Cuisines of Racha and Imereti
RACHA AND IMERETI CULINARY TOUR
You will travel through the two most beautiful regions of Georgia, neighbours Imereti and Racha. Much as they resemble each other in natural conditions, their character and way of life are distinct. Most of Imereti is lowland except for the norhth where it borders on mountainous Racha. The two regions have overlapping culinary repertoire (corn based dishes and sauces with nuts) as well as fare typical of each.
Places to visit
Gelati* Of the three churches in the Gelati monastery complex the Church of the Virgin is the most ancient, dating to 1106 and the reign of King David, known as ‘the Builder’. Gelati monastery and its academy were the cultural and intellectual center of medieval Georgia, staffed with local and foreign scientists, theologians and philosophers. It was sometimes referred to by contemporaries as the new Hellas or the second Athos. An embossed iron gate made in 495 AD is kept here. It was brought back from the Ganja fortress (Azerbaijan) in 1139 by the army of Demetrius 1 of Georgia.
Bagrati cathedral* Constructed in the early 11th century (the floor was laid in 1003) during the reign of Bagrat III, the cathedral is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The cupola and ceiling were destroyed by Ottoman troops in 1692. Conservation and restoration have been ongoing since 1952. The Gelati monastery complex of which it is a part, was built between the 12th and 17th centuries and is well-preserved.
The Sataplia nature reserve’s major attractions are a system of Karst caves and the footprints of herbivorous and predatory dinosaurs in the limestone rock. It is a unique complex of geological, paleontological, speleological and botanical interest, established in 1935.
Nikortsminda The Nikortsminda church was built in the early 11th century during the reign of Bagrat III. It is distinguished by its elegance and a wealth of decorations and frescoes. Rich stone relief ornaments on the outside and multiple-figured story-telling reliefs and wall paintings inside constitute a true treasure house of art. Nikortsminda is a candidate for the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Barakoni The Barakoni church of the Mother of God is an 18th-century church built in the early medieval cross-dome pattern and whose architect is immortalized in an inscription on the eastern façade. Similarly to Svetitskhoveli, it is situated an the confluence of two rivers, and is the focal point of the village of Tsesi (Racha). It was restored after the desecration of the Soviet regime and again after an earthquake in
Minda fortress A poignant reminder of the power of medieval Racha, the ruins of the fortress of the Kakhaberidze lords seem to grow out of the rock in the mountains near Ambrolauri.
Oni A settlement existed here in the bronze age, as part of the Colchian culture. In the Middle Ages it thrived as a commercial centre and was fought over by Rachian and Imeretian princes. Oni has a synagogue which serves a community--much diminished since the demise of the Soviet Union--of once powerful Jewish families.
Utsera and Shovi These are the two largest Racha resort towns, famous for their beneficial mineral waters. People come here to find relief from a variety of discomforts and sickness. The resorts were favourites of Stalin’s.
* UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site
Dishes to savour
Imeretian khachapuri What distinguishes Imeretian khachapuri from other Georgian cheese breads is a soft and salty cheese, know as chqinti.
pkhali This vegetable pâté is very popular in Imereti and is made with all manner of vegetables mixed with a paste of vinegar and nuts. Spinach, leeks, beet leaves or beet root all have a place in pkhali. Roasted eggplant with nut paste is very rich and delicious.
bazhe This is the Imeretian variation on satsivi, i.e. made with chicken rather than turkey.
Meat dishes are the particular tradition of Imereti, especially fowl, either boiled or fried, and served with walnut and garlic sauce.
kuchmashi Imeretian kuchmashi--a delicious stew of organ meats with spices, walnuts and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds--differs from the Megrelian version in that it uses chicken organs rather than pork or beef.
Be sure to try some of Imereti’s many delectable mushroom dishes.
gozinaki A sweet confection of honey and toasted walnuts, usually made around
If you ask a Georgian about Rachian cuisine, the first dish they will mention is lobiani
with ham, so let us start there.
lobiani moist bread stuffed with beans and chopped ham. The great taste and texture of Rachian lobiani baked this way is impossible to forget.
