Unquie meals make ill digestions. – William Shakespeare
I am a foodie by nature, but that doesn’t make me a good reviewer of food. Because I m the kind of guy who is content with what I get. I won’t complain about a bad morning coffee at the dinner table. I take things easy, so should everyone who travels.
So during my 5 days Stay in Georgia, I had the opportunity to visit a few restaurants. Some were good, and some were better.
Georgian food and what you must try:
People who like to taste different cuisine would enjoy Georgian food ( at least the first time). It is simple, unpretentious, uncomplicated, you eat what you see kind of food. Most dishes are made of 4-5 ingredients at max. If I am asked to tell about Georgian cuisine I would simply say – Cheese, Bread, and Meat. Take these away and you do not have Georgian food.
You have not tried Georgian food if you have not tried two of the most famous Georgian dishes.
Khinkali and Khachapuri
Khinkali are steamed dumplings stuffed with pork meat filling. Before you think, there is no other meat option when it comes to khinkali. You will only have pork filling. It was the first time for me to taste pork, and frankly, it is a tasty meat. Khinkali are not small in size like the ones we get in India or Nepal (called momos). These are much bigger in size and the dough is much denser. And inside the dumpling, you have delicious pork minced with mild spices and herbs. An average Georgian can eat 10-15 Khinkali in one sitting, which I think is quite a lot. I could only have two because of their sheer size.
These dumplings are also served deep fried. I tried this version as well just to see if it was any better. if you are not a fan of steamed dough, go for the fried ones. But do try these at least once. They are not very expensive.
Khachapuri is a flat pizza like bread stuffed with cheese. This is a staple of Georgia and there will hardly be a restaurant that doesn’t serve Khachapuri. There are different varieties of Khachapuri available:
Imeruli – the most basic Khachapuri (plain top with stuffed cheese)
Megruli – Cheese on top and stuffed with cheese as well
Acharuli – bread shaped as a gondola filled with cheese and topped with egg and butter before serving
I would suggest basic Khachapuri(Imeruli) to anyone for a start. I really enjoyed this bread and had at least one every day during my trip.
It would be a crime to not mention Wine when talking about Georgian cuisine. Georgians love their wine and also very proud of it. Tasting Georgian wine was one of the fun parts of my trip to Khaketi region and suggest you do that as well even if you do not drink alcohol. I purchased a couple of bottles to gift a few friends in Dubai but unfortunately, I had to leave it at the airport. I was not carrying any checked-in luggage and they don’t allow you to carry wine (purchased outside) in your cabin luggage. Duty-free store was selling the same bottles for €20 which I bought for GEL 20 in Khaketi. Buy all the wine you need in Khaketi(it is much cheaper) and pack it in your checked-in luggage.
Restaurants in Tbilisi:
During my stay, I visited many restaurants small to medium sized, but don’t have names of all of them. I am mentioning some of them here so others can benefit from my experience. I will write about only one Georgian restaurant (and this will suffice, really) and the rest are Indian restaurants which I believe many Indians will look forward to.
1.Machakhela – Samikitno: A very old restaurant and is always crowded. This is a universal sign of good food. When in doubt, always go to a restaurant which is busy, you won’t be disappointed. So my tour guide took me to this restaurant when I asked him to take me to a Georgian restaurant. The surroundings are always happening, and this is the famous “I Love Tbilisi” selfie spot. The restaurant is big and it could be little intimidating at first for non-locals who are not used to busy restaurants. I had my guide with me, which made my life much easier in ordering.
My idea was to try as much Georgian food as I can. I ordered for Khachapuri, Khinkali both steamed and fried, Kebab (made with minced beef), Chicken barbecue and some soft drinks. Georgian food is not very costly. I ended up with a bill of just GEL 35 for all the items I mentioned which was quite a lot for 3 people. I must mention that Kebabs were really good. It was the only item which I could relate to as other dishes were all new for me. Chicken barque is nothing but grilled boneless chicken and since Georgians don’t use much spices it was just bland.
2.Taj Mahal: I am not a big fan of restaurants named after famous Indian monuments. It is my observation, that every other city outside India will have a bunch of restaurants named Taj Mahal. Many times the experience at these places could not be the same as expected. This small joint in Tbilisi is located in a basement on the street next to Samkitno restaurant. Entering the restaurant was not a very pleasant experience for me. It is not every day I make my way into a basement for food. This restaurant is poorly maintained, but lighter on the pocket for those craving for Indian food or at least something close to it.
The ambiance was not so good. Usually, I order more items than I can eat at newer restaurants to taste, but somehow I did not feel the need to do so at this place. I ordered dal fry, chicken jalfrezi, naan, tandoori roti and some jeera rice. The food was average, but service was quick. I wasn’t expecting bold Indian flavors sitting in Tbilisi and one should never expect. My wife’s wish to have Indian food in Tbilisi was fulfilled here. But my search for a better Indian restaurant started here. Don’t get me wrong, this place serves decent food which tastes like Indian. It is also one of the less expensive places so don’t complain if you see a cockroach on the floor.
3.Red Chilies Indian restaurant: In my quest to find better tasting Indian food, I was searching Tripadvisor and Google for reviews and found this restaurant to have many positive reviews. So I paid a visit with my wife. It is far from the old town but will cost only GEL 5 on Taxify. This restaurant was surprisingly vacant with just one customer in it. I was having a bad feeling about it as I don’t trust restaurants with empty seats. Nevertheless, I was greeted by the waiter who was trying make a good impression about the place. I liked the effort from the young chap, these are little things that keep your customers ( but again I was thinking where are the customers, there were so many reviews on Google).
You can try this restaurant if you are a South Indian and want to eat idly, dosa all the South Indian breakfast items. We didn’t try them. I ordered for Chicken 65, Chicken Biryani, Chapati and Chicken curry. Taste of the food was average. Taste of Chicken biryani was good, and if I go there for the 2nd time I will only order the biryani. Prices at this restaurant were reasonable but there was 10% tax on the bill which I think they should make mention on the menu. Verdict – Try it for the southIndiann food and biryani. One word of advice: If you are in doubt on a particular item on the menu, don’t order it, it probably won’t be very good.
4.Spice Lounge: On our last night in Tbilisi, and I wanted to end it on a better note after a series of average Indian food. There was only one review on TripAdvisor. But I made up my mind. It is not very far from Freedom square and one can probably take a stroll to the restaurant if not tired to do so. The restaurant is in the basement, a very large one. Dining area is divided into two large sections. Very spacious and nicely decorated with a minimalistic approach, nothing very extravagant and pretentious. I have also reviewed the restaurant on trip advisor.
This was by far the best dining experience I had in Tbilisi. This restaurant is a little bit pricey but if you stick to the regular and know what you want, it will be alright. I ordered for Punjabi Vegetable Samosa, chili paneer, Dal makhani, Naan and steamed rice. Due to overindulgence in meat that afternoon we stuck to vegetarian items for dinner. Samosa was very good. It seemed as if I was eating in Bikaner Wala or Haldirams in India. It was that good. Other dishes were also very close to authentic Indian taste. The owner is a Pakistani gentleman who was greeting his guests and taking feedback. He spoke to me as well and it seemed he takes care of the feedback and does his part in creating a pleasant experience for his customers.
Caution: No matter where you dine, please check your bill before paying. Except for the Georgian restaurants, all 3 Indian restaurants mentioned above had issued me a wrong bill. I have a habit of going through my bill before paying and observed their mistakes. If you are not careful you will be overpaying. I am only mentioning this because all Indian restaurants I visited in Tbilisi somehow made mistakes in the bill. Probably it was not intentional, but I am warning you anyway.