South Caucasus Cuisine: A Gourmet Tour
The South Caucasus is a land of breathtaking views, ancient culture, temperamental people and colorful national cuisines. The countries of this region have much in common: their histories and fates intertwined throughout the centuries. Still, each country and cuisine is unique in its own right.
Let us introduce you to some of the most appetizing, unique, and authentic South Caucasus cuisine from the nations of Armenia, Georgi, and Azerbaijan.
Like all of the Caucasian nations, Armenian cuisine tends to be calorie-laden, hearty and satisfying.
Although Armenia doesn’t border the sea, there’s no lack of seafood on the menu. Lake Sevan offers up a bounty of fish, including the white royal fish ishkhan (trout). Juicy ishkhan bbq is the most popular dish on the lake shores and a perfect choice for those that prefer not to eat meat. The second most popular fish dish made from ishkhan is a baked version with rice, ginger, and raisins, known as kutap.
There are so many delicious and interesting dishes made from lamb, pork and veal in Armenian cuisine. Undoubtedly Armenian barbecue is on the top of the list. Of course, barbeque is an international dish, but in Armenia, you will have the opportunity to taste it prepared in a unique way – in a tandoor oven. Traditionally, lamb (or any other meat) is hung over the fire in a tandoor. Thus the meat turns so that it will be juicy and tasty.
From dozens of traditional Armenian meat dishes, your next choice should be dolma, made with minced meat and grape leaves. From late June to early September, you can taste summer dolma; stuffed vegetables in tomato sauce.
Another traditional dish unique to Armenia is khash – a thick meat broth eaten at breakfast from September to April. The soup is served with garlic, dried lavash, and homemade vodka. Everyone should try it at least once in a lifetime (even if pig parts aren’t your thing). To Armenians, khash is much more than a bowl of soup. It’s a culinary and cultural tradition steeped in ceremony and tradition.
Despite the fact that Armenians love meat, there are plenty of tasty dishes for vegetarians in the national cuisine. The first one to try is pasus tolma. It’s similar to cabbage roles but instead of being stuffed with meat, the cabbage leaves are wrapped around beans, lentils, wheat cereal, and peas, then served with a sweet side of baked plums.
Another interesting and colorful dish to try is ghapama. The traditional stuffed pumpkin with rice and dried fruits are usually served in the fall, as a sign of fertility. For sweet taste and aroma, honey, butter, and cinnamon are added before the squash are baked in the oven.
Traditional sweets and drinks
You can always find a variety of dried fruit and alani (dried fruit with nut filling) on the Armenian table. Such sweets are not only tasty but also very healthy.
For an after-dinner drink, try a glass of Armenia’s legendary brandy. The fertile Armenian countryside produces the most delicious and sweet fruit, resulting in lush, aromatic wines and potent homemade vodka.
Georgian cuisine is one of the brightest in the South Caucasus. It is all about spices and colors, much like the Georgian people. And there’s so much more to explore than the popular Georgian khinkali and khachapuri. Here’s a look at some dishes that may be new to you.
Despite the fact that Georgia is rich in rivers, lakes, reservoirs and has access to the sea, there are very few traditional fish dishes. There is, however, one authentic Georgian fish dish called tzotskhali. It’s made from small yellowfish cooked whole without any spices and served with greens.
Meat dishes like chashashuli, chanakhi, ojakhuri, chakapuli and kharcho dominate Georgia’s national cuisine. Even the sauces are meat based, usually made from veal with vegetables, hot spices, and greens. Of course, they are all very tasty and satisfying.
Probably the most popular Georgian meat dish is khinkali – a tasty little dumpling stuff with spiced meat.
Satsivi – chicken with a white sauce made from nuts, cloves, cinnamon, and coriander – is also popular.
Georgian appetizers are perfect for vegetarians. They have a special place on a traditional table. One of the most delicious is badrijani – rolls of fried eggplants stuffed with walnuts, garlic, and sour cream. Pkhali is another must-try appetizer. These colorful balls of spinach, beet, greens (or any other vegetable), are as pleasing to the eye as they are to the palate.
