After spending three months with the Marines living outside Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia (plus another seven months deployed to Afghanistan with Georgian soldiers), Chipp has a near obsession with Georgian food. And, while tough to find in the States, Ukraine’s proximity and shared post-Soviet status means there are plenty of Georgian restaurants in Zaporizhzhia.
Consequently, Chipp has a pretty hard-and-fast rule to crush some Georgian food (and cha cha…) once a week during our trips to Ukraine.
The Pillars of Georgian Cuisine (at Least for Chipp)
While a refined Georgian epicure - or epicure, in general - may scoff at this list, Chipp has a couple items in his pantheon of Georgian deliciousness. And, while this may be a little bit like discussing delicious Italian food in the context of the pizza and chicken finger subs at your local joint, these highlight reels of Georgian food definitely warrant a taste (or more):
Khachapuri, Adjaruli style
An absolute staple of Georgian cuisine (and actually the national dish), khachapuri most closely translates to “cheese bread.” But, this simple description belies the absolutely epic nature of this meal.
Each region of Georgia puts its own spin on the dish, so we’ll focus on our favorite - and one of the most popular - khachapuri adjaruli.
Picture a boat-shaped slab of golden-brown leavened bread, filled with piping hot, salty Georgian cheese in the middle, all topped with an egg - yep, you’ve got it.
And, while the cook will break this egg into the pool of molten cheese raw, a savvy glutton will rip off a piece of the bread and use it to stir the egg yoke into the cheese, cooking it in the process.
We’ve discussed this meat-lover’s dream before, so no need to cover it again. Three important takeaways: 1) Georgians typically just use pork; 2) they use different spices; and 3) in kartouli, the Georigan language, it’s known as mtsvadi, not shashlik (a Russian word).
Bottom line, you’ll get a different experience eating this at a Georgian restaurant, so definitely give it a try - worth the comparison between the Georgian and Russian/Ukrainian variants.
Known as “meat grenades” by… really no one in the world but Chipp, these hand-sized Georgian dumplings can be, like khachapuri, a meal in and of themselves.
Start with dough like you’re making ravioli (but a far bigger piece), add a heaping scoop of minced pork and/or beef and local spices, top it off with hot broth, wrap the dough up and seal it with a knot, and boil it for a bit.
When they come out, scalding hot on a plate, the broth inside the khinkali makes them a lot like a soup dumpling. Liberally sprinkle some black pepper all over the plate, grab a “meat grenade” by the top knot, take a little bite to drink the delicious broth, then finish the whole thing. With an appropriately trained belly, you can probably fire down a dozen of these. For most of us mere mortals, four or five is plenty.
And, here’s the PhD-level move with khinkali. Once they’ve sat and cooled for a while, the broth inside can congeal - less than appealing. So, if you’re enjoying a few hour session, having some drinks and catching up with friends, a platter of khinkali can quickly become, if not inedible, less delicious.
Send those guys back to the kitchen to be deep fried!
Starting the Night on the Right Foot
With all that mouth-watering deliciousness in our thoughts, we headed out for an early dinner before meeting up with one of Jenna’s friends for a few drinks.
Jenna’s parents live in a more residential part of Zap, so to head down to the city center you hop into a marshrutka (privately-owned minibuses that bomb around all over the city). About 30 minutes later, you get to the historic - and beautiful - center of Zap.
The focal point of the city, Zap’s main drag - Unity Prospekt - cuts straight through the city for miles (and, as a point of local pride, has the claim of being the longest one in Europe). Lined with wide sidewalks, park-lined boulevards shooting off at right angles, and gorgeous, 30s-era buildings, strolling down Unity could be your entire night. And, once again, lacking some of the more puritanical restrictions of the States, grab a can of beer or glass of wine for the walk!
As expected, this stretch also serves as the culinary heart of Zap, with a handful of outstanding Georgian restaurants dotted along it. Hopping out of our marshrutka, we headed straight to a newer one - hadn’t been there yet but heard great things.
We weren’t disappointed. In addition to Georgian food, the nation claims to have invented wine. True or not, they make delicious stuff (and when you’re in the country, you can’t help but have locals offer to bring you a jug of their homemade).
Armed with glasses of saperavi - the source of most of Georgia’s red wines - we dove into massive servings of khachapuri and khinkali. Well, more accurately, Chipp dove in - Jenna more appropriately/reasonably grazed.
And, no night of Georgian food gluttony is complete without a little chacha. A pomace brandy native to Georgia - and similar to grappa - this stuff is absolute rocket fuel. While not necessary, it’s highly recommended - especially your first time trying Georgian food - to pair a shot of chacha with khinkali. Throw back some chacha, pick up a “meat grenade,” and chase the booze with the piping hot broth inside the khinkali. Outstanding!
No one’s ever going to accuse this Georgian food of being light, so it served as a great base for the next part of our night.
Swapping Roles / Drinking with Friends
For years, Jenna’s been an awesome sport when it comes to hanging out with Chipp’s childhood and military friends - drinking together and listening to the same stories for the 100th time… And actually laughing at a lot of them (though not all - looking at you, Uncle MacGregor).
As such, it’s always a blast spending time in Zap and getting to swap roles, with Chipp as the new guy getting a chance to hang out with Jenna’s friends from home. And, while his broken Russian may not be Tolstoy-esque, a few drinks and Chipp certainly pretends it is!
With plenty of Georgian food and booze in our stomachs, we strolled down one of the wide, tree-lined boulevards jutting off Unity Prospect to meet Jenna’s childhood friend, Marina, for some drinks.
Oh man, even if you don’t speak any Russian, it’s worth the price of admission just to see these reunions - rapid-fire greetings, hugs, laughs, tears - between childhood friends. Who knows, maybe it was the chacha (or just the source of his deep-rooted love of rom-coms), but Chipp may have even let a tear or two slide.
“You’ve Never Had Tequila?”
When you’ve lived in another country for close to a decade and can only make it home once a year or so, things have a way of escalating in these sorts of environments.
One drink quickly became several which quickly became Marina admitting she’d never had tequila:
Chipp, who doesn’t even like tequila: “You’ve never had tequila!?”
To the bartender: “Sir, tequila, salt, and limes please.”
Clearly, this isn’t a common request. We didn’t get shots of tequila - we got what seemed like small carafes. Welp, the one slice of lime each wouldn’t suffice.
As we worked through our enormous servings, we had to keep asking for more and more lime slices, with the bartender only bringing out three at a time. Even with Jenna’s language proficiency, sending out a bunch of citrus with booze is just a foreign concept, which explained something as we hazily closed the tab at night’s end.
Plenty of bar line items - correct. But, there was also one kitchen line item, even though we didn’t have anything to eat.
Turns out our recurring lime orders eventually fell under the “food” category. Makes sense.
A Rough Morning (and Another Role Swap…)
More often than not, after we’ve been out for a late night like this, Chipp’s the one who wakes up a little worse for wear. So, with Jenna struggling with a little bout of “Irish flu” the morning after our bender with Marina, Chipp could only smile.
Another role swap!