While trying to read, I can hear the others laughing and chatting in the dining room. Oh well, at least I have a good bed to finally rest on and the book’s not too bad, either… Then there’s a knock at the door and mother of our Georgian host family enters, smiling: “Chai?” she asks, sending me back a few decades instantly by reminding me of a time when drinking “Gruzijski chai” was quite an event, back in my Yugoslavia period. :-)
“Yes, please!” My smile could not be happier or wider and an hour later I am cured of all my stomach problems, churnings and intestinals storms that had me decline food on the very first evening of our stay in Batumi. It soon turns out I might have missed the best food in the world if not for that tea.
Now, neither foreign visitors to the country nor Georgians themselves will speak about the Georgian food in anything else than superlatives; but then, I am always a sceptic as far as national cuisines and their reputations are concerned, so I didn’t believe any of it just like that. (Everyone’s repeating ad nauseam how delicious French food is and I have yet to like any of it (I can stomach only so much baguette and puff pastry and the French don’t seem to know what to do with vegetables), while the much sneered at English had me love their food during one short stay in London that was mostly spent in museums (ahhhh, organic root veggies ….). I do appreciate what Italians have introduced into our world and try to recreate it at home, sans garlic, the same goes for Indian food, but Georgian food is still in another liga entirely of its own. Like: I’d move to Georgia right now just to eat local food every day and the only reason I have not yet is that I’d become very, very fat very, very soon, even though I’d stick to vegetables and khachapuri.
Or to give you another story: I do not eat walnuts. Ever. My husband does not eat aubergines. Ever. During an outing with a group of birdwatchers we both tried aubergines with walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds and agreed instantly we loved the dish and would be making it at home as soon as possible.
The secret of all this Caucasian deliciousness is quite simple: it’s the Nature Herself. Thus fruit and vegetables have so much taste of their own, Georgia having huge subtropical zones, that not much food engineering is necessary to prepare absolutely tasty dishes every vegetarian dreams about. They may use herbs I have never seen before, but even when not, it is all so damn tasty. *sigh*
There’s a story I read somewhere about a visitor to a mountain region in Georgia, who was asked whether he could name any of the herbs used for the preparation of his meal, which consisted of meat. He could name some and his hosts confirmed those herbs did grow there, only: It was the sheep that ate them, the guest got only meat with some salt and pepper, nothing else.
Now, I didn’t take any photos while staying with our host family in Batumi, but let me show you below some other delicious things we had eaten before arriving there.
Oh, and lest I forget: eating in Georgia entails HUGE portions. Really big. In restaurants, they won’t bring you the next portion of the same dish, should you manage to eat up, but at private occasions, they will. A Georgian meal is perfect only if there’s so much food on the table at the end of it as it was in the beginning. While Georgians can be comparatively to very poor (in 2006, 34% of them lived below the national poverty line), they will make sure that you eat too much if you let them. So remember: don’t eat up when you’re full!
The Tbilisi airport security lady looks less tired than me, even though it is 3 am for both of us: “You have a bottle of vodka in your cabin luggage.”
“Yes, I do,” I tell her proudly, “I bought it downstairs, in one of the airport shops.” Because I lost a bet with my husband on whether the ersatz rental car driver was going to notice our/their broken-down car standing alongside the busy village road or simply drive past it – and in an unexpected show of competence, he noticed it. But I can’t tell her that.
“You know, you are not supposed to carry that in your cabin luggage.”
“So only the duty free shop beverages are allowed?” As if whisky from a duty free is that much less dangerous than the real Georgian chacha …
I am then told to notify the plane security guys about my vodka and let go. Duh …
Before undertaking our 10 day excursion to Georgia we had agreed I better not drive because Georgians don’t do traffic rules. Before you take pity on my husband, let me tell you something: being a non-driver in Georgia is every bit as hard. It is not only that Georgians do not believe in traffic rules, roadworks and road maintenance or cowsheds, horse stables and pig sties, they also do not consider good maps to be of vital importance. So while my husband was swearing at other drivers on the Day 1 of our Georgia Exploration In A Rented Car and they were probably routinely swearing back at us, I managed to get us lost by simply holding a predominantly useless city map in my hands and saying rude things to it. Still, by switching on my brain cell I soon learned to read other signs to navigate us out of Tbilisi and get out we did. A few problems later my husband suggested I use his smartphone and Google Maps. Which is why we own Google a drink or two. They made me the best road navigator in Georgia and we almost never took a wrong road again.
