Georgian Cuisine
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The Cuisine of Soviet Georgia: An Introduction

Georgian cuisine is further defined by its distinctive use of spices. Khmeli-suneli, an aromatic mixture of dried, ground herbs and spices, lends a characteristic flavor of earth and sun to Georgian food. The proportions of this bouquet vary, depending on the cook and food it will flavor, but it most often contains coriander, basil, dill, thyme, parsley, fenugreek and mint. Sage and caraway are sometimes added; fresh tarragon is used more often alone. The other important spices obtained from plants rarely eaten in the West; holy thistle and marigold, which the Georgians call Imeretian saffron (Imeretia is a region of Western Georgia). The leaves of both plants are dried and ground and are particularly compatible with cinnamon and cloves.

The Georgians value fresh greens highly, too, generally offer platters of parsley and tarragon, coriander, celery leaves and peppery tsitsmati or falseflax. Their taste for the fiery is evident in their preparations of adzhika or hot sauce, made by grinding garlic together with equal parts of red bell and chili peppers. Georgian food is not, however, incendiary. Rather, peppers are used judiciously to invigorate, never dominate, a dish: another element in the careful balance of flavors.

Georgia’s beneficial climate encourages a diverse diet, and the Georgians put their native abundance to inventive use. But climate is not the only factor that has determined the evolution of Georgian cuisine; culture has also played its role. One of the most characteristic features of the Georgian meal is the prolific cumsumption of wine. Originally established as an agricultural occupation, viticulture was elevated by the advent of Christianity in the fourth century, when St. Nino is said to have appeared to the people carrying a cross of twined grape vines. St. Nino’a appearance seemed to represent divine approval for the winemaking that had been practiced for centuries. Archeological finds from the 3rd century B.C. attest to the early importance of the vine in Georgia, and ancient agricultural songs meant to accompany the various stages of wine making are still sung today.(4) The Latins are known to have carried on a thriving wine trade with Georgia (5), and some linguists even credit Georgia as the original home of viticulture, based on the Georgian word for wine, ghvino, from which the Latin root may have been borrowed.

Numerous rituals surround the preparation and serving of wine in Georgia. After pressing, the young wine is poured either into machari special jugs for unfermented wine, or kvervi, huge vessels of clay that are buried in the ground with only mouths above the surface. The kveri are sealed with wooden covers and a layer of dirt spread over them. The wine is then left to age in the cool ground. When ready, it is ladled out of the vessels with and earthenware scoop attached to a long pole. The Georgians use a special two handled jug or chapi for bringing wine to the table. But custom dictates that the wine must be transferred yet again before serving. From the chapi it may be poured into a khelada, a single-handled pitcher, or the more elaborate dedakhelada or chinchila or miniature pitcher may be used on festive occasions, or the marvellous marani, a ritual just consisting of a bowl surrounded by numerous small pitchers, each attached to the body of the jug. The spout of the marani is often fashioned in the shape of a ram’s or stag’s head, from which the wine is drunk.(6) Such fanciful shapes go back to the oldest and most traditional Georgian vessel for drinking wine, a polished ram’s horn, freguently decorated with silver filigree.

Given the reverence accorded wine-making in Georgia, it is appropriate that the traditional kvevri should serve as a metaphor for all of the riches that make up the Georgian cuisine.(7) Like buried vessels, the best Georgian culinary practices have lain hidden in mountain valleys, isolated and unobtained by incursions from the outside. The Georgians have proudly nurtured these traditions over the centuries, thereby preserving, like the kvevri, the very heart of their culture.

4.Ibia, pp.132-134.

5.See Allen, op. cit., p.336.

6.For illustrations of the different vessels used for serving wine in Georgia, se Sovrmennaia gruzinskaia keramika (Moscow: Sovetskii khuozhnik, 1984), pp.5-8.

7.The Russian poet Osip Mandelstam has used this metaphor in reference to Georgian art. See his essay “Koe-chto o gruzinskom iskusstve” in Mandelstam, Sobranie sochinenii, v. 3 (New York: Inter-Language Literary Associates, 1971), pp.36-39.



“The Cuisine of Soviet Georgia: An Introduction” Darra Goldstein, Second Interantional Food Congress, Turkey 3-10 September 1988, (Feyzi Halıcı, Konya Kültür ve Turizm Vakfı Yayını, 1989), pp. 150-155. 

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