Ask an American to talk about Georgian cuisine and you’ll probably hear descriptions of peach cobbler, barbecue and fried chicken. Ask a European about Georgian cuisine and you’ll probably hear more about wine, cheese and khatchapuri.
The Republic of Georgia, in the heart of the Caucasus, has a rich culinary history – and is commonly believed to be the birthplace of modern wine – but until recently, most American cities were completely devoid of Georgian food. In recent years, however, food from Georgia has started creeping its way onto the American palate, thanks largely to khatchapuri.
Khatchapuri – often described as cheese bread or Georgian pizza on American menus – is ubiquitous in Georgia, served for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Khatchapuri is so intertwined with the national identity, that the Kh Index was created. Like the Big Mac Index, the Kh Index measures inflation and currency devaluation by tracking the cost of khatchapuri’s ingredients: dairy, yeast and eggs.
The word Khatchapuri comes from combining khatcha (cheese curds) and puri (bread). While some varieties do indeed resemble cheese bread or pizza, the interpretations of khatchapuri vary wildly across the country, everything from butter-and-cheese-filled boats to pillow-like casseroles that more closely resembles lasagna.
“Khatchapuri is undoubtedly the most iconic Georgian recipe,” according to Carla Capaldo, author of Tasting Georgia: A food and wine journey in the Caucasus. The two main kinds of cheese that are used in Georgian khatchapuri are the sour Imertian white cow’s cheese and sulguni, a stringy brined cheese that is often compared to mozzarella. These cheeses are extremely difficult to find outside of the region, and therefore substitutes are used in their place in the U.S. The most common are feta and mozzarella.
Capaldo suggests using equal amounts of cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella and cottage cheese. The most important thing is that the cheeses are fresh and made from raw, unpasteurized milk. While khatchapuri is found throughout all of Georgia, its origins are from the western regions such as Imereti, Guria and Adjara. Below are some of the most delicious and common styles around the country.
Imeruli khatchapuri originates in the Western region of Imereti and is the most common variety of khatchapuri. It’s a flat, circular pie with the cheese folded into the dough. It’s then flattened with a rolling pin, baked, and sliced like pizza.
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Acharuli Khatchapuri, also known as Adjaran Khatachpuri, is justifiably the most famous form of khatchapuri (and the one most frequently posted on Instagram). In the Black Sea region of Adjara, chefs form the dough into a boat and fill it with two types of cheese, then bake it until the cheese is gooey and bubbling, and starts to crust. The crusted top is removed and a raw egg and block of butter are placed on top before serving. Eaters then cook the egg and butter by mixing them into the hot cheese, and dip the sides of the bread boat into the creamy, gooey mixture.
Khabidzgina khatchapuri comes from the mountainous region of Kazbegi and the breakaway region of South Ossetia, which is now controlled by Russian forces. (It’s a sore subject for most Georgians, as two wars were fought for control over the region). Khabidzgina khatchapuri is filled with both cheese and mashed potatoes. Like the Imeruli version, the cheese and potatoes are folded into the dough, which is then baked round and flat and served in smaller triangular pieces.
Svaneti is another mountainous region in the Caucasus that is home to the highest inhabited village in Europe. Like the people, the Svanetian version of khatchapuri is quite hearty and unique. It’s made with high fat cow’s cheese, green onions and eggs, which are folded into the dough. However, instead of one large pie, small, round pieces are taken from the dough and rolled out for individual servings that can be transported for mountainous journeys.
Achma khatchapuri comes from another autonomous breakaway region, Abkhazia, which is also under the control of Russian forces. Most Georgians wax poetic about the region’s distinctive cuisine, which is quite spicy and aromatic. Like its cuisine, the region’s khatchapuri marches to the beat of another drummer. Instead of being a round, flat, cheese pie, Achma is more akin to lasagna with layers of pastry, cheese and butter.
From the subtropical region of Samegrelo, Megruli Khatchapuri is prepared in the same way as Imeruli khatchapuri, but extra layers of cheese are added to the top of the pie before baking.
Guruli Ghvezeli is a khatchapuri made in the western region of Guria, a lush, subtropical region famous for tea and hazelnuts, and one of the wildest versions of football in the world. The cheese and eggs are not folded into the dough as with other versions; instead, the dough is rolled out into a circle, the filling is placed on one side and the dough is folded over top and is then glazed with egg and baked in a half moon or crescent moon shape. At Christmas time, a coin or fruit stone is placed inside. The person who gets the special piece wins luck.