Monday, 26 September 2011

Something good from the Soviet Union

Can you name five things that the Soviet Union is famous for? Here's what I'm guessing would appear on many lists:
  1. Brutal repression
  2. Cabbage
  3. Stalin
  4. The Hunt for Red October
  5. Winners of the space race
Ok, so number five will probably be argued by my American readership at least, but given that the race was to get the first man in to space and the Soviets did that, it's a point I like to make whenever I get the chance. Most people know a great deal about the Soviet Union and the list above could be very different depending on your political, historical and geographical perspective, so let me ask another, harder, question: can you name five things that Georgia is famous for?

Firstly, let's be clear that we're talking about the Georgia that has Tblisi as its capital, not Atlanta. Some of you clever types might cite the fact that Stalin was a Georgian, and that there was a Rose Revolution there a few years ago. Current affairs buffs may note that it was the venue of an attempt on Dubya's life in 2005, and that they had a widely reported and badly advised war with Russia in 2008.

How many of you would mention the country's fabulous cuisine? Not too many I'll wager, but as those of you who have had the pleasure of spending time in Russia, the Georgian restaurants which proliferate there are one of the few gastronomic treats available. It's a wonderful tradition of hearty food, full of fresh herbs and spices, utlitising chicken, lamb and goat alongside vegetables like aubergines and some of the most incredible breads I've ever tasted.

So when challenged to make up a pot of something that could do us for a few different meals this week, I opted for a chicken chakhokhbili, which I last made some years ago and adored. I even managed to set some aside for Master Jay (who has just discovered finger food, without having actually mastered the act of putting it in his mouth as opposed to on the floor, on Mrs Jay's blouse or down his own t-shirt) by adding the herbs, chilli and salt at a very late stage.
Chakhokhbili, with parley sprig artfully added by Mrs Jay

One thing I did learn: when a recipe says "tomatoes, peeled, chopped and seeded", what they should say is "Look, if you want to spend an hour dropping tomatoes in to alternately hot and cold water, peeling a bit of skin off before cutting your thumb with a knife, and then repeating the whole process to get the other 3/4 of the skin off, then go for your life. Otherwise, buy a tin of tomatoes and save yourself the bother." At least if they gave me the facts up front I could make an informed decision, but blithely mentioning it without presenting the whole story is cruelty. Just say no, kids.

Georgia is also famous, in Russia at least, for its wine, though during Gorbachev's attempts to lower alcohol consumption (which unsurprisingly failed) he ordered many of the vines there to be pulled up so for a while it was both expensive and bad. I fuzzily remember drinking some during my time in Russia, but has anybody else had the pleasure? Is it any good? And can you buy it in Britain, just for research purposes, naturally?


  1. You can get Georgian wine in Seattle. I remember being given 2 glasses of wine a night as as sleep aid in the winter when we were in Petersburg. The deshurnayas wouldn't let me be until I finished my glasses. You should check out the cookbook, The Georgian Feast. It has some good recipes.

  2. mmmmn, khachapuri! Yum! And yes, the wine is great, the red stuff anyway. Kindzmarauli was what we drank most I remember...I loved being in Georgia mostly for the bread and wine! Needless to say you can't buy Georgian wine here in France...can't get anything that's not French! (Just one of the reasons I want to move to the UK!!)

  3. Clunk, I'm going to do a reccy and see if our local wine shop will get some in, ready for your arrival if it happens. Whether you'll have to use it to help you sleep only you can tell me, but I'm surprised that Catherine wasn't knocked out by the vodka a long time before the wine came out...