[updated January 2022]
The country of Georgia is a mix of cultures at the intersection of Europe and Asia. The capital can feel more European might surprise you with its abundance of great food to try.
Read on to learn about the Georgian food you must try and where to eat in Tbilisi.
My last trip abroad, pre-pandemic, was a month-long visit to Istanbul (a return after living there back in 2007) and my first time in the country of Georgia. The transcontinental country is situated just northwest of Turkey and south of Russia in the caucus region of what’s known as Eurasia. Georgia seceded from the Soviet Union in 1991 and has been through a lot of turmoil until relatively recently. Today, the “western” leaning country still has some border issues with Russia.
Georgia is quickly becoming a very popular destination thanks to its delicious food and culture. Georgian food is underrated around the world but is slowly growing in popularity. Did you know that Georgia is said to be the birthplace of wine?
I was excited to visit and dig into the local cuisine. So first let’s dig into the Georgia food that you must try.
Must Try Georgian Food
Every culture seems to have its own version of a dumpling (see: ravioli, pierogi, momo, shumai, gyoza, kreplach, pelmeni, manti, empanadas, xiao long bao, knish and more!). The Georgian food known as khinkali has a flour wrapper which is typically filled with meat, but nowadays you can find them also filled with cheese, mushrooms or potato. This is meant to be eaten with your hands. The trick to eating them: pick it up by the thicker top knot “handle” (which is usually not eaten) and take a bite while tilting your head back and suck in the juices so as not to make a mess.
Khachapuri (cheese-filled bread)
Bread (puri) in Georgia is a big deal. Everyone loves this Georgian “pizza” which is also the country’s national dish. Basically a gooey cheese-filled bread, it’s typically filled with sulguni, a local cheese with thick pats of butter an egg cracked on top. Locals pull pieces of the bread of and dip it in the cheese.
There are several different kinds which originate in various regions of the country. Imeruli is sort of like a cheese filled quesadilla. Megruli has cheese inside and on top. And Acharuli is the heartier version that is shaped like a bloated canoe with the thick cheese, butter and egg. It’s a very hearty dish and to avoid a heart attack, I’d recommend sharing!
Beans are a staple in Georgian food. Lobio is basically a plate or bowl of kidney beans. The beans are slightly mashed and mixed with herbs and spices. Sometimes it was served like more of a soup. I preferred the thick and creamy version akin to Mexican refried beans.
Lobiani (Bean-filled bread)
Keeping with the bean theme, lobiani is a hearty yet flaky bean filled flat bread.
Sulguni is the national cheese of Georgia. Somewhat similar to fresh mozzarella, it’s salty and delicious!
Georgian food definitely has its meaty dishes. But there are also many vegetable-based dishes to try. Pkhali is a variety of veggie spreads or pâtés – often made with beets, carrots, or spinach mixed with garlic, herbs, and walnuts and commonly that are served with bread.
Badrijai Nigvzit (eggplant and walnuts)
This vegetarian appetizer is one of my favorites. Thin slices of eggplant are cooked in oil until soft, a layer of paste of walnuts, vinegar, and spices is spread on top and then each eggplant slice is rolled up and served.
Nope, that’s not lumpy wax pillar candles you see hanging by strings in the markets, it’s a sweet Georgian treat know as churchkhela. It basically consists of walnuts covered with dried concentrated grape juice. Locals say stick with ones with muted colors. They call it a “Georgian snickers.” I wasn’t a big fan and definitely would say it’s nothing like a Snickers – the only similarity is both have nuts.
The process of making Georgian wine is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage tradition. Georgians have been making wine for 8,000 years in qvevris or huge clay jars Grapes are crushed and the juice with skins and stems pours into the qvevri where it ferments. Georgian white wine is a deep amber color and Georgian red wine is so dark they call it black wine.
Perhaps the most easy to pronounce yet for me, the hardest to drink. Chacha is a strong brandy made with the grape residue from winemaking.
Watch the video for What to Eat in Georgia!
Where to Eat in Tbilisi
Ezo (16 G. Kikodze St)
Located in Tbilisi’s charming Sololaki neighborhood, an area of many 19th-century apartments-turned-cafés, Ezo (courtyard) serves a menu of veg-leaning homestyle dishes made from local, organically grown produce. I loved the courtyard vibe and our family-style meal with lots of great breads, cheese, pkhali and wine of course!
Shavi Lomi (28 Zurab Kvlividze St)
Hidden behind a painted door in Marjanishvili, an arty ‘hood across the river from old town, Shavi Lomi (the Black Lion) is a beautiful garden oasis. If the weather is nice, definitely eat outside. If not, the inside is more like eating in your grandma’s home with vintage furnishings and décor.
