September 7, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Travel, Travels in Asia, Travels in Europe, Video

Just admit it – you barely knew the country of Georgia existed before I started flooding your inbox and RSS feeds with blog posts that make you so hungry you think you’re going to burst. But now, you’re extra curious about this peculiar Eurasian nation. So, since I’ve reeled ya in, here’s a little video giving you yet another taste of the country. (Be sure to watch it until the end – I think it’s hilarious, but I’m also easily amused.)

If you are having trouble viewing the video, please click here.
To see pictures from my trip to Georgia, please visit the La Tortuga Viajera Facebook page or Flickr page.

August 31, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Food and wine, Travel, Travels in Asia, Travels in Europe

Georgian foodsIt’s true. I’ve been cheating on my dear Spanish food not only with Turkish desserts, but also with Georgian cuisine. What can I say – I’m a tad unfaithful and culinarily promiscuous. But when it comes to food, I’m just not a one-cuisine kind of gal! Let me introduce to you to my latest food love affair.

Bread is king in Georgia. These people eat bread like it’s the last day of their life – multiple kinds of bread at breakfast, lunch and dinner. And I get why – because it’s off-the-charts good. The most famous of the breads is the lavashi. Often made in a signature oblong shape, the soft, squishy bread is perfect for eating by itself, with a Georgian cheese, or just soaking and scooping up whatever you have on your plate. My other bread favorite was mchadi – a cornmeal based patty typically served hot and which Georgians love to slice in half, stuff with cheese and eat like a sandwich (genius!!).

mchadi georgia
Hello, Georgian pizza, can you please come back to Spain with me? This little delight mixes the scrumptiousness of the aforementioned bread, with, you guessed it – cheese! Across the country you’ll find different variations from cheese on top, to cheese inside. Batumi, the beachside town that Eastern Europeans flock to, even boasts its own special version – a boat-shaped bread that cradles a mixture of melted cheese, a semi-fried egg and a slice of butter, all which you must mush up with your fork and then eat until you explode or have a heart attack (whichever comes first).

khachapuri, Georgia
I spent my first several days in Georgia thinking that the only sweets that those folks ate included watermelon (I’m still not amused – sorry, Georgia). But after nagging a little, my Georgian amiga, Sophia, revealed her country’s sweet tooth – a sweet tooth fulfilled by some finger-licking-good pastries. My favorite, kada, is basically just a fat roll of what I would consider to be crumbly pie crust. I know, why didn’t anyone think of this sooner, right?? Then there’s a sumptuous cream-filled pastry, called shu, that I may as well just bag and hook up to an IV drip. Why they don’t eat this stuff with the same reckless abandon as they do bread and watermelon is just plain beyond me.

pastries, georgia, kada
coffee float, georgiaCoffee float
On hot summer days, it’s not uncommon to see locals slurping their Georgian-style coffee floats through colorful straws. And it should be mentioned that Georgians do love their ice cream – a fluffy, almost whipped frozen treat that often comes prepackaged in soggy cones. Kind of sounds unappetizing, but I’m not going to lie – it hit the spot (apparently I have a lot of spots).

Herby, spiced, crack-filled (OK, maybe not crack) sauces
For a good portion of our trip, Sophia hesitated introducing us to the more flavorful (read: spiced and spicy) Georgian cuisine for fear that we wouldn’t like it. Apparently past guests (many of which were Spaniards who are averse to spicy cuisine) didn’t care for the dishes. One taste, though, and we were s.m.i.t.t.e.n. Served with meats or veggies, the chashushuli sauce is typically mixed with fresh herbs like cilantro and dill, and spices such as hot pepper and flavored salt. The result is an irresistible concoction that I would eat everyday of my life on and with just about anything that I can get my hands on. In fact, I’m pretty sure I can’t be friends with someone who for some reason doesn’t love it. If you like Indian or Southeast Asian cuisine, then I promise you will be obsessed with this dish too.

veggie dish

Honorable mention
Georgia serves up several other universally loved dishes that I too enjoyed, but not with the same embarrassing passion as those mentioned above. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention khinkali, which basically looks like giant dim sum (and kind of tastes like it too). To eat it Georgian style, pick it up with your hands and take a bite of the base, slurping up its broth while you eat.

Then there are also the kebaps, which come as crepe-wrapped ground-beef. The meat is blended with the same mixture of fresh herbs and spices as the crack-sauce mentioned above. Dipped in a little Georgian ketchup (not really ketchup, the tkhemali is a sweet-meets-sour sauce made of a fruit similar to plums) and you’ve got yourself a winning combination.

Still curious about Georgia? Don’t forget to read more about my impressions on what makes Georgia unique.

August 25, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Food and wine, Traditions, Travel, Travels in Asia, Travels in Europe

watermelons in GeorgiaAnd while we’re clarifying – forget about peaches, today it’s all about watermelons. But first, a little background.

One of my dearest friends living in Spain hails from the Republic of Georgia – that small, oblong, post-Soviet country, which nudges up against the Black Sea. The democracy, which regained its independence in 1991, continues to transition from oppression to a nation bursting at the seams to share its pride. So, when my amiga invited me to come get to know her country, I feverishly started planning how to make it happen (maybe a little more like: I begged and convinced Jacobo, and then he booked everything. But let’s not get caught up in the minutiae).

To say that the country blew me away would be an understatement. But rather than bore you with the details of my innermost ponderings (i.e. how do the cows, pigs, sheep and dogs that wander freely on the roads not constantly get hit by cars???), here is a brief run down of the Georgian quirks that surprised me most:

Yep, your basic watermelon is a superstar in the country sandwiched between Europe and Asia. Roadside vendors overflow stands with the seeded fruits like they’re going out of style – which they aren’t. Attend a Georgian dinner, and don’t be surprised to be served a plateful of the watery delicacy for dessert (at which point, I reach into my bag for my emergency stash of chocolate because seriously, fruit isn’t and never will be a dessert in my book). Why so popular? I’m still contemplating this, but the general explanation is that the southeastern province of Georgia grows an abundance of the melons, therefore making them an easy go-to sweet (if that’s what you want to call it).

watermelons in the republic of georgia

The toasts
No Georgian dinner is complete without toasts. Not just A toast, though, but many toasts – many, many toasts, followed by many more. At almost all meals of more than just a couple people, a designated toaster, the tamada, is chosen – typically a man with a talent for eloquence. This tamada is responsible for maintaining a rhythm of toasts throughout the meal, ranging from world peace, to family, and the future. Meanwhile, others at the table should be prepared to add on to the main speech, contributing and building on each individual toast. 

It’s green. Really green.
There’s a legend that Georgians will tell you, and it goes a little something like this: God called a meeting in which he planned to distribute all the lands in the world. Georgia was late (naturally) as result of a party from the night before involving too much drinking (also naturally). When they finally arrived to the meeting, all of the lands had already been handed out. Georgia explained away their tardiness by telling God that it was the result of toasting to him the night before. Impressed, God then gave Georgia the land that he had reserved for himself. Whether the legend is true or not, I can’t argue with the fact that the often-overlooked country claims some of the most hypnotizing landscapes I’ve come across – mountain ranges that cap out at nearly 10,000 feet high, deserts that sprawl into Azerbaijan, and inescapable numbers of rivers and waterfalls.

landscape in the republic of Georgia
grapevines in the republic of georgiaBottled water
I think it’s fair to say that I’ve never gone to a restaurant and ordered my water by brand name. Until Georgia, that is. The brand of water you wish to imbibe during your meal will be the question hanging on every waiter’s tongue. This is because with rain, rivers and H2O coming out their ears, they’ve smartly converted their ample water supply into a booming bottled-water business. And not just any bottled water – it’s special bottled water. Have a hangover? There’s a water for you. Tummy problems? Not to worry. Seriously, who knew?

Living in a country like Spain, I thought that a passion for wine could not run any deeper than it does in the blood of Spaniards. WRONG. Grapes are to Georgia like chocolate is to me (and cheese, and maybe bread, and now baklava). So much so that the majority of Georgian homes have their own grapevine (not even close to joking). Don’t be surprised to see grape symbols lingering in the stone carvings of 10th century buildings as a representation of their importance to the culture. And go to a Georgian’s house and you will surely be greeted with a glass of their homemade wine (along with a full spread of food you couldn’t possibly ever consume in one sitting – more on that later).

Have I gotten you all curious about Georgia yet? Stay tuned for my next blog about Georgian cuisine (obviously). No peaches involved.