Happiness on a Plate for Gaormands

Autumn is the time when nature appears like a colorful fairy tale from night-time dreams. This season might be very beautiful in all countries, but the Georgian autumn is the most colorful period of the year, with a mild and pleasant climate, softened sun and rich harvest

The weather gets cooler, leaves turn yellow and fall, nature becomes versatile and so does the menu, which becomes more distinguished, rich and exotic.

Bushes are laden with berries and Georgian forests are full of unique curative plants and fruits, usually gathered by Georgians for teas and for various curative tinctures. The list of such plants is long but I will name a few: whitethorns, eglantines, elders, pears and apples, raspberries, blackberries and forest mint.

The autumn abundance, in spite of its melancholic colorfulness, does not affect the Georgian mood, well shown during the Kakhetian harvest “rtveli,” and “nadi” in western Georgia – the time when villagers express their gratitude to God for the rich harvest. This ceremony is always followed by the Georgian feast “supra”, an essential element of the Georgian culture consisting of wine, bread, a toast-master and toasts. The Georgian feast is also distinguished with a versatile and rich menu – a real exhibition of Georgian culinary masterpieces: barbequed meat over vine branches, Kakhetian Khashlama (veal and sour plum stew) and the national dessert, warm Tatara (thickened grape juice) with walnuts. In the western part you may get gastronomic delights from a goat boiled in milk or hens roasted on skewers and served with a sauce made of green grapes and blackberries, or Elarji from young cheese and buffalo yoghurt.

The autumn is culinary happiness on a plate, and a time for an interesting event and the national celebration of Tbilisi city – “Tbilisoba,” held the last week of October in the capital of Georgia.

“Tbilisoba” is an autumn celebration dating back to October 1978. It is regarded as the capital day and the autumn celebration, bringing together autumn gifts from all regions of Georgia. People press grapes, usually accompanied by Georgian singing. This celebration is quite popular outside Georgia, too, and guests try to coincide their visit with this day and taste various culinary masterpieces and purchase different gastronomic souvenirs.

It is a well-known fact that if you want to get closer to the culture, economic and agriculture of a country, you should pay a visit to a market there. Each region of Georgia has its specifi c, interesting and exotic market culture which looks more like those of Asian traditions.

Unfortunately, Tbilisi markets have lost their authentic exoticism, but it is still possible to view the country’s good and bad habits and agrarian wealth, more obvious this time of year.

Dezertirebi and Navtlughi markets are still very important and popular. It was a kind of ritual in Tbilisi to visit markets with baskets. This tradition, in spite of numerous supermarkets, are still preserved in many families; they have closer communication with villagers and think that products from villages are more organic and healthy. Almost everyone has his “own” villager, to buy this or that product from, for example: sulguni cheese is bought from a farmer from Samegrelo and mountain cheese from a Tushetian villager…

Each Georgian product is interesting for its geography. In ancient times, Georgian kings ordered wedding piglets in Samegrelo and pigs for barbeque in Kakheti. If you are about to buy potatoes, the best option is to purchase potatoes from Tsalka, Akhaltsikhe and Bolnisi. If you want to enjoy the special taste of tomatoes, than you have to buy them from Dighomi or Choporti. The tastiest cucumbers grow in Lagodekhi or Dedoplistskaro. The real Georgian onion with a shining gold color comes from the region of Kartli.

Regarding fruits, Kartli is rich in different varieties of apples, peaches and plums. Kakhetian vineyard peaches don’t look so pretty, but are really very tasty. Beans from Dusheti are delicious, vegetables and greens from Kutaisi, Tskaltubo and Marneuli, walnuts from Racha, pumpkin from Guria and Samegrelo; Abasha and Martvili are famous for corn; citrus and kiwi are most appetizing from Adjara and Abkhazia. Wine – the national pride and the Christian symbol of Georgia – is most famous in Kakheti, of course, it grows in Kartli and western Georgia, too, but still, the best grape varieties: Rkatsiteli, Kakhuri Mtsvane, Saperavi, Qisi and much more are cultivated in Kakheti. Wine is made in the autumn in Qvevri (a clay vessel) following an old Georgian tradition. This method was given the status of intangible heritage by UNESCO in 2013.

