There is no denying that sampling the delicious dishes and flavours that comprise Georgian cuisine is one of the highlights of visiting this South Caucasus nation and, in fact, Georgian food can be just as much of a draw to the country as its beautiful mountains and historic cities. Firmly cementing itself as a foodie destination, Georgian cuisine is one of the last “discovered” culinary scenes in Europe and the food and flavours are really something to celebrate.
However, Georgian food is still relatively unknown outside of a handful of intrepid foodies keen to explore world cuisine. And aside from the hard-hitting international favourites like khachapuri and khinkali, even fewer people know just how complex and deep Georgian culinary tradition can go.
With flavour profiles that are both unique and exotic yet somehow comforting and familiar, Georgian cuisine is truly a delight to the tastebuds and an oddessy through some of the country’s best-loved and most traditional dishes is one that you will never regret.
What is Georgian Cuisine?
Many people planning a trip to Georgia may be lured to this country solely because of the ample outdoor activities or historic cities on offer, taken in by scenes of the snowcapped Caucasus or the eclectic old town of Tbilisi.
These travellers may also be forgiven for thinking that Georgian food comprised little more than typical bland Eastern European fare. In fact, my own friends and family when asking me what Georgian food was like simply just asked the question: “is it a lot of potatoes?” And while potatoes do play a role in traditional Georgian cuisine, there is far more than just dull, boiled tubers that comprise the food of Georgia.
Those who do know a little bit about the food in Georgia probably only really know of the two most famous dishes that have breached the country’s borders: khachapuri and khinkali. And while these two dishes are certainly incredibly popular within Georgia itself, their flavours only barely scratch the surface of what kind of foods you can expect to eat while visiting Georgia.
Key Flavours in Food in Georgia
Georgian food is far from bland and, contrarily, relies on a number of bold and unique flavours that give it its characteristic punch. Arguably the spiciest of European cuisines (though it is far from the heat you will experience in cuisines found in Asia or Mexico), Georgian cuisine does pack a bit of heat into a number of different dishes.
There are a few spices that are, as far as I am aware, mostly unique to Georgian cuisine and to culinary traditions found elsewhere in the Caucasus. The most notable of this is the use of blue fenugreek. This plant grows only in the heights of the Caucasus and the Alps and has a flavour similar to that of the ordinary fenugreek spice that features heavily in South Asian cuisines, however, it is noticeably milder.
Another uniquely Georgian flavour is ground marigold petals, often referred to as Georgian saffron. This orange powder has a light floral flavour and offers an earthy brightness to dishes.
Perhaps the spice (and herb) that features most frequently in Georgian cuisine is coriander. Rarely will you find a Georgian dish that doesn’t call for the use of ground coriander seed and, almost always, there is a call for the use of fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves and stems, as well.
Other herbs that play a prominent role in Georgian food are tarragon (in fact, it is so popular that they flavour soft drinks with the herb), purple basil (a more potent version of the sweet Genovese basil commonly found in Italian cuisine), and dill. Of course, Georgian cuisine doesn’t shy away from an almost excessive use of garlic, either, and they’re not afraid of embracing the allium in its raw form.
If there is one technique and flavour that makes Georgian cuisine about as unique as possible, however, that would be its use of walnuts. Walnuts feature prominently in countless Georgian dishes, typically as a thickening agent. Where many other European cuisines may thicken their stews with a roux or ground, stale bread, Georgians thicken with a paste of ground walnuts, which they also employ as a delicious sauce or salad dressing.
So, as you can see, the flavours of Georgian cuisine are bold and unique, just like the country itself.
Georgian Cuisine Guide
Though this is by no means an exhaustive list — and it is also worth noting that Georgian cuisine can vary from region to region — these are some of the most common dishes that you can expect to find in Georgia.
If you’re not able to travel to Georgia in the near future but want to learn even more about Georgian cuisine and how to make some of the dishes at home, check out the books Tasting Georgia by Carla Capalbo and Supra by Tiko Tuskadze.
Georgian Bread Dishes & Sides
Georgian meals typically revolve around bread and you will get funny looks at a restaurant if you fail to order a bread dish of any sort at a restaurant in Georgia. Luckily, Georgians do bread incredibly well and in many different iterations.
Shoti Puri – შოტი პური
The word “puri” or “პური” in Georgia simply means bread and shoti puri is the simplest form of Georgian bread you can find. This crusty, delicious flatbread can be found at bakeries across the county and is an absolute staple for any meal in Georgia. Traditionally cooked on the walls of a tone — a tandoori-style oven — shoti puri is ubiquitous, delicious, and incredibly affordable.
