Traditional Georgian food, shaped over centuries by the influence of its European and Middle Eastern neighbors, is a combination of flavorful, spicy, and unique meals. It’s often heavy on meat, dough, and walnuts, but vegetarians shouldn’t worry, as there are dozens of plant-based Georgian dishes to enjoy. So which traditional Georgian food and drinks to try once in the country? Read along.
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The staples of Georgian dishes
Georgian cuisine is quite diverse, as each region has its typical and traditional meals. Some of those Georgian dishes are long lost, some are having a comeback, while others are offered with a modern twist in various Georgian restaurants in Tbilisi and major cities.
Listing every meal would have made this already long post even longer. So, I decided to present some of the most favorite traditional Georgian food and drinks every traveler should try.
Khinkali, or Georgian dumplings, is the most popular dish among locals and foreigners. Originally made from minced pork and beef meat filling, the variations also include potato, mushroom, and cheese, to name a few.
Unlike its Asian cousins, Georgian dumplings are boiled in the water. This method enables the meat to reduce broth-like juice trapped inside the dough.
Initially, the Khinkali comes from the mountainous regions, such as Tusheti and Khevsureti. However, today, it’s spread all across the country. Therefore, the best places to try authentic Georgian dumplings are in those regions.
The original recipe calls for meat, onions, chili pepper, cumin, and salt. Look for Khevsuruli Khinkali in menus. The city version, Kalakuri, includes all the ingredients of the original one with added fresh herbs like parsley and cilantro.
But don’t worry if you don’t have time to visit them, restaurants in Tbilisi and other leading cities do make great dumplings for you to try.
Khinkali has its way of eating etiquette too. NEVER ever use a fork and knife. Instead, grab the top knot with your hands, take a small bite, suck the juice out first, and then continue eating the dumpling.
Often referred to as the Georgian cheese bread by many foreigners, it is nothing like a cheese bread; it’s more of a pie that calls for salty mozzarella-like local cheese Sulguni inside the dough. Together with Khinkali, it takes first place among Georgian national meals.
The plethora of traditional Georgian food has at least ten different versions of Khachapuri. Each region has its take on it. The most widespread is Imeretian, simple round-shaped with cheese inside.
Some variations have cheese strings (Meskhetian) or Sulguni slices (Megrelian) on top; others have chopped beet leave (Mkhlovana from Mtiuleti), potato (Khabidzigna from Ossetia), black beans (Lobiani), or boiled eggs (Guruli) filling, to name just a few. The most distinguished one boat-shaped Adjaruli.
- Midamo for Meskhetian
- Stamba Cafe or Puri Guliani for Adjaruli
- Veriko for Mklovana
- Sakhachapure N1 for Khabidzgina
Mtsvadi, grilled meat cubes on a skewer, is another favorite traditional Georgian food for many. Cooked over an open fire, the meat is tender and juicy. The best place to try Mtsvadi is in the Kakheti region, where vine branches are used instead of typical timber to give a distinctive taste to the meat.
Phkhali is a general term for a plant-based traditional Georgian food seasoned or wrapped with walnut paste and topped with pomegranate seeds as a garnish. Spinach, beets, cabbage, and bell pepper are the most common vegetables used for the dish.
Originally from the Imereti region, Pkhali is now widespread across the country. The best way is to try these popular Georgian dishes is to order a mixture of all of them.
- Shavi Lomi. Order Gobi (might not be on the menu) – a mixture of Pkhali with marinades, cornbread (Mchadi), and cheese.
Translated as “eggplant with walnuts,” Badrijani Nigvzit is an appetizer that many foreigners rave about. This popular Georgian meal includes long slices of fried eggplant stuffed with garlic and walnut paste and then rolled or folded. Similar to Phkali, it has pomegranate seeds as a garnish.
