Potentsiali

We’ve been to Batumi, the rapidly-developing city on the Black Sea coast, many times.  In fact, we spent our first wedding anniversary at the luxurious Sheraton hotel in Batumi, basking in the hot showers, English-speaking television channels and outdoor swimming pool.

At that time, though, Batumi felt a little…strange.  Lacking cohesion.  Not quite “there” yet.  For example, we’d walk past a five-star hotel and next door would be crumbling Soviet-era street art.  Entire streets were flooded for days after heavy rains.  The beautifully paved sidewalk would disappear under muddy tire tracks before starting again 500 feet later.  We could kind of, sort of, see the potential (potentsiali – პოტენციალი) as a legitimate tourist destination, but it just wasn’t there yet.

Nearly six years later, we’re happy to say that Batumi – again, as a tourist destination, as the city itself is thousands of years old – seems to be coming into its own.  It’s like the city has outgrown its awkward teenage years and has emerged as a place with a ton of charm.

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Europe Square and the Medea Statue:  Medea helped Jason (leader of the Argonauts) find and steal the famous Golden Fleece, as legend has it.
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Art lining the boardwalk on the Black Sea
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The new Public Service Hall at sunset
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Yes, a McDonald’s!  Lauded as the most beautiful McDonald’s in the world, we have to admit it’s interesting. 
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A very impressive dancing fountain display
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View from the beach

The Batumi boardwalk was really lovely, and, unlike our first trip, very busy.  It’s great to see so many different types of people using a public space:  from tourists (like us) enjoying the view; to families, teaching their kids to ride bikes; to the elderly, exercising or just sitting on a bench, talking with friends.  With views like this, how can you not want to spend your time here?

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Black Sea sunset

Thank you, Batumi, for the lovely, relaxing, beautiful time.

Mdidari

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.

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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).

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This was the malakhto, or green beans with walnuts and herbs. The walnuts really took the beans to another level of richness and depth of flavor.
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This iakhni, or beef in walnut sauce, was very similar to the kharcho we made and ate in Samegrelo, only not quite as spicy.
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This sinori was the star of the evening. Thin pieces of lavash bread rolled up with cheese, baked in butter, then topped with an extra-thick Adjaran sour cream called kaymaghi. Ridiculous. Apparently there is also a sweet version with walnuts and honey.

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.

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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.

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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:

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