Georgian food is a crossroads of flavors, reflecting the country’s geographical location. The cuisine of this mountainous country in the Caucasus region shares much with its neighbors Armenia, Iran, and Turkey. Georgian cuisine also bears the imprints of world powers that have ruled Georgia over history.
Tart pomegranates and hearty walnuts commonly feature in Georgian foods as they do in Persian cuisine. Georgian breads are cooked in cylindrical clay ovens known as tones, quite similar to the tandoor or tunoor prolific in Central and South Asia. Dumplings, known as khinkalis, are seen as reflecting the influence of Mongol invaders who arrived in the 13th century.
Georgian Cuisine is Powered by Rich Whole Foods
Georgian foods are hearty and protein-rich, flavored by an often dizzying medley of fruits, nuts, herbs, and spices, including blue fenugreek and dried marigold petals. The khmeli suneli spice blend — used to make soups, stews, and other foods — can have over a dozen ingredients. Many ingredients are local to Georgia. Others have been adopted from peoples who stopped by the region along the historic Silk Road.
Georgians love their sauces. The most famous are satsabeli, a ketchup-like sauce flavored with the glorious ajika paste, and tkemali, a plum sauce amplified with chili, anise, and coriander.
Whether you’re visiting the country of Georgia or a Georgian restaurant in your neck of the woods, don’t worry: Georgian cuisine offers something for meat eaters, vegetarians, and vegans alike. Our list of the best Georgian foods reflects that diversity.
The Ten Best Georgian Foods
Khachapuri adjaruli is a clay oven-baked Georgian cheese bread boat often described as Georgia’s national dish. The mild, mozzarella-like sulguni cheese is wrapped in dough and slapped onto the interior of a piping hot clay oven, known as a tone.
Hot out of the oven, the khachapuri is topped with raw egg yolk and butter, which the eater mixes together to make it all more indulgent and delectable.
There are other types of khachapuri, which means “cheese bread” in Georgian. The khachapuri imeruli uses a more sour cheese that is filled inside the bread, like a round calzone. The khachapuri megruli, from Georgia’s Samegrelo region, is like a mix of the adjaruli and the imerlui: it’s stuffed with cheese and topped with it.
Khinkalis are Georgia’s version of soup dumplings. In fact, some say the Mongols brought them over centuries ago.
Lightly seasoned ground meat is filled into dough, which is twisted to form a nipple-like top. Then they’re boiled.
The traditional way of eating the khinkali is handsy: hold the knob top, flip the khinkali upside down, take a small bite and slurp the soup inside, and then devour the rest of the khinkali. Others work their way from the top, twisting off the knob and slurping the soup from there.
Outside of Georgia, it’s more common to eat khinkali with a knife and fork — but it can get messy. In Georgia, khinkalis are affordable finger foods. They’re made to be eaten with your hands.
Another piece of warning: the khinkali’s looks can be deceiving. Khinkali may look like light snacks, but they’re dense and filling, even without sauce. And speaking of sauce, khinkali are eaten with satsebeli, the adjika-flavored tomato sauce similar to ketchup.
Lobio is a great dish for you vegans out there. It’s a kidney bean stew slow cooked in a clay pot with cilantro and onions. Like so many other Georgian foods, it’s seasoned with khmeli suneli. Packed with plant-based proteins and fiber, lobio is a hearty meal.
Kharcho is a meat soup made with walnuts and sour plums — an ingredient Georgian cuisine has in common with that of Iran. Khmeli suneli, ubiquitous in Georgian foods, adds complexity to this rich dish.
Chanakhi is the perfect comfort food for a cold, winter day spent in the mountains of Georgia or on your couch at home. Chunks of lamb or beef are cooked with eggplant, tomato, and potatoes in a clay pot to produce a luxurious stew.
Some restaurants seal the top of the pot with dough, which is cooked along with the stew — much like the dum pakht biryani of northern India. When you’re served this dish, crack the top open with a spoon and enjoy the chunks of baked bread drowned alongside soft, robust cuts of red meat.
Ispanakhis pkhali means “spinach salad.” But it’s more than just chopped-up greens. Boiled and drained spinach is blended with walnuts, cilantro, and the khmeli suneli spice blend. It’s generally garnished with fresh pomegranates, producing a beautiful sea of green adorned with red dots. This salad, often served as a pâté, goes great with the clay-oven baked puri (see below).
Ispanakhis pkhali, like so many Georgian foods, is extremely nutritious. It’s rich in fiber, iron, and protein, as well as healthy unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids.
Ajapsandali is an eggplant stew made with tomatoes and bell peppers. Its ingredients vary by region and can include other vegetables, such as potatoes. This vegan-friendly food is seasoned with — you guessed it — khmeli suneli.
Satsivi is a staple of Georgian cuisine for the cold winter months. (The word “sivi” means “cold in Georgian.) Chicken is first boiled then roasted, and then cooked in a rich walnut sauce known as bazha (or bazhe) flavored with garlic, onion, and khmeli suneli. On festive days, chicken is replaced with turkey.
Lobiani is a baked bread like the khachapuri, only it replaces the cheese with kidney beans. It’s a great option for vegans looking for a khachapuri-like experience.
Puri may look like a simple bread, but when it comes out of the Georgian tone, it’s so dense with heat — magic that only a clay oven can pull off. It’s the perfect companion for a number of Georgian foods, especially the ispanakhis pkhali and other salads.