Welcome to the first ever guest post on The Student Explorer. In this post Anthony shares his love of the traditional Georgian dish Khachapuri.
While on my way to study for a semester in Moscow, I decided to take a week out for myself after a summer of working three jobs and booked a small holiday for myself in Georgia, a country bounded by the Black Sea, perched high in the Caucasus mountains, and one that has always fascinated me owing to its position at the crossroads of countless powerful empires over history.
Georgia, just smaller than Ireland in both area and population, is well known for many things. Dancers who channel the spirits of warriors, a rich and sweet wine culture going back millenia, political tension with Russia, hats that look like sheep, mountains, and its vast and delectable cuisine, which varies greatly from region to region. Foods like khinkali, dumplings the size of fists, and churchkhela, nuts coated in jellied fruit juices which resemble candles, are immediately identifiable as Georgian delicacies, however it was the khachapuri adjaruli, a cheese-filled bread with an egg in the middle, that captured my heart, and not least because of the high cholesterol content of the dish.
Khachapuri is the main national dish of Georgia, serving as comfort food and street food not just for the small Caucasian republic, but for the wider former Soviet Union. As mentioned above, such is the diversity of Georgian cuisine that almost every region of Georgia has its own take on the khachapuri. The khachapuri imeruli, from the region of Imereti, is circular in shape and is more of a baked closed sandwich, while the khachapuri achma, from the Russian occupied region of Abkhazia, more of a square, is layered like a lasagna. The khachapuri adjaruli, from Adjara on the Black Sea coast, however, carries in its shape the history of the region.
Shaped like an oval with two stems at either end, the external crust resembles a boat, paying homage to the seafaring tradition of Adjara. The cheesy filling, visible through a slit cut in the dough while baking, recalls the sea, while the egg, cracked into the slit 10 minutes before serving, is said to represent the sun, causing the eater to think of the sun beaming over and setting on the Black Sea. This beautiful image lasts only a short time before the lucky person about to eat tucks into the edible hug that is khachapuri adjaruli.
Clearly a traditional dish, khachapuri adjaruli is eaten in a traditional way too. The diner starts by ripping some bread from one end of the boat with their hands and dipping it into the egg, before swirling the egg into the cheese. The rest of the khachapuri is eaten by ripping bits of bread off from the edges and dipping them in the cheesy/eggy mix. A word of caution for anyone wishing to try this: the use of a knife and fork is only permissible when all the bread is eaten and all that remains is the gooey centre. When my first khachapuri arrived at my table in a restaurant in Tbilisi, I was quickly given out to by Georgian friend, who told me that eating this delicacy with cutlery is a huge social faux pas. Indeed, it is incredibly much more satisfying to eat the dish with your hands, so keep your knife and fork away until you absolutely need them.
Although the khachapuri adjaruli, as all khachapuris, is a Georgian dish, I really fell in love with this dream-turned-reality in Moscow, where I am currently studying for a semester. As I said before, the immense popularity of the khachapuri, if not all Georgian food, in the former Soviet Union, as well as the large number of Georgian migrants living in the Russian capital, means that Moscow is awash with Georgian restaurants and cafes. Thankfully, as far as my taste buds are concerned anyway, the cheap cost, the ubiquity of Georgian cuisine here, and the dire conditions in the kitchens in Russian dorms have meant that khachapuri adjaruli has become dinner for me almost weekly.
When coming to Moscow, I was worried about many things, and top of my list of concerns was the quality of pizza here. Pizza was the giver of life for me in Ireland, and we had a deep and long lasting love affair. However the fact that EU sanctions on Russia has meant that many of the cheeses I love at home in Ireland are unavailable here, leaving pizzas noticeably substandard in Moscow. When I realised this shortly after I arrived, I was devastated, worrying that, without some kind of cheesy/bread combination, my body may simply give up and turn to dust. Thankfully, khachapuri adjaruli saved the day, and going to one of Moscow’s many food halls with friends to get another one has fast become the highlight of my week.
Anthony is an Irish student currently studying in Moscow, Russia. He shares his love for Eurovision, history and much more on his Instagram.