Khachapuri – ხაჭაპური
Of course, no article discussing traditional Georgian food would be complete without mentioning khachapuri, arguably the national dish of Georgia. In fact, if you’re only familiar with one particular Georgian dish, it likely is khachapuri. This delicious, cheese-filled bread is one of the best foods in Georgia and it receives its international renown for a reason.
There are actually over fifty different regional varieties of khachapuri found throughout Georgia, however, there are three that are likely the most distinct. The most well-known of these three is undoubtedly Adjaruli khachapuri — a boat-shaped version filled with molten sulguni and imeruli cheeses and topped with a gooey egg yolk and butter — that hails from the Adjara region on the Black Sea.
Less decadent but definitely more of an “everyday” khachapuri is Imeruli khachapuri, hailing from the Imereti region surrounding the city of Kutaisi in Western Georgia. This is a circular bread filled with cheese and it is absolutely delicious.
The other popular riff on khachapuri of this style is Megruli khachapuri, coming from the Samegrelo region in Western Georgia. This bread is very similar to the Imeretian version except for the fact that it is also topped with cheese.
Want to make khachapuri at home? Check out our Adjaruli khachapuri recipe!
Lobiani – ლობიანი
Lobiani is khachapuri’s more healthy cousin and is arguably the other most common stuffed bread that you will find in Georgia. Lobiani is a bread that is stuffed with a red bean mash and it is hearty and absolutely delicious — and just a bit more healthy than a gooey, cheese khachapuri!
Want to learn how to make this dish at home? Check out our lobiani recipe!
Georgian Main Dishes
One of the great things about Georgian cuisine is that a good portion of main dishes either are completely vegetarian or have vegetarian iterations, making this a fantastic cuisine for our meat-averse friends to enjoy to its fullest. This is due to the fact that nearly half the year in this deeply Orthodox country as marked as “fasting days,” meaning that the consumption of meat is prohibited. Great news for vegetarians!
Khinkali – ხინკალი
Second only to khachapuri in notoriety, khinkali is one of the most popular dishes in Georgia. These steamy soup dumplings hail from mountain villages in the north of the country, however, are popular as a late-night snack or a cheap eat amongst Georgians.
Like with many other Georgian dishes, khinkali come in many different iterations, the most common of which are filled with a mixture of pork and beef spiced with coriander and caraway. Vegetarian khinkali can be found everywhere meat khinkali are found and are typically filled with mushrooms, though you can sometimes see them filled with cheese or potato, a well.
Khinkali are a finger food and it is considered blasphemous to eat them with a knife and fork. Pick the dumpling up from the top seam, bite a little hole in the to suck out the soup and eat the dumpling, save for the seam.
What to learn how to make authentic khinkali at home? Check out our khinkali recipe!
Mtsvadi – მწვადი
Countless countries do a version of “grilled meat on a stick” and mtsvadi is Georgia’s iteration. This is a dish you will see at most restaurants across the country and most commonly consists of cubes of marinated chicken or pork that are skewered and then grilled to perfection. They are then served off the skewer, usually garnished with slices of raw, white onion and pomegranate seeds.
Kharcho – ხარშო
Kharcho is really a catch-all term for a sicy beef stew or soup and there are countless different iterations of it across all of Georgia. Kharcho soup usually consists of a thinner broth spiced with all of the typical Georgian seasonings, cubed beef or veal and some rice.
Kharcho stew — called Megrelian kharcho as it hails from the Samegrelo region — is a thicker stew of meat (usually beef or veal, but sometimes chicken) slow-cooked in a deliciously spiced sauce thickened with ground walnuts. It is typically served on top of elarji, a polenta like dish, or with mchadi, a Georgian-style corn bread.
Want to learn to make this dish at home? Check out our Megrelian kharcho recipe!
Satsivi – საცივი
Another of the stews thickened with walnut paste, satsivi is a dish typically made with chicken or turkey stewed in a spiced walnut sauce and served cold, often over a bed of ghomi, much like kharcho.
Kupati – კუპატი
Kupati just means “sausage” in Georgia, however, there are a few delicious iterations of these that can be found throughout the country. My personal favourite would be Imeruli kupati, which is made from spiced minced pork and beef and generally served with a sauce on the side. Megrelian kupati, also found frequently in Georgia, is made from pork or beef offal. If you’re uncomfortable eating offal, it’s best to know which version of the sausage it is in advance!