Fabrika (8 Egnate Ninoshvili St)
Just a few blocks from Shavi Lomi is Fabrika. Housed in a former Soviet sewing factory, this hip, urban spot is more like a food hall and market space with various cafes, restaurants and shops. It’s also home to a trendy hostel. It’s surrounded by a healthy, local art scene and quite a few murals.
Café Leila (18 Ioane Shavteli St)
Colorful Café Leila serves traditional Georgian cuisine with a twist — everything here is vegetarian. It’s a small room with a traditional, Moorish-inspired theme. I recommend eating on the outdoor, front patio which sits along a pedestrian route.
Salobie Bia (14 Ivane Machabeli St)
Located near the old town, this restaurant is a Georgian institution. Salobie Bia (bean house) has been dishing out great lobio for decades now. It’s warm and cozy and when we visited, crowded. We ate with other locals at a long, communal table. It’s like Georgian comfort food on a cold evening.
There are a few locations of Pasanauri, which specializes in khinkali. I was lucky enough to be staying in an Airbnb right across the street from one so it was my very first meal in Georgia. You can choose between a traditional khinkali dumpling, which starts at 30 cents. Vegetarian options are available with mushrooms or potatoes. Pasanauri also offers popular cold dishes like Badrijai Nigvzit (eggplant and walnuts), salads, and traditional soups.
Zakhar Zakharich (3 Right Bank, Mshrali Bridge)
A little hard to find, Zakhar Zakharich also has great khinkali made from hand-mixed dough. Varieties include lamb, beef, mushroom, potato, and cheese. IT’s located near a flea market alongside the river. The service was a little brusque, but otherwise a fine experience.
Dezertirebi – Deserter’s Bazaar (Corner of Abastumani and Tsinamdzgvrishvili)
Located near the main train station, come here to experience the sights and smells of Tbilisi’s largest open-air market. The chaotic and lively market is spread out over several buildings with vendors indoors and out selling everything and anything like spices, cheese, meat, chacha, churchkhela, produce and more.
Old Bakery (13/40 Sioni St)
For some of the freshest breads in town, head to this old bakery under the Sioni Church, right off the main tourist street. Watch the breads being made in The traditional, cylindrical terracotta oven (tone) in which heat is produced from the bottom and bread is baked on the hot sides.
Keto & Kote (Zandukeli Dead End, 3, T)
For something a bit more trendy visit Keto and Kote near the Rustaveli metro stop. The large, romantic space has wood-clad celings, balconies, corbels, and lots of plants. Plus there’s a large courtyard with great views of the city. Food is traditional Georgian with a modern twist.
Some other restaurants recommended to me that I did not get a chance to eat at:
- Shemomechama (Mtskheta street #8)
- Aristaeus Ethno Wine Bar (Kote Afkhazi 42)
- Skola Coffee and Wine Bar (80 Zakaria Paliashvili Street)
Tbilisi Food Tour
For a great overview of Georgian cuisine and where to eat in Tbilisi, I highly recommend a food tour with Culinary Backstreets. I took their “Tbilisi: Old Market & Beyond” tour and loved it. About six of us were on this tour which lasted at least six hours and zig zagged to several locations across the city.
Our guide, Tamar, not only taught us about food, but also about Georgian history, some of their struggles, and culture. We tasted bread and lobiani at one of the city’s oldest bakeries, tried a local honey, drank wine at a hip wine bar, drank the potent chacha at the Deserter’s Bazaar, and even sat down to a tasty meal at the lovely Ezo.
Check out Culinary Backstreet’s “The Best Bites 2021: Tbilisi,” article which sums up some different must-try foods around Tbilisi.
General Travel Logistics for Tbilisi
ATMs are everywhere. Watch for skimmers.
Credit Cards seemed widely accepted.
The Metro is fast, easy, and cheap! You get a Metromony card (cost 2 Lari—less than $1). You can refill it at machines located at the stations (with cash only). Each ride is only .50 Lari (which is like 0.15 USD!). Plus you can ride again for free within 90 minutes of first ride.
In high season rail tickets (for going to other cities) can sell out. Best to buy ahead. You can go to train station in person, or just buy online. I bought online here with no problem: https://biletebi.ge
You can choose the English version of the page. You have to register, but once you purchase, you can show your ticket on your mobile phone when boarding the train.
SIM cards for your mobile are super cheap and I’d highly recommend getting one for your unlocked mobile phone. The card itself is free and I paid about $5 for 5 GB of data which was more than enough for a week.
This is a tough one! It’s super unique, has its own alphabet (that does not use Latin letters), and no one else in the world uses this language. In the tourist areas, many speak English and Russian. And most young people speak English as they now learn it in school at an early age.
Know a few words in Georgian:
- Hello: Gamar-joba
- Goodbye: Nak-vam-dis
- Thank you: Mad-loba
➙ Need a place to stay? Use my airbnb link for up to $45 off your first stay!