Unfortunately, on that first day of successful travel out of and back to Tbilisi, we didn’t know getting lost was going to be our least problem. The main trouble ensued a few days later and had to do with our having rented a car from a Georgian agency calling themselves Concord Travel.
Obviously, bad roads and intended trips to the mountains mean you need an SUV. So you request an SUV, pay a European price in dollars for it and get a wrack with four wheels attached to it in exchange, a rejected American car that was last serviced back in the early 2000s … We thought this to be a normal car to take us to the mountains and to survive the bad roads in general, until the front wheel came off. Like, it wanted to leave our car and roll on on itself.
You know about the power of bad situations? When you’re visiting a foreign country for the first time and you can’t speak their language or read their writing and then your front wheel comes off, your car lands on it and it all makes a terrible sound?
A few seconds later there are these roadworks guys (it turns out even Georgia pays some of them to improve at least some of the roads in important areas) and they lift your car, fix the wheel with nuts from the other 3 wheels, offer you a cigarette, drive you to an “automotoservice” where you get another wheel nut for free, tell you you can drive max. 60 km/h by writing “max. 60″ on your dusty windshield, and, before sending you on your way with happy faces of people having done a good work and a good job, force you to take the whole box of remaining cigarettes. Well, how do you say “I don’t smoke” in Georgian? What I said was “Spasiba. Matloba” several times, matloba being “thank you” in Georgian.
And then on Tuesday, while trying to get home via the Tbilisi Airport and after having stopped to check the mails, our car simply wouldn’t start again. Once again, we had no choice but to consider ourselves Lucky Bastards… If the car had broken down in some more rural area or while driving behind thousands of Turkish lorries trying to reach our next city by night (never a good idea – night traffic in Georgia), our trouble would have been much, much greater. As luck would have it, we only had to cross the street and buy coffee in the hotel opposite our abandoned shit of a car. By now, we had learned to communicate with Georgians quite well: “Ara, ara (“No”), aeroport Tbilisi Germania” is what I told the nice lady who brought us our drinks and asked us whether we wanted a hotel room. Three hours later, the guy who had me lose my bet and buy a bottle of chacha arrived and took us to the airport in a much better SUV.
Let me just derive a recommendation from our story: do not rent a car from a Georgian company with no reputation to lose. We didn’t but you may land out in the sticks due to car problems only to find out help is far away.
Sitting in Surami waiting for the ersatz rent car to make it to Tbilisi. Let’s see whether we are going to make it to the airport… Driving at night IS a bit…difficult in Georgia, you see. At least we have coffee and internet. To anyone interested out there: Do not rent a car from concord in georgia. It will go bust twice and you will not know whether you can continue your journey or just get lost in the pampa. That said: we love Georgia. Should we make it to Germany, I’ll let you know why. And then I will get me a smartphone. Edit: made it to the airport. Edit 2: damn red eye. Nice train though.
(Yes, I know: how cheesy. Actually, it is “how Parmesany”.)
“How about we choose 12 as our cooking orgy topic? You know, in each and every possible way. After all, twelve years seems to be quite a lot.”
“It is, isn’t it?”
“Well, the only thing I could complain of, but won’t, is that we’re both working too much and I don’t get to see you and do things together often enough.”
“True. But just imagine the other way around: What if you were happy for every minute you don’t get to see me by now?” :-)
:lol: “I find it very important, and I didn’t know I would, that we often like the same films and books, like Terry Pratchett, Neal Stephenson and Galactica and so on. At least the tiny part of our lives called leisure is well spent. And of course, the everyday life – you know my definition of a real man: a real man simply does the dishes or irons his shirt without attaching any ideological or psychological damage whatsoever to the process.”
Later that day I wonder how feminist our smug talk about our wedded life actually was.