Cucumber and tomato salad
This simple salad is another staple of traditional Georgian food. Ingredients are as simple as tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and fresh herbs like parsley and purple basil. However, what makes this salad even more delicious is either added walnut paste or seasoned with Kakhetian sunflower oil.
Join an organized food and wine walking tour to old taverns, hipster hangouts, and organic bars
Qababi, or Kebab, is among traditional Georgian food despite its origin. However, unlike its Middle Eastern cousins, Georgian Kebab calls for either beef or beef + pork meat mixture. Grilled just like Mtsvadi, the dish is seasoned with barberry and onions on top before wrapping in lavash bread. Pair it with tomato sauce, satsebeli (more info under: Traditional Georgian Sauces section)
Lobio, or the black bean stew, is another excellent choice not only for vegetarians but for those who’d love to try something very different. Racha is home to the best Lobio in the country; however, the meal is so popular that you can find it pretty much anywhere. Pair it with Mchadi, cheese, and pickles.
Ostri or Chashushuli
Ostri is a Russian word for spicy and perfectly describes this beef stew. The Georgian name for it is Chashushuli (stew), but many menus might enlist it under its Russian name.
The meal also calls for garlic, onions, herbs, and spices such as red chili pepper and dried coriander with tomatoes’ base. It’s a comfort food perfect for breezy evenings.
If you’ll fall in love with Ostri as many visitors do, my friend Melanie has an easy Ostri recipe for you to make it back home.
Chakapuli is another meat stew that Georgians usually make during Easter. Originally from the mountainous region of Tusheti, the dish calls for lamb or veal meat, tarragon, sour plums tkemali, and plenty of fresh herbs. This traditional Georgian food has a very distinctive and unusual taste that worth trying whenever possible.
However, as many Georgians outgrew from eating lamb, the common meat used is chicken or beef. The vegetarian version made from mushrooms is as delicious as with meat.
Shqmeruli is another favorite traditional Georgian food for many locals and foreigners. The origin of the meal is the village Shqmeri in the Racha region, hence the name.
Made from a roasted chicken that is further boiled in a garlic sauce, it is the main dish and another hearty food.
Other traditional Georgian food worth trying
The section includes less-known Georgian dishes overshadowed by dumplings and cheese pies but are flavorful and worth trying when you travel here. Some of these meals are best to try in their native regions for a more gastronomic experience, while others are in most Georgian restaurants.
Elarji and Ghomi
Elarji and Ghomi come from the Samegrelo region, western Georgia. Both of them call for cornmeal and flour as their main ingredients. The only difference is that Elarji also includes Sulguni cheese boiled together with the cornmeal resulting in a gooey, cheesy meal. Ghomi, on the other hand, is served with cheese on a separate plate, and you add slices inside Ghomi according to your taste.
One more version of Ghomi calls a mixture of cheese and mint leaves on top.
The best way to eat Ghomi and its variations are to pair them with Kharcho, a turkey, or chicken stew in a walnut paste.
Gebzalia is an appetizer from the Samegrelo region, made from sulguni cheese rolls filled with ricotta-like cheese Nadughi and dipped in a mixture of milk and sour cream. And to top it off, the rolls are flavored with mint, pepper, and salt.
Traditional Georgian food from Svaneti, Kubdari is their take on Khachapuri made from meat pieces, either pork, goat, or lamb, seasoned with local spices, Svanetian salt, and onions.
Who says mashed potatoes can be bland? Svaneti has its take on this simple side dish incorporating cheese. It’s delicious, stretchy, and a unique one you can’t find anywhere else in Georgia.
Jonjoli, or Georgian capers, is a marinated side dish/appetizer made from a bush called Caucasian bladdernut. Once fermented, it’s mixed with fresh onion and a splash of oil. It perfectly goes with Lobio and has a bit bitterish yet unique taste.
If you happen to travel to the Adjara region and its capital Batumi, make sure you try Sinori. This soft yet crispy traditional Georgian food calls for lavash bread poured over the mixture of Nadughi, a bit of cheese, butter, and garlic. The meal is then baked or fried and topped with more cheese before serving.