The autumn menu is also distinguished with different spices – the natural ingredients, making dishes so special and scrumptious. Can you imagine Georgia’s pride Satsivi without blue fenugreek, dried coriander, dried marigold, cloves and cinnamon? Mint, basil, savory, celery, fennel, tarragon, coriander, saffron – are must-have seasonings in all Georgian families. These herbs are dried in the autumn and preserved for the winter.

The autumn is also time for preserving cheese for the winter. There are approximately 50 cheese varieties in Georgia. Some recipes have been lost and but some of them have been already restored. “The Georgian Cheese Celebration” – a very important event of restoring the cultural heritage has also been held in recent years. Sulguni, the “queen” cheese of Samegrelo, is dried in smoke in the autumn, while in Svaneti it was dried in the air, and as a result it kept its fat and wonderful aroma. This technology has been restored. Alvani is a mountainous region famous for its Guda cheese. A real explosion of tastes is to have a piece of Guda cheese made in the autumn, with fresh tarragon and Georgian bread in the spring.

Beef, veal, pork, and chicken-meat is also smoke-dried for winter. It is a period of making Kupati (a type of Georgian sausage) and traditional Rachvelian ham – one of the many distinguished Georgian delicacies.

Wheat and wine are the most familiar products for Georgians and, consequently, Georgia is regarded as one of the homelands of wine and bread. The popular beans, tomatoes and potatoes appeared in Georgia in the XVI century and have become native for the Georgian menu: “Kakhetian beans,” “Gurulian Kirkazhi,” “Megrelian beans” and fresh beans with walnuts are one of the essential dishes in the autumn menu. Dishes with tomatoes are also very favored here: the popular dish Chakhokhbili is made with tomatoes, but the original one was made with roasted pheasant in pomegranate juice. As for potatoes, you can see fried round potatoes dressed with fennel almost all year around, as the garnish for meat or just a snack.

Khinkali has no season here and just one word that they originate from Mongolia or China might cause offense to Georgians because khinkali is regarded as one of the symbols of the Georgian culinary culture. There are many varieties of khinkali – with mutton, beef, with mix of pork and beef, khinkali with dried meat of goose, or with cheese, mushrooms, potatoes… An ideal khinkali should have at least 28 creases, a symbol of sun rays and the number 28 itself is also a sacral number; consequently, this dish is regarded as a ritual food. Khinkali is considered a mountain dish, where beer was more popular than wine, so it is usually accompanied with beer and eaten by hand. It is also very important to sip the yummy hot juice from khinkali, without spilling it on your plate. It holds one of the most honorable places among the most delicious dishes in Georgia, but khinkali with mutton and dressed with mountain herbs in Pasanauri has an out of the ordinary taste that you will never forget!

Sunflower oil is distilled in the autumn in Kakheti. It is one of the Georgian brands – very healthy and consisting of lots of minerals which makes Georgian salad of tomatoes and cucumbers awesome. “Beet with tkemali sauce,” “Eggplant satsivi,” “Kezhera pkhali with walnuts” and different variations of vegetables with spices and herbs are very common and popular cold dishes for the season as well.

In already cool weather you can take gastronomic delights from different soups, such as “Chikhirtma” (a kind of chicken soup) with mint, “Imeretian mushroom soup” and “Mulberry Chriantela”.

Regarding pastry, the Georgian pride, khachapuri, has no season and almost every restaurant serves the different sorts of khachapuri – Megrelian, Gurulian with an egg , Imeretian and Adjarian. We have a really wide choice of pastry with fi llings in Georgia.

Nothing compares with a piglet grown on Georgian corn, you should defi nitely taste roasted piglet in Tone (Georgian bakery) with different sauces: “Bazhe,” “Khardali,” “Isrimi” or green and red Adjika.

Autumn is the right time for sweet dishes too: roasted pumpkin with honey, tatara or pelamushi (thickened grape juice) and tasty desserts – walnut, fi g and watermelon rind jams made according to grandma’s recipes.

In a nutshell, the Georgian autumn is distinguished with a wonderful palette of colors which should be viewed, tasted and felt. The many-voiced beating heart of autumn can be heard like the Georgian polyphonic folk music itself and experienced in the context of its sheer material and non-material culture.