Tskhare

All bazaars (markets) in Georgia are fun for me to go to. I love the controlled chaos. The makeshift tables piled high with everything from produce to light bulbs. The sounds of bartering and commerce. The smells. The pickled everything.


The bazaar in Zugdidi, where we were a couple of weeks ago, was even more fun because of the preponderance of my favorite Georgian condiment: adjika.


This spicy, salty and savory treat — a mix of dried spices, garlic, salt and peppers — can be made dry, or with tomatoes as a sauce, or with tomato paste as, well, a paste.

It is said to come from Samegrelo, where Zugdidi is the largest city. In Samegrelo, the native Megrelians have their own language (linguistically related to Georgian, but not so much so that I could make out any words), their own special dishes, and a fondness for all things spicy (tskhare, ცხარე) — something not usually true in other parts of the country.

So it should have come as no surprise that at the Zugdidi bazaar, adjika was on display. Not just the red stuff that we all know and love (don’t we?), but lots of variations, some of which I’d never seen before, including green adjika with sour plums and with mint.

 


We also saw an adjika “factory,” where they were making huge batches of red adjika and green adjika (with fresh cilantro and dill) in meat grinders.





If you don’t know much about adjika yet, I think you will — eventually. Of course we sell the real deal (dry version), but otherwise it’s hard to find in the US. And the Russian versions seen in bottles at Eastern European grocery stores just aren’t the same, in my opinion.

Perhaps it’s time to make some room on the hot sauce shelf for something truly unique and different, alongside the Sriracha, Tabasco, Frank’s and 900 varieties of habanero sauce.

Stumartmokvareoba

We’re celebrating an anniversary this month: it was six years ago that we first came to Georgia! While the memories of our first days and weeks in country are a bit blurry (jet lag + culture shock), I do remember being amazed by how incredibly nice everyone was to us.

We lived in a small village outside Borjomi and so many families enthusiastically invited us in to their homes, fed us ridiculous amounts of food and smiled patiently at our attempts to say simple things in Georgian.  Some even offered me slippers so my feet wouldn’t get cold.

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Sean and McKinze in 2010, shortly after arriving in Georgia

Little did we know then that we were being treated to Georgia’s famous hospitality (stumartmokvareoba – სტუმართმოყვარეობა).   We’ve experienced so much generosity and kindness over the past six years and can attest that the culture of hospitality in this country deserves to be famous.

Case in point: when we traveled to Guria, we didn’t know anyone there – only loose introductions from friends. But the incredibly gracious hosts we met spent entire days with us, taking us on all sorts of adventures. And, as is customary, they fed us – plenty.

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Our host treated to this dry aged and slow smoked pork (lori – ლორი), raised on the family farm.  Wow. 
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Our host’s take on gupta (გუფთა), with meat balls, fried onions, tomato paste, a little rice and seasoned with blue fenugreek (utskho suneli),  ground coriander (kindzi) and fresh herbs.
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A type of khachapuri cheese bread that we hadn’t tried; the dough was more like a pancake batter, made of yogurt, eggs, flour and baking soda.  The cheese was mixed with the batter before being cooked in a pan. 
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This roasted chicken was seasoned with hot red peppers, oil and salt.  Crispy on the outside and moist on the inside, it was exactly how I like my chicken.  
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Sean giving a rousing final toast in Georgian at the end of a supra.

In situations like these, it’s impossible to repay the kindness we’ve received.  So we offer our most sincere thanks, multiple times, and promise to show a bit of Georgian hospitality to our guests in the future.

It Just Gets In You

Georgia is a part of our lives now, and I just don’t see that ever changing.

After we decided to close the food cart — but before we broke the news — I remember sitting with McKinze and a friend at the wonderful Mediterranean Exploration Company in Portland, enjoying their rich youvetsi over happy hour, mulling over The Big Question:

What’s next?

We already knew we were going to dive deep into the spice business and do special events. But we also thought it would be soooooooo much fun to take a big chunk of time — maybe six months?! — to go back to Georgia.

To live there. To have a Georgian apartment, in a Georgian neighborhood. To travel to all the corners of the country we never explored during our Peace Corps service.

To eat food beyond khinkali, khachapuri and pkhali. To drink wine from a qvevri and from a Fanta bottle.

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To cook with accomplished Georgian chefs as well as home cooks who are just proud of what they make and happy to share.

Most of all, to learn.

I think most people who have been in the Peace Corps would say that they learned more from their host country friends & families than they ever could have taught. That’s certainly true for us. We’ve been so fortunate and are so grateful for the opportunities we’ve had to try to share just a little piece of our experience with all of you through Kargi Gogo.

Well, six months turned into three, but we’re going — Monday! As we prepare to leave, I’m reminded of a conversation we had in Tbilisi last year with the dean of San Diego State University’s Tbilisi campus. (They’re doing some amazing work bringing an American degree program to Tbilisi — check them out here.) He had only been in Georgia a short time at that point but was already in love.

He told us a story about trying to describe Georgia to his friends and family back home: “It’s hard to put into words — it just gets in you.

Indeed it does.

We have a lot of goals for this trip, both personal and professional. But the truth is, we don’t know exactly what will unfold. That’s a little scary but a lot more exciting. Adventure. New places. New friends. New foods, new wines… definitely a lot of learning.

We appreciate you following along.

P.S.  Worry not, you can still get your Georgian spices delivered while we’re gone. We’ll even be rolling out some new things over the next few weeks!