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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Georgian Cuisine

Georgians are extremely proud of their food, and I think there are a couple factors that contribute to its superb cuisine. The more strife, invasions, defeats and take-overs, the better food a country will sport (think about England's bland food and tell me I'm wrong). Georgia is surely the poster child for such a situation because a myriad of powers ranging from the ancient Byzantines to the USSR have had their way with the region. In addition to the variety of peoples that have inhabited Georgia, Tbilisi, the capital, was a vital city along spice trade routes. While it may seem obvious on its face, I think another factor is lifestyle of Georgian people. People are poor here (average per-person income is ~$4,000). Whenever people are poor, they find value in something independent of money – family and friends. And nothing celebrates these values more than a shared feast with a variety of delicious foods and drinks. Finally, Georgian pride ties everything together and maintains traditions remarkably well (another example would be their language which has its own unique alphabet and only about 5kk people worldwide speak it. Every Georgian is multilingual, but the beautiful Georgian language will not be lost anytime soon). Let me assure you that Georgian food and drink is every bit as sumptuous as I make it out to be.

Bread is served with every meal – no exceptions. While many in the States subscribe to this method as well, our store-bought bread pails in comparison to that of the local bakeries. I found this to be the case in Peru as well, and I would imagine many countries sport superior bread to our own. I definitely find myself wanting to improve my baking skills so I am not subject to Wonderbread while in America. I would also like to pick up the skill of working cheese into the bread, as is so common here in Georgia. Americans love cheese, and I know that people would go crazy for the wide variety of cheese-infused breads that are a Georgian dietary staple. I think my favorite was a very heavy, cheese bread that had a small spot carved out on top and an egg baked into it. I know this goes against the South Beach diet, and perhaps it is better that overweight America has not discovered such a tasty treat.

Another thing I know Americans would like is the Georgian love for meat. While I definitely think Argentina or Kansas City would more aptly satisfy one’s need for a slab of meat, Georgian cuisine wonderfully manipulates meat into its dishes. The meat is usually accompanied my vegetables, complimentary wine and a delicious sauce (and God knows I love sauce). While I could definitely go for a fatty ribeye with A1, I appreciate that Georgian craft of meal preparation with a carnivore in mind.

Now I know that my sample size of visited countries is small, but I think other countries drink alcohol a lot more often than we do. Instances which would not occur in the average American lifestyle include the following: sharing a .5 liter bottle of vodka with my mama for Saturday lunch; taking shots of cognac with fellow teachers during my lunch break; receiving multiple bottles of wine from my students (during school mind you); and the general use of hard alcohol or wine to accompany one’s meal instead of “regular drinks” (I swear that I am dying of thirst half the time. I get weird, frustrated looks when I ask for water, and I haven’t had a drop of milk in 3 weeks). This being the case, I never find anyone stupid drunk; and I applaud the mature drinking style employed. It definitely makes one question the American drinking age, though I doubt we will see any changes in the near future.

As much as I love and appreciate the food and drink here, I do have a couple complaints. I miss milk as I previously mentioned, and it would be nice to have some juice or something (For that, I loved Peru). Also, I love spicy food, and this is not the place to be for such an addiction. Sometimes I just want my nose to run and tears to be forced out because my food is on fire… perhaps I will have to search out a Thai place or something. I was served pizza here the other day because my teachers thought that I must be missing American food. I loved the thought, but a pizza covered in mayonnaise and ketchup somehow just didn’t do it for me. It was even worse because a table full of teachers was watching me eat, so I didn’t want to wipe it all off. And if that wasn’t bad enough, my only libation was vodka. It was pretty disgusting, and I really need to stop being such a yes man, because I know they will get it again for me if I don’t say anything.

Overall, my gastronomical experience here has been superb, and I look forward to trying other specialties such as the kabobi. Also, I would really like to go to some more suphras because that is the place to be for food. I hate that I had already eaten before my last one, so maybe next time I will get some warning. So, while you are eating your TV dinner or McDonald’s meal, know that I am feasting upon homemade food and delicious wine. And it is good – so, so good.

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