Rachian ham Salted pig slaughtered in winter is alternately smoked by day and cooled at night. Oftentimes the meat is hung above a bakery oven in order to absorb the aromas of freshly baked bread and lobiani.
shkmeruli pan-fried chicken served with a milk and garlic dressing
Rachuli khachapuri typically a khachapuri of layered dough, locally known as
Pot of beans with ham For this dish to be done right, the pot with beans and sliced ham needs to hang over the bread oven in the bakery so that the aromas are absorbed and mixed in. The dish is served with corn bread (mchadi), Rachian salty cheese and pickled jonjoli.
Imereti too serves fine mushroom dishes, with niqvi (Caesar’s mushrooms) being especially popular. The rivers and mountain streams yield different kinds of fish among which mountain trout is the all-time favourite.
Racha and Imereti are well known for their variety of wines both red and white. Several dozen grape varieties are grown in Racha, such as Aleksandreuli which is the main ingredient in the world famous semi-sweet Khvanchkara. Exceptional for its bouquet is the semi-sweet white rachuli tetri. The wines here, as elsewhere in Georgia, are aged in clay vessels set in the ground.
Day 1: Arrival in Kutaisi, accomodation, city tour (Sataplia, Bagrati Cathedral), overnight in Kutaisi
Day 2: Master class in Imeretian cuisine and sampling, wine degustation, overnight in
Day 3: Departure to Racha, accomodation in Ambrolauri, on the way short excursion
(Nikortsminda church, Shaori Lake, Barakoni church), free time, overnight in Ambrolauri
Day 4: Departure to village Khvanchkara, master class in Rachian cuisine and sampling, wine degustation, overnight in Ambrolauri
Day 5: Visit Oni and Utsera resort, tasting mineral waters, overnight in Ambrolauri
Day 6: Departure to Kutaisi, end of tour
Note: Price depends on type of accommodation and number of persons.
Samtskhe-Javakheti and Kvemo Kartli (Lower Kartli) are located in the Lesser Caucasus mountain range. Elsewhere in southern Georgia the soil is of volcanic origin with semi-volcanic lakes scattered in the valleys. The cuisine, not unexpectedly, is just as different. Kartlian cuisine is dominated by vegetables and soups, Meskheti is famous for its breads and cheeses.
Samegrelo contains the land of Colchis where the legendary king Aeëtes, son of Helios, ruled. It was also the homeland of Medea, with whose help Jason obtained the golden fleece. As for Svaneti, because of its isolation among some of the highest mountain peaks of the Greater Caucasus range, it preserves an unwritten language and aspects of culture that are pre-Christian. The medieval Svan towers rise from the rugged terrain like sentinels. Because Samegrelo and Svaneti are neighbouring regions--one on the coast at the foot of the mountains the other in them--their cuisines are similar to some degree yet remain distinct. An attentive gourmet will, for example, easily taste the difference between sulguni cheeses from these two regions.
In Adjara and Guria, mountains and sea combine to present a unique natural setting and a mild climate, which also determines their culinary output. Cooks make liberal use of local herbs and spices in vegetable and bean dishes, corn bread (mchadi) and the Adjarian sweets baklava and shakar lama. Plentiful dairy products and nuts are at hand for richer dishes.
This trip will take you to the cradle of wine production--Kakheti--where you will see the centuries-old, traditional way of making wine in vessels buried in the ground, and taste the product of some of Georgia’s more than 500 grape varieties. Sample shoti fresh out of the round stone oven or sweets as they are being made. In mountainous Tusheti--to some the most beautiful part of Georgia--you can taste the famous guda, a sheep’s milk cheese historically aged in sheepskin. In both Kakheti and Tusheti you may learn, hands on, to make local dishes.
The Pshavi-Khevsureti region has always played a big role in the life of the nation. In times of danger the population would gather the nation’s greatest treasures and run to the mountains. Mountain villages were strongly fortified, often with defensive towers which during time of peace were used for domestic activity. The best example of such a village is Shatili. The geographic location and the way of life in this region have given rise to a unique cuisine. One of Georgia’s most popular dishes, khinkali, originated