Lobio – ლობიო
Lobio is absolutely one of my favourite dishes in Georgian cuisine and you will commonly see it listen on menus as “beans in a pot with garnishing,” however, that doesn’t even begin to describe how delicious this dish can be. Like all dishes, lobio can vary from chef to chef, however, it is essentially a spiced red bean stew.
Often it is thickened with walnuts and it includes the typical Georgian spices like blue fenugreek, marigold, and coriander and served in a traditional clay pot. Traditionally, it is served with a side of various pickles and mchadi, a Georgian corn bread.
Want to make this at home? Check out our lobio recipe!
Ojakhuri – ოჯახური
Literally translating to “family meal” (ojakhi “ოჯახი” means family in Georgian), this is an ultra-traditional Georgian stew that can be either a meat-lover’s delight or a vegetarian dish depending on the day it is made. Generally, it will include marinated and stewed meat (typically beef, pork, lamb or veal) or mushrooms, potatoes, and various other vegetables or onions.
Shkmeruli – შკმერული
Another of one of Georgia’s most popular chicken dishes, shkmeruli is one of the best foods in Georgia. A crispy chicken cooked in a delicious and decadent garlic cream sauce, there really isn’t anywhere to complain when you eat this dish. Not for those who shy away from a lot of garlic, shkemruli is typically served in a clay dish called a ketsi and is always accompanied by an ample amount of shoti puri in order to soak up the delicious sauce.
Want to make this dish at home? Check out our shkmeruli recipe!
Ostri – ოსტრი
Another addition in the “Georgian stews” category, Ostri is a delicious and spicy stew that can be made with either meat or mushrooms. Spicier than most of the dishes on this list of Georgian food, it is stewed in a tomato base and leans heavily on the flavours of fresh parsley and purple basil.
Chakapuli – ჩაკაპული
Another of the most popular and best dishes in Georgia, chakapuli is a traditional Easter stew and is served frequently in the springtime. This stew is incredibly flavourful and usually consists of either lamb or veal stewed with tkemali (sour plum sauce), white wine and other spices, making for a bright a slightly acidic dish that you can find throughout menus in Georgia.
Georgian Starters & Vegetable Dishes
There are countless Georgian vegetable dishes that can stand on their own compared to the mains just mentioned above. If you want an introduction to the most popular of vegetable dishes in Georgia, make sure to sample these delicious dishes!
Eggplants with Walnuts – ბადრიჯანი ნიგვზით
Another of my absolute favourite Georgian dishes, this is a very typical starter in Georgia. Eggplants are sliced thinly length-wise, pan-fried, and then spread with a delicious bazhe — a garlicky walnut paste. They are then rolled up and typically garnished with pomegranate seeds.
Tomato & Cucumber Salad – კიტრი პომიდვრის სალათა
Another staple to begin the meal, the Georgian tomato and cucumber salad (kitri pomidvris salata) is one of the most delicious dishes in the entire repertoire of Georgian cuisine. Because the produce in the country is so good, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers are so sweet and delicious. Salads usually also consist of fresh coriander, basil, sliced onion and sometimes a fresh chilli. Get it with walnut sauce for something truly divine!
Ajapsandali – აჯაფსანდალი
Absolutely one of my favourite Georgian dishes. ajapsandali is a stew of eggplants, red and green peppers, chillies, tomatoes, coriander and garlic. Stewed together until it all breaks down and becomes cohesive, ajapsandali is typically served cold the day after it is made in order for the flavours to really penetrate and meld. It is absolutely delicious and delightfully complex — essentially a zestier form of traditional French ratatouille or Spanish pisto!
Want to make this at home? Check out our ajapsandali recipe!
Pkhali – პხალი
A very popular Georgian starter or cold dish, pkhali is typically made with a vegetable puree mixed with bazhe (walnut paste) and then formed into small, golf ball-sized balls. Traditionally made with pureed spinach or beetroot, they are also often garnished with a single pomegranate seed pressed into the top of the ball.
Jonjoli – ჯონჯოლი
Jonjoli is something that is very traditionally Georgian and I have never seen anything like it anywhere else. They are buds from the flowering bladdernut plant that are picked and pickled in the springtime and served as a salad in its own right, as a side to dishes like lobio, or sprinkled in to more complex salads for a bit of acidic bite. Absolutely delicious!
Georgian Sauces & Desserts
There are countless Georgian sauces to have on the side of your meal, however, Georgian deserts are a bit few and far between. Georgians don’t tend to have the sweet tooth that many others posses, so there aren’t a lot of traditional Georgian desserts and sweets out there to round out your meal.
