We hopped on a bus and headed west to Adjara: the region in southwestern Georgia bordering Turkey and the Black Sea.
I’ve always enjoyed the time we’ve spent in Batumi, the capital of the region, and this visit was no exception (more on that tomorrow).
In the past, going to Batumi was always a chance to step away from the sometimes challenging day-to-day realities of life as a Peace Corps volunteer. We’d stay at a nice hotel, walk along the boardwalk, go swimming, shower several times a day just because we could — and eat “international” food.
But in addition to international dishes like pastas, seafood and pizzas, as well as traditional Georgian food, Adjara has its own cuisine — unique even in Georgia. In fact, you won’t find many Adjaran dishes on most restaurant menus in Tbilisi.
What were these dishes? Naturally, we were intrigued.
Of course, by now just about everyone knows Adjara’s most famous dish, its namesake, and perhaps the most recognizable Georgian dish in the world: Acharuli khachapuri.
A bread boat stuffed with cheese, baked, then topped with an egg yolk and slab of butter. I regularly see Georgian guys sitting around tables in the morning, each with an Acharuli khachapuri in front of them, putting the whole thing away (in addition to other stuff on the table). Impressive. We split one and were just fine.
But what else did Adjara have to offer?
On the recommendation of a friend, we went to a restaurant in Batumi (Maspindzelo) that specialized in Adjaran cuisine. Although we couldn’t try everything, the three things we ordered were a) huge, b) different and c) extremely rich. Rich, rich, rich (mdidari – მდიდარი).
Adjara is much more than just Batumi and the Black Sea, however. In fact, most of Adjara is mountainous. Up there, in towns and villages like Khulo (where we spent a lovely afternoon) dairy products reign supreme.
Take, for example, borani.
What’s that you say? It looks like a pool of browned butter on top of baked cheese? That’s because it’s a pool of browned butter on top of baked cheese. Special Adjaran cheese and special Adjaran butter.
(Those who call the Acharuli khachapuri a “heart attack on a plate” have likely never crossed paths with borani.)
It is as rich, decadent and wonderful as you would expect it to be. The cheese is stringy and mild, almost like a mozzarella. Scoop a spoonful onto your plate, go back for some butter, and use bread to soak it up and eat it.
It’s like fondue, if on top of your fondue you poured a cup of hot butter.
After a few days of eating these and other heartily delicious Adjaran dishes, our last meal in Batumi may not have been authentically Adjaran (or even Georgian), but it sure was refreshing: