Far and away the dish that holds the largest place in Georgian hearts. Khinkali is essentially a Georgian version of dumplings. They are most often filled with ground meat and some variation of spices/vegetables, however you can also find khinkali filled with mushrooms, potatoes or cheese. Wanna fit in like a local? Put that knife and fork away. Sprinkle a bit of pepper on top of the khinkali, pick it up by the knob on top and slowly bite into the side, taking care to suck out all of the succulent juices inside. When you finish slurping the warm soup out, go ahead and enjoy the rest of the deliciousness of this emblematic Georgian dish. Repeat 4-15 times depending on your appetite. As heavy as khinkali can be, it’s far lighter on your wallet. They typically cost anywhere from 30-65 cents apiece, so it’s a cheap, filling and delicious food.
It’s a close race when deciding which food occupies the place closest to the heart in a Georgian kitchen. While I believe khinkali takes first place, khachapuri follows close behind. As blasphemous as it seems, this dish made me forget about pizza. Khachapuri comes in many forms and fillings, however the most traditional is bread filled with cheese. Some variations of the fillings are potato and cheese, beans and my personal favorite of cheese with more cheese baked on top. Khachapuri can be a main dish, a side dish or something that you can grab and eat on the go. Some savvy food lover in Silicon Valley needs to disrupt the pizza market and begin offering Khachapuri worldwide. Pizza may be king, but khachapuri could be the prince.
3. Khachapuri Adjaruli
This version of khachapuri is different and delicious enough to deserve a separate shout out on these rankings. This carb-bomb is my favorite guilty pleasure. The dough is shaped like a boat that's capsizing with Georgian sulguni cheese, a freshly cracked egg and a slab of butter right before it hits the table. Without a doubt my favorite Georgian dish.
I’m not sure where to draw the line between what is and is not khachapuri. So to hedge our culinary bets, let’s say khachapuri is the umbrella and lobiani belongs under it. One indisputable place that lobiani belongs? In your belly. I affectionately deemed it the Georgian bean burrito, which coming from a native southern Californian is high praise. Lobiani is thinly baked bread with bean paste inside and maybe cheese if you’re lucky. I’m telling you, don’t sleep on the Georgian bean burrito. OBio
Lobio might be the best example of how Georgians can take a simple dish and make it taste extraordinary. You will often see lobio listed on Georgian menus as beans in a clay pot. How boring does that sound? Well, thankfully I’m here to tell you that this inexpensive Georgian staple is incredibly tasty. While recipes may vary, it is quite often a mixture of slow cooked kidney beans with finely chopped fried onions and cilantro. Pro-tip: If it’s not already accompanied by Mchadi, order it to eat alongside lobio. Mchadi is Georgian panfried cornbread and is the perfect accompaniment to lobio.
6. eggplant with walnut sauce
This dish was the most unexpectedly delicious thing I tried in Georgia. After seeing it on every single menu, curiosity kicked in and I decided to order this mystery dish. I couldn’t have been happier, it tasted so fresh, delicious and unique. It consists of strips of eggplant, lightly fried and topped with a garlicky, walnut paste and topped with pomegranate seeds.
When you ask Georgians where to get the best of anything, the response is almost always at their grandparents and/or in the countryside. This held especially true for Mtsvadi, as I had tried it in restaurants only to discover that the restaurant version paled in comparison to the version available in villages. Simply put, it is fresh pork meat marinated in pomegranate juice, oil and salt and pepper then slid onto skewers. The secret is in how it is cooked. The most delicious version that I tried was setting the skewers along bricks placed ever so slightly above a bed of hot ashes that was created by burning a massive bundle of twigs and branches. Once cooked it is customary to eat with fresh, raw onion slices. As is often the case with fresh, organic food, the secret is in the simplicity.
8. any fruit or vegetable
Turns out grape candy actually does taste like grapes. It's our shitty grapes that misrepresent the flavor. Who knew? Fruit that doesn't look like it came from a factory is one of my favorite parts of Georgia. It just tastes so...real.
When I first saw churchkela in Georgia, I assumed that they were sausages, so imagine my surprise when someone offered it to me and I tasted the delicious sweet treat that Georgians affectionately call “Georgian Snickers.” It consists of nuts on a string (typically walnuts) dipped in concentrated grape juice and hung on a line until it solidifies into a delicious, nutritious snack.
10. Chicken shkmeruli
This dish gave me an all out foodgasm. Sometimes mere words betray us, which is why it’s so important to try things. This was quite often described on menus as Chicken in Garlic Sauce. Sounds good. However it was as accurate as calling pizza bread with tomato and cheese. The ingredients are there, however the description does no justice to the awesomeness that it actually is. This dish is composed of fried chicken, which is then roasted in a clay bowl with boatloads of garlic and milk or sour cream. It is so unbelievably delicious that I could hardly contain myself as I consumed a family sized portion all by my lonesome on multiple occasions.