, potatoes and beer(not that I had any beer :-)). And to add to the mix, my folks were from Louisiana and drank coffee with chicory. Need I say more?
Besides that, I can’t remember seeing anything GREEN….OK, maybe the fake green Easter basket grass but that was about the extent of anything green even close to my dinner plate. Dining was fairly simple back “in those days”.
So when I travel to these far off exotic lands my palate winces slightly and puts on a brave front. If I am “served”…as opposed to “ordering” my food I will timidly take a tiny taste. If I find that my “buds” accept the flavors and my nose is not repelled…then I can usually enjoy the local cuisine. I might even venture to ask what it is that I am eating. If however the taste and smell is somewhat strange and off-color then I don’t dare ask “what is this”? Nine times out of ten I won’t want to know…and will be sorry that I asked. This happened rather frequently on a trip to China…suffice to say that I really enjoyed the beer and rice was my staple. It was probably the only trip that I did not gain any weight.
Once on a trip to London I saw a billboard advertising a local beverage and the tagline read “I don’t like it, so why should I try it?” I could relate….
But for most travelers half the fun is enjoying the local foods and beverages along with the fantastic sights and culture. Food gives depth and texture to the culture, to the people and how they live. It’s an integral part of exploring far away places. SO….when I tripped off to the Republic of Georgia I had no clue as to what kinds of foods might be presented. Georgian dishes are very similar to many Russian dishes. Westerners will think the food is somewhat salty and heavy with lots of homemade cheese, spices and vegetables. They also use a lot of walnuts in sauces and with their meats.
Cheese will almost always accompany the bread and there is one common cheese – Sulguni that can be cured in various ways to provide a hard smoked cheese that can be pretty salty or as a fresh cheese that is soft and more subtle in flavor similar to a mozzarella . Having the fresh bread with the cheese helps tone down the salt factor.
Their national dish is a “cheese pie” known as Kachapuri and it can be created in a multitude of ways.
The bread is filled with cheese(think pizza) or sometimes the cheese is enclosed or some even offer a boat shaped bread with a raw egg and melted cheese and you mix them together to basically cook the egg with the hot cheese.
Every meal that I enjoyed (and I enjoyed them all) in Georgia was served family-style. We would sit down at the table set with plates of freshly baked breads, bowls of fresh tomatoes/cucumbers/onions salad, and a kachapuri of some sort. Once we got settled into the “starters” the waiters began bringing out one dish after another.
Some were vegetables such as squash, eggplant, sweet peppers others were various meat dishes such as beef, veal, chicken and pork. Meats were either stewed or grilled.
Their most unusual dish is the “khinkali” which is a big dumpling.
There is a special art to eating one…grab the top knob, turn it upside down and bite into the bottom edge of the dumpling and suck out all of the juice(usually really hot) and then you can eat the “innards” which is usually some type of spiced pork or beef. Any other method will assure a squirt of hot juices into your lap.
Needless to say….I did not go hungry in Georgia and my taste buds were delighted with all the variations to very “simple” foods that were hearty and flavorful.