Nestled in the Caucasus, at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, neighbouring Russia, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan, lies Georgia, the small country with a big appetite.
By geographical and political design, the country has absorbed neighbouring culinary influences over the centuries, yet it's identity remains intact. By nature, Georgian food is fresh, honest, robust, vegetable-driven and true to its roots.
Walnuts are the cornerstone of the Georgian kitchen, while freshly baked bread, fresh fruit and vegetables and cheeses are never far away. Chilli and spices add warmth and depth to meat dishes while coriander and parsley add interest to salads. And if you like it hot there's always the spicy sauce, Adjika, originating in Abkhazia and made from red peppers, garlic, and herbs.
But most importantly, Georgian food is for sharing. In a country where a guest is considered as a gift, it's no surprise that Georgian food is a generous reflection of the hospitality of the people. Nowhere is this felt more than at the Supra, a traditional Georgian feast, where a generous serving of Georgian conviviality comes topped up with copious amounts of free-flowing local wine.
If you're ever lucky enough to be invited to a Georgian supra, or seated in a Georgian restaurant, below is a snapshot of some of the Georgian food that will feature. And if you're chosen to be 'tamada' or the toastmaster for the occasion be sure to have sufficiently profound words up your sleeve to entertain your newly made friends.
The ubiquitous fist-sized Georgian dumpling is a soft and pillowy snack cooked fresh to order in just about all parts of the country. Typically they are filled with lightly spiced meat and stock or vegetables. Eating them is something of a knack, holding onto the knot at the top (which isn't eaten), and trying to avoid hot juices dribbling down your chin.
Nothing says home in Georgia quite like the beloved khachapuri. Coming in a variety of shapes and forms, from boat-shaped loaded up with cheese and eggs, to simply stuffed with cheese. Each region or family may put their own personal spin on it, but once eaten, the hot doughy goodness is the stuff of legends.
The typical Georgian fresh flat bread features at most meals, with most villages and cities home to basement bakeries where the freshly baked bread can be picked up fresh from the oven.
4. Georgian Pickles
Pickles are a Georgian favourite and can include a variety of vegetables like cucumber, courgette, garlic and leeks, but the most unusual are the pickled flowers of Jonjoli (on the left in the above photo), which are an acquired taste and add an unusual texture.
5. Sulguni - Georgian Cheese
Cheese is almost always a feature on the traditional Georgian table. Sulguni (pictured above left) is one of the most popular and versatile – a mild, semi-soft and salty cheese ready for eating or to be baked with, and the household staple that you will see time and time again.
6. Badrijani - Aubergine stuffed with Walnut
Badrijani, also known as Nigvziani Badrijani, are a great find for vegetarians and make a hearty main or a substantial side. Made with fried eggplant stuffed with spiced walnut paste they are often topped with pomegranate seeds.
7. Pkhali - Vegetetarian appetiser of walnut paste and vegetables
This cold vegetarian dish is a popular appetiser. Usually served in small rounds or patties, they are a mélange of spice-rich walnut paste, fresh herbs and vinegar added to vegetables, fried or boiled, usually topped off with pomegranate seeds.
8. Georgian Salad
Salad in Georgia usually means one thing, a combination of the freshest tomatoes and cucumber dressed with plenty of freshly chopped herbs and an additional walnut dressing if desired.
9. Mtsvadi - Grilled Skewered Meat
Skewered meat, which can be veal, lamb or pork depending on the region, is grilled over wood and finished off with thinly sliced onions and pomegranate juice fusing mild acidity and extra bite into the succulent meat and juices.
10. Soko Kecze - Baked Mushrooms
Georgian cuisine features a wide range of slow-cooked meat stews, but vegetarians get an equal look in with these hearty baked mushrooms filled with stringy melted sulguni cheese and served sizzling in a clay pot at the table.
These are tough times for chefs and restaurant professionals around the world, but there has never been a better time to seek advice and help around a number of topics affecting hospitality workers. Here's a round-up of some of the most useful resources for chefs.