Georgian cuisine is far closer to that of Turkey and Iran than that of Russia, with plenty of garlic, walnuts, cumin and coriander; huge feasts are traditional, though not as huge as in the Brezhnev years, when food was absurdly cheap.
Meat is central, but a Georgian meal is served with many dishes (many cold), including vegetable ones, on the table at once and everyone helping themselves to whatever they want (so the concept of pairing specific wines and foods doesn’t work here).
When it comes to food and drink in Georgia, menus are rarely displayed outside restaurants, especially in English, and dishes come as and when – don’t expect a flight of orders to arrive simultaneously. It’s best to pace yourself, as it’s likely to be a long evening with plenty of wine.
In Tbilisi there are fast-food joints selling shwarma (kebabs), burgers, hot dogs and a poor approximation to pizza. Cafes everywhere sell khachapuri and other traditional snacks. Street traders sell marozhni (ice cream) and semichki, the sunflower seeds which are chewed and spat out everywhere, and probably use more energy than they provide.
Those who would like to try their hand at reproducing some of the dishes they enjoyed in Georgia will find a wealth of inspiring and knowledgeable food and wine bloggers discovering Georgia.
Wine is absolutely central to the Georgian lifestyle and to their self-image, and everyone (especially men) drinks large quantities and will want you to do the same. In theory Georgians drink red wines in winter, and whites in summer, but in practice it’s hard to tell the difference, as even ‘red’ (literally ‘black’ or shavi) wines may in fact be straw-coloured.
There are lots of amber or orange wines, made with white varietals but with the skins, seeds and stalks left in contact for up to six months, producing something with tannin that’s more like a red and is great with food. Most families make their own, storing it in kvevri, large sealed clay vessels set into the floor of a room known as the marani. In every ancient site you visit, such as Vardzia or Uplistsikhe, there’ll be a marani or three.
Vodka is drunk in Georgia, but far less than in Russia and the other Slav countries; the national spirit is chacha, a firewater made at home, as a rule from grain, although in Svaneti, where grain doesn’t grow, they use bread instead!