A Vegetarian Guide to Georgian Food (and How to Eat It)

Georgia

I enjoyed Georgian food so much more than Turkish food. I definitely didn’t expect that.

One of the reasons is that Georgian food is a lot more vegetarian friendly than Turkish food. Georgians do incredible stuff with walnut, eggplant, mushroom and cheese. The latter 3 items being my all around favorite things in the world to eat so it’s no surprise I found Georgian food very much agreeable.

They have this walnut paste thingy that was pretty close to the most incredible thing I’ve ever tasted. It’s like cheese, but lighter, nuttier… Sigh. I have to find it here in the States.

But if you’re a cheese lover, you’ll like it here too. In fact, it’ll be hard to NOT eat cheese in Georgia. You’ll see what I mean when you see the list of vegetarian friendly Georgian foods I’ve made below.

Khachapuri

Think of pizza on steroids and what you get is khachapuri. Several regions in Georgia have their own versions of khachapuri but all involve lots of cheese. Some can seem overly cheesy (is there such a thing?)

Megruli Khachapuri for example is cheese filled pie topped with more cheese. However I thought the most over the top khachapuri award has to go to Adjari Khachapuri: a bowl shaped bread filled with melted cheese and served with an egg on top and pats of butter.

adjarni khachapuri

It’s the Caucasus version of heart attack on a plate.

Khachapuris and more in Tbilisi, Georgia
Khachapuris and more in Tbilisi, Georgia

Regular khachapuris are a much more mellow version of this, consisting of simply cheese inside a round or square shaped dough. Sold practically all over the place, they make for perfect snacks on the go.

Khinkali

khinkali
Khinkali by G. Opaz

Khinkali is another Georgian staple that you can not miss to try if you’re in Georgia. If you think they look like dumplings, you’re absolutely right. They’re Georgian dumplings. At 30-50 cents a piece they’re also the staples of budget travelers like me. I had so many of these towards the end I couldn’t eat them anymore.

Meat and mushroom are the most common type of fillings. But I’ve also had khinkalis filled with cheese, vegetables, and at one point in Tbilisi, even lobster.

How to eat a khinkali:
You hold the ‘hat’ of the dumpling, bite a hole and suck the juice out of the filling. Then you eat it all at once except for ‘hat’ which is basically just a very thick dough. You leave this part on your plate. This is how one is supposed to keep track how many khinkalis they’ve had. I personally like mine with liberal sprinkling of black pepper.

Nigvziani badrijani

Badrijani - delicious eggplant and walnut paste dish from Georgia
Badrijani – delicious eggplant and walnut paste dish from Georgia

I have no idea how to pronounce the first word, but saying “badrijani” seems to work just fine. This is probably my favorite Georgian dish and it consists of thinly sliced eggplant, pan fried, and topped with that wonderful, spiced walnut paste I mentioned above.

The first time I took a bite, I’m pretty sure I uttered a moan that’s not quite PG.

Lobio/Lobiani

Lobiani, or Georgian bean stew
Lobiani, or Georgian bean stew

We’re having a cold front right now in California and I’d kill for a pot of lobio. Served in a clay jar, lobio is rich and flavorful bean stew. So filling and so perfect for cold nights. It goes well with cheese and mchadi a super dense cornbread that will sit like a brick in your stomach if you eat too much of it.

Baked mushroom with sulguni cheese

Baked mushroom with sulguni cheese
Baked mushroom with sulguni cheese

This dish consists of mushrooms filled with Sulguni cheese baked in buttery broth in traditional Georgian clay “ketsi” dishes. Sounds delish, right? If you’re a mushroom and cheese lover like me, you’d be chomping on these like popcorn.

Jonjoli

Jonjoli, Georgia
Everything there is pickled. Eeew.

When I first took a bite of jonjoli, I spat it back out. Second and third attempts fared no better. Jonjoli looked and tasted like it belonged in a compost pile (no offense to jonjoli lovers out there). The only reason I ordered it was because a Georgian I met on the bus wrote it down and highly recommended it to me.

