We have couples coming to Georgia from all over the world, and they are all very different, with completely different lifestyles. Coming to Georgia for a wedding is also like travelling, and it can be tough without familiar things in a new country, especially if they are related to food and health.
You have most probably heard that people eat quite a lot of meat, bread and cheese in Georgia. What are you to do if these are the types of food you don’t eat? Rest assured, you won’t be hungry.
Or maybe you’re putting together the menu for a wedding dinner, and it’s important that the preferences of all the guests are taken into consideration? This article will help you navigate easily in the variety of Georgian dishes. Thus, you’ll be prepared when the time comes to finalize the menu and have all the special requests applied.
To make this process even easier, we have prepared the guide for those who have a special diet and doesn’t want to break it while travelling to a new country. We’ll go through 4 types of diets: vegetarian, lactose-free, gluten-free, and halal.
Let’s imagine for a second that you have a menu of a traditional Georgian restaurant. What dishes would be a good choice for you? What restaurants in Tbilisi are worth adding to your must-visit list? And a small bonus: a couple of good addresses where you can find coffee with plant-based milk and healthy desserts.
Traditional Georgian dishes suitable for vegetarians
Vegetarianism — eating plant- and milk-based foods and restraining from meat.
Adjapsandali is something like a Georgian version of ratatouille, i.e. sautéed vegetables that can be served both hot and cold.
The list of starters wouldn’t be complete without lobio, a hearty bean stew, usually served with an assortment of Georgian pickles (the most interesting to try among them is jonjoli, which is basically pickled flowers of a bush with the same name, a local endemic) and corn bread mchadi. We also recommend to try chvishtari, which is a similar kind of cornbread, somewhat bigger in size and with melted cheese inside. In the summer months you’ll see green lobio on the menu — green beans with green herbs and walnuts.
Lobio can also be a filling for khachapuri, then it’s called lobiani. The word khachapuri is a combination of two words in Georgian: «fresh/cottage cheese» + «bread». There’s a great variety of this pastry, you’ll find a special recipe in every region. A round-shaped Imeruli khachapuri has cheese only inside, whereas a Megruli also has some on the top. In Adjaria they cook a boat-shaped khachapuri and put egg and butter in the middle. Achma is also considered a type of khachapuri even though it’s more like a cheese lasagna.
There’s no way you can miss khinkali. Sure enough the classic versions (kalakuri and mtiuluri) with minced meat filling is not suitable for vegetarians, but luckily in many restaurants you can find other varieties of this famous dish with mushrooms, cheese or even potatoes inside!
Speaking of mushrooms, quite often you will see baked mushrooms with suluguni cheese on ketsi (traditional clay pan). Or sometimes you’ll encounter a variation of a traditional Easter dish, chakapuli, only with mushrooms in sour sauce with white wine and early spring green herbs.
In traditional Georgian cuisine there are some similar dishes that fall into the «comfort food» category perfectly, i.e. the kind of dishes which seem to be created to be eaten after a long walk outside on a chilly autumn evening, since they are so hearty and warm up a tired person like a cozy blanket. We would definitely include corn porridges ghomi and elarji (this one with melted cheese) in this category. They would often be a garnish for a hearty meat and walnut sauce — kharcho, however, you can replace it with a lighter walnut sauce bazhe with no meat. There’s a similar dish in the traditional Svan cuisine called tashmidzhabi. In the process of cooking cheese is mixed into the hot mashed potatoes, and it melts nicely.
Many traditional Georgian dishes, like khinkali, satsivi, kharcho are based on meat. However, vegetables, green herbs, walnuts, cheese and mushrooms are no less important in Georgian cuisine, which is surely a good thing for vegetarians.
So the traditional Georgian starters that we would recommend trying are nigvziani badridzhani (eggplant rolls stuffed with walnut paste) and pkhali (vegetables blended with walnuts and green herbs). There’s a great variety of this popular dish. Pkhali can be made from spinach, beetroot, pumpkin, cabbage, or carrot. You can eat pkhali just like that, or spread it on your bread. It’s a delicious and a very healthy starter!
It’s impossible to imagine a meal in Georgia without a Georgian salad made from tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and green herbs. This kind of salad is usually seasoned with flavourful Kakheti sunflower seed oil. Or alternatively, with crushed walnuts that add creamy taste and make the salad richer. Definitely worth trying!
Of course, the article wouldn’t be complete without the sweets. One of the most famous Georgian sweet souvenirs is churchkhela, of course.
It’s made from reduced grape juice and walnuts, and is hang to dry. Depending on the type of grapes, rkatsiteli or saperavi, the «sausage» becomes marsala red or mustard yellow in colour, and is indeed quite a nutritious snack. It can easily replace an energy bar, and in the old times it was used with exactly the same purpose by horse riders heading to long expeditions.
Vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Tbilisi
Without dairy products.
Many of the dishes we have mentioned above (nigvziani badridjani, pkhali, Georgian salad, lobio, adjapsandali, mchadi, khinkali) are suitable for those who avoid dairy products. We thought it would also be helpful to mention the dishes to avoid since they do have dairy products in them. Basically, all the starters with cheese (most often — sulguni), as well as nadugi (fresh/cottage cheese similar to Italian ricotta), or gebzhalia (cheese rolls).
Lobiani penovani (puff pastry with mashed beans filling) is probably the only type of pastry you could try, since the most common types of khachapuri apart from the cheese filling would also have milk in the dough. The same goes for Svan meat pie kubdari, so the best strategy is to double check with the restaurant where you’re making an order.
Then luckily, it’s only the chkmeruli that you’ll have to skip on the mains list, since it’s chicken fried in cream and garlic sauce.
Requires the elimination of all ingredients containing gluten. First off, wheat, rye and barley are eliminated.
If you stick to the gluten-free diet, you’ll surely want to avoid all types of pastry, including khachapuri, lobiani, achma and kubdari, as well as khinkali with all kinds of filling. However, you could try corn bread mchadi and chvishtari (with cheese inside). Main ingredients of other traditional Georgian dishes are vegetables, cheese, nuts, green herbs, spices, meat and poultry, so you’ll be able to try almost everything.
You should be careful with the traditional Georgian desert though — churchkhela, — since wheat flour is sometimes used to thicken the grape juice. The same could apply to pelamushi.
Halal restaurants in Tbilisi
Halal is meat prepared according to Islamic traditions.
To sum up...
we should say that throughout the years of organising weddings in Georgia we’ve had extensive experience putting together special menus for our couples with food restrictions. Our venues already have tailored menus to offer, and our wedding planner will brief you on the options and work out the best solution together.