Unfortunately, you’ll rarely find Sinori in Tbilisi restaurants.
Another staple in Adjarian cuisine, Borano is a gooey, cheesy, and greasy dish, but the taste of it is so good that you don’t care about the extra calories you’ll add to your waistline. This simple meal has only two ingredients – cheese fried in ghee. Eat as soon as it is served, otherwise, it will get cold and won’t be as delicious.
Similar to Sinori, Tbilisi restaurants rarely serve Borano.
This vegetarian meal is a Caucasian version of ratatouille. This cold stew calls for eggplant, potatoes, red pepper, tomatoes, fresh herbs, and garlic. It can be a side dish or an appetizer. Sometimes it’s also served hot and can be consumed as a main dish.
The word “satsivi” translates to something like a “cold dish”; however, however, the meal itself can be hot or cold. The main ingredient is chicken and walnut. During Christmas festivities, some of the locals make it from turkey as well.
The word “ojakhuri” means something like “family-like or family way” and refers to traditional Georgian food made from fried potatoes, pork meat, and onions served in a clay pot. It’s another comfort food and a favorite for many locals and foreigners.
Kupati is a meat sausage from western Georgia that usually includes minced pork, chitterlings or intestines, onions, and pepper. The most favorite version for many locals comes from the Samegrelo region.
Traditional Georgian bread
Even though Georgian cuisine is heavy on the dough, we don’t have a wide variety of traditional Georgian bread.
Shoti or Tone bread
The word “tone” refers to a special “clay oven” to bake traditional Georgian bread. Imagine a cylinder with openings on both ends – one end is on the ground to create an open fire, while the other is used to slap the dough on its walls.
There are two types of Georgian bread – shoti and tone. The first one has a half-moon kind of a shape, where the middle is a bit soft, while the ends are crusty. Tone, on the other hand, is either round or boat-shaped and is much softer compared to shoti.
Also, it might come in handy to know Georgian word for bread is “puri.” So if you want to buy one at your local bakery, just say “Erti (one) tonis puri.”
Mchadi, made from cornmeal, is another Georgian bread native to the Guria region in west Georgia. Gurian mchadi is usually round in shape cooked on an open fire in a clay pot. However, in the rest of the country, mchadi is shaped in oval and fried as separate small “bread.”
Svanetian version of Mchadi is Chvishtari incorporating Sulguni cheese in the cornmeal dough.
Traditional Georgian sauces
Georgian cuisine also lacks a variety of sauces, but the very few we have, are the local favorites that perfectly go with pretty much any traditional Georgian food.
Tkemali is a local fruit similar to plums. We best describe Tkemali sauce to foreigners as a sour plum sauce that is either green, yellow, or red.
Tkemali sauce is sour, seasoned with garlic, coriander, dill, and red pepper. Locals use Tkemali, as others use ketchup. It ideally goes with fried potatoes and meat.
If you like spicy sauces, give Ajika a try, a red pepper thick sauce originally from the Abkhazia region. There are two versions of Ajika – dry and wet. Dry is a seasoning to use on raw meat or potato wages, for instance. Wet one, on the other hand, is a dipping sauce that goes with pretty much anything to give more flavor. Wet Ajika is also used to rub on raw meat before roasting.
There also are red and green Aijka. The green is less spicer than the red one.
Satsebeli is a simple tomato sauce with chopped onions and fresh herbs local often pair with Kebab. Nothing special, to be honest.
Bazhe is a meatless version of Satsivi used as a dipping sauce. It’s a runny walnut sauce that goes with fish and roasted or fried chicken and vegetables.
Traditional Georgian desserts
Unfortunately, Georgian cuisine doesn’t have many sweets and desserts as it has in appetizers, side, or main dishes. There are only a few that can be considered as Georgian desserts.
Churchkhla often referred to as Georgian Sneakers, is a grape juice and nut snack. It is sweet and very filling. Initially, there are two types of Churchkhela – eastern and western. The first one uses red grape juice and walnuts, while the other white grape juice and hazelnuts. It’s an ideal snack to take during day trips or hikes.
One more Georgian sweets made with grape juice and best described as grape pudding, Pelamushi is a dessert prepared from condensed grape juice thickened with cornflour.
Tklapi is a Georgian name for fruit leather. Made from all sorts of fruits, Tklapi can be sweet or sour, depending on the fruit. The best ones are from Tkemali, plums, or apricot.
Usually made for Christmas and New Year festivities, Gozinaki is one more Georgian desserts made primarily from walnuts caramelized in honey and let dry to stick everything together and make it sturdy.
Traditional Georgian drinks
Food and drink play a HUGE part in Georgian culture. Everything revolves around eating and drinking, be it a simple family dinner, a celebration of sorts, or casual friends get-together. Supra is a term to describe a traditional feast around a table where meals are in the center for everyone to try everything they wish to taste. So traditional supra will include local drinks, and you might want to know what to expect.
Did you know that Georgia is the birthplace of wine? Now you do! The country has been making the beverage for at least 8,000 years!
Georgian wine is typically made in clay vessels buried underground to ferment naturally. The winemaking process is also quite different as we don’t separate stems from the grapes. Besides, the clay vessel gives our white wine an amber color, making it a bit stronger and dense than European wines.
Georgian wine comes in various types and aromas, depending on the manufacturer, the zone, and the grape.
Georgia’s primary winemaking region is Kakheti, where the most common white is Tsinandali and red Saperavi. In western Georgia, Tsitska and Tsolikauri are the most popular ones. Also, you can find natural and bio wines here too. The biggest selection of high-quality local wines is at 8,000 Vintages wine shop.
Organized wine tours I recommend from Tbilisi to Kakheti
Chacha is a high alcoholic spirit made from grape leftovers from winemaking. Mostly, chacha was a homemade distillate with varied quality and alcoholic percentage. However, for the past several years, factories and small family-run wineries started producing it, resulting in a high-quality and tastier drink. Chacha Corner has the most comprehensive assortment of various Chacha and Georgian cognacs.
Georgia has been producing beer for centuries in its mountainous regions. It’s not considered a traditional beverage to consume during supra, though.
Today’s market includes low-alcoholic and bottom-fermented beers that are decent but nothing special. However, slowly, companies do emerge that make quite good craft beer.
Among traditional Georgian drinks to try, make sure not to miss local lemonade. The classic ones are tarragon and pear, but you can also try “cream” with a vanilla taste or lemon. Bottled lemonades are quite carbonated.
Alternatively, try Laghidze draft lemonade, which actually is a syrup mixed with the carbonated water on the spot. The best Laghidze lemonade is at Stamba Cafe, Puri Guliani, or Funicular cafe at Mtatsminda.
Georgia is rich in mineral water sources across the country. The names of the brands come from the source area.
The most popular brand is Borjomi, with strong carbonation and a salty taste. Georgians drink it to cure morning hangovers, but it’s also useful for daily consumption. For less carbonated mineral water brands, try Nabeghlavi or Likani.
Prepare for the trip
To ease your travel planning, check out all the posts about Georgia travel. Additionally, here are some of the websites and services I use when preparing for my next adventure anywhere in the world.
– Book affordable flights on Kiwi.com, a platform that shows the best routes and flight deals to your destination. There’s a money-back guarantee if you miss the flight!
– Check iVisa to see if you need a tourist visa to visit Georgia, how to apply online if applicable, or where’s the nearest embassy or consulate
– Pre-book a private car transfer from Tbilisi Airport to your hotel
– Buy the most flexible and budget-friendly travel insurance, SafetyWing, to cover all sorts of health problems on the road