For the main dish, lobio, a traditional red bean sauce, is a great choice. It’s served in clay pots with cornbread mchadi and hot pepper.
Georgians offer special khinkali for vegetarians called kveri. These dumplings are filled with brined Georgian cheese from the Samegrelo region and served with butter and matsoni (yogurt).
Traditional sweets and drinks
The most popular Georgian sweet is churchkhela. It is a sweet “sausage” with hazelnuts or walnuts and berry juice, and it’s a favorite souvenir for tourists.
Like Armenians, Georgians also like dried fruits. Don’t forget to try chiri, a persimmon in powdered sugar.
At New Year’s, the most popular dessert is gozinaki. It’s made from walnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame, hazelnuts, and honey. Although it’s synonymous with the celebration of a new year, you’ll still find it on shelves throughout the year.
Georgia is one of the oldest wine regions in the world. Oenophiles, be sure to add a visit to the Kakheti region where you can see wine stored in ancient pottery jars, a tradition that dates back over 8,000 years.
Another traditional Georgian drink is chacha. A very potent type of moonshine made from grape residue left behind during the wine-making process. Many Georgians believe it has medicinal qualities, and use it in a variety of home remedies.
While Azerbaijani cuisine is similar to that of its neighbors, Armenia and Turkey, we’ll be focusing on cuisine that is unique to Azerbaijan in this post.
Fish levengi from scomber (a type of mackerel) is a popular fish dish. Its piquant taste comes for the sauce made of sour plums, alcha paste, and walnuts.
Rice also features prominently in Azerbaijani cuisine. Pilaf is served with fish and meat dishes, or between the first and second meal.
Azeri mostly eat lamb; sometimes veal. (Pork is prohibited in the country.) One of the most popular meat dishes is lamb kebab. The meat is threaded onto skewers, cooked over charcoal, and served with basil
Meat soups are very popular in Azerbaijan. You can try piti, hamrashi, parcha-bozbash, kyufta bozbash, dovga, and others.
The main dish in the Azerbaijani cuisine for vegetarians is pilaf. Real Azerbaijani pilaf is cooked with chestnuts, dried fruits, saffron, and other seasonings. It creates a very fragrant and tasty dish.
Qutab is a delicious snack. This is pita bread with different fillings. Vegetarians will love qutab with greens. Different greens are added to the filling and the more variety is used, the more delicious the qutabs.
Traditional sweets and drinks
Azerbaijan sweets are absolutely delicious and their variety is just amazing. Sweets are served during traditional tea drinking. On the local table, you will always see a sweet shakerbur, shaker-churak, baklava, badambura with nut filling, mutaki and Turkish delight.
Finally, do not forget to try the traditional drinks. The most popular alcoholic drink in Azerbaijan is aragh, a distilled spirit made from fermented raisins (also known as Persian vodka). It is mainly used as a medicine.
Fruit sorbet, a sweet, nectar-type drink, is a popular soft drink that perfectly refreshes on a hot day.
Of course, South Causacus cuisine is just one of the many fascinating reasons to visit this part of the world. There are many things to do, to see, and to experience in Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan including extreme activities, sightseeing, hiking and much more. Plan for at least 10-15 days for travel. A good option is a 2-week classical tour from Arara Travel Agency.
It’s no doubt that, by the end of your Caucasus trip, you will come to the conclusion that this region is one of the warmest, friendliest, and most delicious places in the world!
About the Author
With all the passion and love to explore the world, Anoush is a travel blogger sharing her ideas and thoughts while traveling. She has her list of top favorite dishes still she is always ready to taste and try something new. Above she shared her top tastiest national dishes of the South Caucasus with you. However, for Anoush, Armenian trout barbeque is the winner in this top list. She would be glad to know your favorites.