Has Georgian cuisine ever received so much attention before? Not only has it become a recurrent theme in the blogosphere but just in the last few months the BBC has featured the cheese bread khachapuri and the Guardian reported on traditional dumplings khinkali.
But not that long ago, appreciation of Georgian food was almost completely confined to the Soviet Union where Georgian migrants set up their own restaurants in many different cities and Georgian wine was ubiquitous. Since independence though, Georgia has rapidly modernised and opened itself up to the wider world. With tourism numbers to Georgia now booming (reaching 6.5 million in 2016) more and more people are being introduced to everything Georgian cuisine has to offer.
Helping to make Georgian food relevant today, a new generation of restaurants has appeared in the capital, Tbilisi. They produce traditional and authentic food from across the nation but make sure their presentation is modern and highly aesthetic. For example, Barbarestan (ბარბარესთან) reproduces 18th-century recipes with Instagram friendly plate arrangement. In recent years, Georgian restaurants have also been appearing across Europe too, in cities such as London, Berlin, Stockholm and Helsinki.
But it is not just in hospitality that Georgia has recently seen increased exposure. Wine and hazelnuts are both multi-million dollar exports for the country, and Georgian wine in particular is experiencing a boom. The largest export markets for Georgian wine used to be Russia and ex-Soviet states but recently they’ve begun exporting to new markets around the world. Exports to China grew 98% in 2016 and in the first six months of 2017 wine exports to France grew 457% and to Israel by 150%. They also exported 6.8 million bottles of brandy, which was an increase of 85% on first six months of 2016.
Georgian tea has been saved from the brink of extinction with the launch of the Gurieli brand of tea. In the 1990s Georgian tea almost ceased to exist but Geoplant, the company behind Gurieli, has managed to revive this industry and is now seeing worldwide exports, increased revenue and has won numerous national and international awards. They now also have a range of fruit teas which are supplied by local producers in villages across Georgia.
There’s a lot of good news surrounding Georgian cuisine and I hope this trend continues. I had a very brief trip to Tbilisi in 2016 but managed to have an excellent megruli khachapuri and an Ossetian version of the khachapuri in the Old Town, a rich honey cake at the Book Café by the river and a meringue and dogwood fruit dessert at a café in Samreklo Kucha. To date though, the best Georgian meal I have ever had was at the Tbilisi Tavern in the walled old town of Tallinn in Estonia, but I’m hoping to return to Tbilisi soon and see what more this country has to offer.