Specialities from Georgia have been popping up on menus in the US. In fact, the spread of this Eurasian food has become notable enough that San Franciscan hospitality consultancy af&co reckon it will be the cuisine of 2019.
In particular, a Georgian dish called khachapuri has been capturing imaginations, racking up over 30,000 references on Instagram. Essentially a bread boat filled with cheese and then topped with a runny egg, the pizza-fondue hybrid has never been more popular in New York.
Traditionally diverse, different regions in Georgia have their own versions of khachapuri. In NYC, it’s moved from authentic Georgian restaurants into mainstream bites and brunches where unorthodox takes are the norm.
At a family-owned restaurant in Williamsburg called Cheeseboat, for example, the khachapuri contains American ingredients like meatballs, mac and cheese, and bacon. Then there’s Barbounia, a Mediterranean eatery in Gramercy, which has an entire khachapuri menu dedicated to brunch. Options include a take on a croque monsieur with Gruyere cheese, ham, mozzarella and fried egg, as well as Middle Eastern-style toppings like spicy feta, za’atar, crushed tomatoes, zhoug and fried egg, or spicy tomatoes, tahini, cilantro, zhoug and a slow-poached egg.
Barbounia’s chef, Amitzur Mor, told Eater New York that he sells 70 to 80 khachapuris every brunch.
“It’s such an awesome dish, but we didn’t want to do it traditionally. I cook Israeli cuisine, which is a mishmash and fusion of everything, anyway,” he said. “Israel is like America in that everything we do in Israel is a mix of different cultures and cuisines. It’s with the spirit of the restaurant because we do a lot of fresh-baked breads, and this was just another part of the evolution of our flatbreads.”
Meanwhile, American East Village drinking den Narcbar replaces the traditional khachapuri cheeses like imeruli and sulguni with sheep’s milk feta and mozzarella.
Feast your eyes (and stomach)
But it’s not just these bread boats that are stealing onto the American food scene. Georgians love putting on a ‘supra’ – a feast – with dishes that mix influences from neighbours like Turkey, Russia and Persia, as well as its large Jewish population. This includes hot and cold starters, plates of cheese, clay pot cooked dishes and stews, plus bread and pickles.
Amongst the most popular eats are pkhali, so-called salads that are more like finely ground pastes made from walnuts and vegetables; sausages known as kupati and soup dumplings called khinkali. Other classics include the chakapuli, a lamb stew flavoured with tarragon and sour cherry plums, and a dish called ojaxuri, a family dish that generally consists of browned pork and golden potatoes blanketed in sauteed onion and cooked in a clay dish.
Even vegan options exist within the cuisine, like badrijani (eggplant stuffed with walnuts and cilantro) and labio, a rich bean stew made in a clay pot.
As for accompaniments, ajika – a fiery red condiment made with hot peppers, garlic, herbs and spices, thickened with walnuts – is common, as is tkemali, a sauce made from small, sour plums.
Here in the UK, there are a handful of Georgian restaurants serving up this fare in London: Little Georgia, Iberia and Tbilisi are all located in the northern part of the city, while The Georgian is situated in Clapham.
Over in Reading, the Georgian Feast claims to be the first Georgian street food trader in the country. Currently, the husband-and-wife outfit runs Geo cafe and a pop-up at local pub The Castle Tap, while also selling Georgian spices online.
How about it, Sparkie, could you kill for a khachapuri?
The khachapuri has been all over social media. There hasn’t been as much on any other Georgian dishes, but this definitely follows the trend for authentic and traditional food.
I feel like it might suffer a little from the lack of knowledge about what exactly Georgia relates to, because there are quite a few modern regions and time periods with the same name – for example, the US state.
There is definite potential for Georgian food to spread, but more media attention on the other national foods might be needed first, otherwise restaurants may find themselves in a similar situation to some of the ones mentioned above: having to create a menu solely around the popularity of khachapuri.