The air was sweet with the scent of mint and honey and from the freshly poured wine. That dinner, deep in rural Georgia – a land of towering mountains and fertile valleys on the shores of the Black Sea – proved to be one of the most memorable of my life.
It wasn’t fancy in any way. There was no world-famous chef and only stars in the sky, not a Michelin one to be seen at this small, family-run restaurant out in the countryside where lively locals dined beside a glinting river in a wide valley once travelled by Silk Road traders.
Despite being as delicious as it is, Georgian cuisine remains largely overlooked. Until now, that is.
After centuries of conflict and neglect a new book, Tasting Georgia by Carla Capalbo, celebrates the country and its rich culinary and cultural traditions with insights into the history of its dishes and its ingredients alongside easy-to-follow recipes.
“I want to show what a fantastic mix of the familiar and the exotic it is,” says Capalbo.
“These recipes suit our modern lifestyles and are designed to create sharing dishes filled with herbs and seasonal vegetables.”
There’s good reason for this. In Georgia, feasts (or supras as they’re called in these parts) invariably feature many flavour-filled dishes laid out in one go and washed down by a dizzying procession of vintages.
Wine-making here dates back 8,000 years and the country produces 525 varieties of native grapes.
Its location, at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, has seen its food influenced by everyone from the Turks to the Russians. In a bid to preserve this unique slice of history, Capalbo has included stories from local foodies and recommendations of where to eat and drink in the country.
Among her top tips is tasting the amber-tinted white wines (matured naturally in qvevri terracotta pots) at the Vino Underground cellar bar (vinounderground.ge) in the capital Tbilisi, followed by a dinner of khachapuri, the iconic national cheese bread…