Nabeghlavi

Nabeghlavi (ნაბეღლავი) is the name of a small village in the western Georgian province of Guria. It is also the name of one of my favorite beverages in the world, Nabeghlavi mineral water.

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Along with their main competitor, Borjomi, the water that comes in these signature green and yellow bottles is one of the most popular Georgian products both inside and outside of the country; we could even find it in some Eastern European grocery stores in Portland, Oregon!

Nabeghlavi water comes bubbling up from 3000 meters below the surface of the earth, picking up layers of minerals on its way, and is naturally infused with carbon dioxide to have a bubbly and effervescent character (additional CO2 is added in the bottling process). Because of the mineral content, it is supposed to have curative properties and is supposedly especially good at calming upset stomachs.

Since we arrived in Georgia, I’ve been drinking at least a liter of it every day. So naturally I was excited when, at dinner with a friend’s host family, they suggested we go up to the Nabeghlavi village on a little excursion the next day.

The next afternoon, up the winding road we went until we came across a large construction site — the home of a brand new Nabeghlavi factory in the works, which appears to be at least four times the size of the existing one next door.

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Beware of… everything?

We parked, got out of the car, and were told to grab whatever empty bottles we could find… so we could fill them up with mineral water, unfiltered, unprocessed and straight from the source! Heaven.

 

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It wasn’t the same as what’s in the bottles — a little more of a sulphur taste, a little less carbonation — but was crisp, cool and refreshing nonetheless. And such a treat to get that close to the source.

We got back in the car, went off to do some other things further up the mountain, and passed the factory again on our way back down. Our host and driver was on the phone, and suddenly he stopped the car and turned it around:

We were heading back to Nabeghlavi — to go inside the factory.

That’s how a lot of things happen here: you set about to do one thing, and before you know it you’re off on an adventure you had no idea was coming. It’s what makes each day exciting.

Within minutes we were walking around the factory floor of the Nabeghlavi bottling plant, where they also bottle a still water called Bakhmaro. I am an absolute sucker for food factories anyway (I can’t get enough of the TV show in the States), so to be inside, watching the bottles shuttling through a beautifully choreographed sequence of engineering magic… again, heaven.

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A “baby” Bakhmaro bottle before it is injected with forced air and heat into a mold.

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Chizhi-Bizhi

Georgia is a stunningly beautiful country. About the size of South Carolina, it packs an enormous amount of natural beauty and diversity into its relatively small borders.

In the far west, up and down the border of the Black Sea, you’ll think you’re in Miami as the humidity envelops you and the sun beats down on palm trees. A few hours inland, you’re in the midst of some of the tallest mountains in Europe, high above the clouds, looking down on snow-capped peaks. Go further east and you’ll find yourself surrounded by vineyards, stretching out over long and flat swaths of land perfectly suited for carrying on the centuries-old traditions of the birthplace of wine.

Last week we hopped on a marshrutka and headed west to a region where we have spent little time before: Guria. We couldn’t get everywhere (a great excuse for a return trip!), but where we did go — the area in and around Chokhatauri and Lanchkhuti — this lush province did not disappoint.

Animals and humans share the land and life moves along at a leisurely pace. With views like this, what’s the hurry?

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A trout farm

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One area of particular pride for local residents and Georgians in general is Bakhmaro, a mountainous resort town famous for wooden houses on stilts, clean air and lots & lots of snow. So much snow that the road up there is impassable 6-9 months a year. Some people told us that right now there are three meters of snow. Others said seven. And others said nine.

None of this deterred our host for the day from taking us as far as we could go in his truck:

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We winded up and up, past the last inhabited village on the mountain, past the point where snow and slushy ice started to accumulate on the road, past the turn where a dozen or so Georgian men were having a picnic celebrating a birthday (and warning our driver not to keep going), until we could go no further.

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After a full day of these and other excursions, it was time to head back down the mountain to our host’s family home in the village and settle into a steaming hot bowl of a traditional Gurian dish called chizhi-bizhi (ჩიჟი-ბიჟი). Made with stewed tomatoes, onions, peppers, eggs and whatever spices the cook is inspired to use, chizhi-bizhi reminded me of a Georgian shakshouka.

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We were told by one Georgian woman that chizhi-bizhi is so common in those parts that people don’t consider it to be anything special, as in “we don’t have any food prepared right now, only chizhi-bizhi.

Hearty, rich and deliciously satisfying, I beg to disagree.