So yeah, sometimes local advice just doesn’t work.

Someone at the restaurant came and indicated that I should try putting in my lobio. So I did. And it made it a lot more edible.

I later learned that jonjoli is actually pickled flowers of a shrub that grows localy in Georgia.

This explains my reaction. I can NOT stand pickled anything.

So there you go, if you like pickles, you should give jonjoli a try and let me know what you think of it.

Churchkhela

Churchkela in Tbilisi, Georgia
Churchkela in Tbilisi, Georgia
Churchkela in Tbilisi, Georgia
Churchkela in Tbilisi, Georgia

Also known as ‘Georgian Snickers’ this sausage-shaped candy doesn’t look like much but they’re quite delicious. This grape jelly and nut snack is often sold at roadsides and made by dipping a string of nuts repeatedly in a vat containing flour, sugar and concentrated grape juice solution.

The price depends on the type of nut and the type of grapes used.

How to eat a churchkela:
Bite and hold a nut and pull it off the string.

The condiments

Khinkali with tkemali sauce
Khinkali with tkemali sauce

Georgian food is not very spicy. But they do offer a variety of condiments or sauces to complement your dishes. The most common is, tkemali a sour plum type of sauce. I didn’t care so much for it but a lot of people like it. Another common sauce is ajika or ‘adjika’ – a spicy, tomato-y sauce that I much prefer.

Have you ever had Georgian food? If so, what do you think?

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17 Replies to “A Vegetarian Guide to Georgian Food (and How to Eat It)”

  1. I’m really enjoying going through your Turkey, Georgia, and Armenia posts. I did the same trip in the summer of 2013 but in reverse. We picked up some churchkhela from the market right before we went to Tusheti to backpack, thinking it was a cured sausage that would keep well on the trail. We were SO SURPRISED when we bit into it! They are delicious though!

  2. For the record, the reason Georgian vegan cuisine is so rich is because it is a religious country and during lent, followers of the Georgian church are required to eat vegan (i.e. no animal products whatsoever) – if you tell them you eat postnaya (lent in Russian), they’ll know exactly what you mean.

  3. I have never been to Georgia before and didn't actually know anything about the food there, but I am thinking of going sometime this year. Now I am sure I want to go there, I am excited! Thanks for the great info!

  4. Wonderful food post and what an assortment of dishes. Interesting that so many eggplant and walnuts are used – two of my faves as well. The spelling of some of the dishes is very mouth twisting – did you walk around with a dictionary or just point at what looked good?

  5. I've never been to Georgia, but friends took us to a Georgian restaurant in Moscow a few years ago and the khachapuri there still haunts my dreams, it was so good! I also remember the mushrooms with cheese. Think I'd be okay visiting Georgia as a vegetarian with a nut allergy?
    My recent post #Reverb13, Day 8: Adventure

  6. Thanks for this great Guide, I have some friends from Georgia and they told me a lot about their country and culture. Also their food like Megruli Khachapuri looks really tasty – I hope the flights to Georgia and Tiblisi will be cheaper next year, so I can visit the country as well.

  7. I know absolutely nothing about Georgian cuisine, so reading this post was such a surprise (but in the best possible way). Even for an omnivore like me, I was drooling over most of these dishes… I'd happily plan a trip to Georgia just for the chance to try these things. Nigvziani badrijani sounds impossibly good… I need to taste it for myself!
    My recent post To Market, To Market: Kota Kinabalu in Photos

  8. I am a vegetarian and have been vary of travelling eastern europe as they rely heavily of meat. Khachapuri is a dream come true for me I love breas and cheese that is why I love italian.
    Now georgia is getting close to Italy and Turkey on my food trip list
    My recent post Earn More to Travel More

  9. I’ve never had Georgian food, so this post is an eye-opener for me. Who would’ve thought that the sausage-looking thing is candy?! The mushrooms look absolutely delicious. And for the record – no, there’s no such thing as too much cheese!

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