Ajika – აჯიკა
Ajika is found throughout Georgia but traditionally hails from the Samegrelo and Abkhazian regions in the northwest of the country. This mixture of garlic and chillies with other spices can often be found as a paste or as a dry rub and is typically served as an accompaniment to meat dishes. It is the species of Georgian sauces and intensely flavourful. Abkhaz ajika tends to be the spiciest and used green chillies. Megrelian ajika is a bit more mild and used red chillies.
Tkemali – ტყემალი
My absolute favourite of the Georgian sauces, tkemali is a delicious sour plum sauce that is typically served either as an acidic element in dishes like chakapuli or lobio or as a sauce for chicken or potatoes. Made with green cherry plums in the springtime, green tkemali packs a more acidic punch than its late-summer cousin of red tkemali, made with ripe plums. Stewed with garlic, dill, tarragon and other spices, tkemali is pungent and zesty and absolutely delicious. There’s even a version you can buy online!
Bazhe – ბაჟე
You’ve likely noticed bazhe be mentioned here a few times and that’s because it’s used as a condiment frequently in Georgian cuisine. A delicious paste using ground walnuts and garlic among other spices, it is used as a salad dressing, in eggplants with walnuts, and in dishes like satsivi.
Churchkhela – ჩურჩხელა
Churchkhela is affectionately referred to by locals as “Georgian Snickers” and it is a very fitting name for this candlestick-like Georgian sweet. Basically, churchkela is made by stringing walnuts on a thread and dipping them, candle-like, in a heavily-reduced and thickened grape juice until they are well coated. They are hung to dry and will last for quite some time, making them the perfect snack to take on a hike through the Caucasus or on a long, sweaty marshrutka ride!
Georgians are proud as peacocks about their wine culture and will not hesitate to inform you they are, indeed, the birthplace of wine, with a viticulture that dates back more than 8,000 years. However, Georgians also have a few soft drinks that make them distinct, as well.
Forget what preconceived notions that you may have about lemonade when you order one in Georgia because the drink doesn’t even necessarily have to be lemon-flavoured to adorn this moniker. Georgian lemonade is a soda that comes in a variety of flavours ranging from pear to vanilla to a chartreuse-coloured tarragon flavour. They are incredibly sweet and sugar-packed but can be very refreshing, as well.
Boasting similar flavours to a Georgian lemonade, Lagidze waters are a traditional Georgian soda that is mixed from a classic soda fountain. Many kiosks and shops around Georgia will have glass canisters filled with flavoured syrups used to make Lagidze waters, and the syrups are then mixed with a neutral soda to make a delicious soft drink!
Borjomi Mineral Water
Hailing from the natural springs in the spa town of Borjomi in central Georgia, Borjomi mineral water is a popular beverage throughout Georgia because of its interesting flavour and supposed healing abilities. Borjomi water is carbonated and slightly salty but is said to be a cure-all for any sort of ailment.
When Georgians boast of their 8,000-year-old wine tradition, they are also sure to boast about how they haven’t lost their traditional methods, despite the best efforts of the former Soviet Union. Traditionally, Georgian wine is made from juicing the grapes and transferring them — skins, seeds, stems and all — to an egg-shaped subterranean clay vessel (called a qvevri) to mature for a number of months.
What makes Georgian wines even more unique is that they use the same method for their white wines, allowing skin contact for upwards of six months, resulting in a deep amber colour and distinctly tannic flavour in their white wines. In fact, they refer to white wines as “amber wines” specifically because of this.
There are countless endemic grape varieties in Georgia that vary from region to region, however, the two most common you will find is the white Rkatsiteli and the deep red Saperavi. Saperavi grapes are unique in their own right as they are only one of three grape varieties that have both a red exterior and interior.
And finally, no list of Georgian drinks would be complete without mentioning the lethal Georgian firewater — chacha. Another spirit that is said to cure whatever ails you chacha is Georgia’s answer to grappa and is a brandy made from the byproduct grapes after they’re done fermenting wine. Plenty of Georgians make chacha at home and it can clock in upwards of 60% alcohol by volume.
Georgians also drink these in massive shots, so if you’re offered a glass by a Georgian (and it is likely at some point, you will be), please be sure to pace yourself, because it is strong!
As you can see Georgian cuisine is vast, flavourful and incredibly diverse and very much deserves its place in the emerging foodie destinations of Europe.
Are you interested in sampling traditional Georgian food? What do you think the best food in Georgia is? Let us know in the comments!