27 June, 2010

Khinkhale, limonata, and other taste adventures

At this point it's worth breaking the narrative to comment on a few things that don't fit neatly into it. Food and drink, for example. In Georgia, kebab seems far away. Here the national food is khinkhale, which is like a cross between meat ravioli a giant mushroom. The first time i ate it with knife and fork; when i dined with Levani i learned the proper way to eat it - with two hands. The meat inside is like a spiced, onion-saturated meatball, and one need be careful of the hot, oily cooking liquid, a little of which may go everywhere with the initial bite. But they're indeed tasty. One khinkhale is half a lari, and two or three was enough to fill me up, making a decent meal (with another course and a drink) quite affordable at around 7 lari.

The other ubiquitous menu item is khachapuri, a Georgian answer to quesadillas. Hot, cheese-filled flatbread, available with bean; again, affordable and filling. Georgian pizza, laden with bologna, mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers, and mayonnaise - but no tomato sauce - was also delicious. Another dish - a side, consisting of onions, tiny pickles, and the same manner of meat as in khinkhale, but swimming in tomato sauce - was one of the best things i've tasted abroad.

In the beverage department, Georgia offers a unique entry worth writing home about. Locals call it lemonade - but it's actually soda, available in pear and… tarragon? Yep. I didn't try the tarragon soda (now i feel a bit cowardly for that), partly because i was hooked on pear soda before i arrived in Batumi. Offered by both the major breweries, Kazbegi and Natakhtari (whose beers mingle with Russian entries in convenience store coolers), i would say the Natakhtari lemonade is better stuff.

One matter i skipped in an earlier post pertains not to earthly nourishment, but to psychospiritual food. As i walked to the bus stop with an older man, eager to converse in English, he pointed out local landmarks. In his sixties, my companion remembered the communist era all too well. There was no work, he said, gesturing approvingly at the construction around us. As we walked by a church, he told me that the communists had closed the churches, or turned them into movie-houses. If religion was the opiate of the masses, they perhaps reasoned, cinema must be the masses' methadone?