Russians Lap up Georgian Cuisine (yup, that’s how much their own sucks)

The Independent reports (click the “cuisine” category in our sidebar to read more about Russian food and drink, if so it can be called):

At the newly opened Café Khachapuri, just off Pushkin Square right in the heart of Moscow, young Muscovites tuck into plates of coriander-infused chakhokhbili chicken stew, spicy lobio beans and the eponymous khachapuri – gooey cheesy bread.

None of these exotic Georgian dishes tastes like the bland indigenous Russian food, and nor do their consonant-heavy names roll off the Slavic tongue easily. But everyone knows exactly what they’re ordering. Georgian food, perhaps the tastiest and most exciting of cuisines in all the former Soviet countries, has long been popular in Russia, and as new restaurants spring up across the capital, its popularity is going from strength to strength.

In these cheerful surroundings there are only small hints as to the bitterness of relations between Russia and its small neighbour to the south, which led to the two countries fighting a bitter war in the summer of 2008. The first is the wine list. Going for a Georgian meal is somewhat equivalent in the Russian popular psyche to “going for an Indian” in Britain, except that instead of washing the food down with five pints of Cobra, the standard etiquette is to knock back glasses of sweet Georgian wine. Georgia prides itself as being the birthplace of wine, and in Soviet times citizens from Vilnius to Vladivostok would enjoy the luxury of uncorking a bottle of sweet Georgian red.

But on Café Khachapuri’s menu there is no mention of Tsinandali, Mukuzani, or any of the other tasty Georgian wine varieties that diners might order if they were eating the same food at one of Tbilisi’s outdoor cafés. There’s not even Kvanchkara, the sickly sweet red that brings back memories of the Soviet times for Russians. Ever since 2006, Georgian wine and mineral water has been banned in Russia, ostensibly due to safety regulations, but in reality due to thinly disguised political concerns.

But the ban on Georgian wine, which had a devastating effect on the Georgian economy, has not stopped Russians’ love for the country’s cuisine, even if they have to settle for French or Chilean wine to go with it.

“Everybody in Moscow loves Georgian food,” says Tina Kandelaki, a Georgian who is one of Russia’s leading television presenters and a strong critic of Georgia’s government. “All the best parties in Moscow these days end with Georgian dancing and Georgian food.”

Part of this is down to the continued presence of a huge Georgian diaspora in Russia. A spokeswoman for the Union of Georgians in Russia estimated that there are between 1 million and 1.5 million ethnic Georgians living in the country. Many of these are well-settled professionals – the chief cardiologist of Moscow, the city’s most famous sculptor and a whole host of media personalities are all Georgian – while others are part of the legion of migrant labourers from former Soviet lands who come to Russia because salaries are higher than in their home countries.

In 2006, during a crisis between the two countries that preceded the war, Russian authorities were accused of organising a modern-day pogrom against Georgians and Georgian interests. Georgian restaurants were raided, schools were told to check for pupils with Georgian surnames, and many Georgians living in the Russian capital were deported. Now, however, the Union of Georgians in Russia claim there are “no problems at all” for Georgians in the country. “The number of Georgian restaurants is a good sign of how Georgians in Russia are thriving. There are so many in Moscow it’s impossible to count them,” said the Union’s spokeswoman. One Moscow listings website has details of 261 Georgian restaurants in the capital.

Governmental relations between Russia and Georgia have never recovered from the 2008 war, which saw a Georgian incursion into a breakaway zone repulsed by a Russian counter-offensive. As a result of the conflict, Russia recognised South Ossetia, and Georgia’s other breakaway state of Abkhazia, as independent nations. Meanwhile, the Russian leadership has declared the Georgian President, Mikheil Saakashvili, a “political corpse”, and has said there will be no contact between the two governments while he remains in power.

In recent weeks, two prominent Georgian opposition leaders have travelled to Moscow for talks aimed at improving the climate of vitriol between the two countries. Nino Burjanadze, formerly one of Mr Saakashvili’s closest allies but now a bitter opponent, was in the Russian capital last week, and even held a televised meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Zurab Nogaideli, a former prime minister who is also now in opposition to the government, arrived in Moscow last night for a second visit in the space of a few months, saying that he wanted to resolve trade issues with the Russian authorities.

Supporters of Mr Saakashvili, who is due to remain in power until 2013, say that this is little short of a deliberate attempt by Russia to destabilise the political situation in Georgia.

“How you can talk to Putin when his forces are occupying parts of our country?” asked Alexander Rondeli, a leading Georgian political analyst. “It’s a very clever idea from the Russians but I don’t think the population will buy it; they will see them as traitors.”

The vitriol continues to fly from both sides, with Georgians accusing Mr Putin of being a bully and a war criminal, and Russians accusing Mr Saakashvili of being an unstable madman who started the 2008 war due to his own recklessness.

But with all trade and air links between Russia and Georgia cut, no contact except insults between the governments, and the television channels in each country churning out propaganda about the other, Georgian restaurants in Russia go from strength to strength.

“The terrible relations between Russia and Georgia haven’t affected Russians’ love for Georgian food,” says Ms Kandelaki. “In fact, since the war, people are eating it more and more. You can love Georgian food without loving Saakashvili. It’s too tasty to give up just because of one person.”

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40 responses to “Russians Lap up Georgian Cuisine (yup, that’s how much their own sucks)

  1. I have a friend, a former governor of the Federal Reserve Board, who went to a Georgian restaurant in Moscow in 2005 when we were there for a conference. I begged off going, which was a good thing, because he and his dinner companions were chased down the street by a gang that wanted to rob them.

    He said the food was good, though.

    That same night, when I was on my way back to my hotel, the execrable Hotel Rossia (which I stayed at as a lark, just to say I’d been in such a Soviet landmark), I was confronted by a pack of wild dogs. In Red Square. They looked harmless, but the Italian finance professor I was with started screaming about how she was scared of dogs. So I yelled at them, and they scattered.

    Ain’t Moscow great!

  2. Just the usual situation of the Russians, they want Ukraine, Georgia et al, but without the Georgians and Ukrainians……

  3. Thank you, LR, for telling the perspective travelers that when in Moscow, they should definitely go to one of many Georgian restaurants there.

    Georgian cuisine is great. BTW, so is Armenian and Azeri. They are all part of the Near Eastern cuisine.

    Southern countries tend to have a much better varieties of vegetables and fruits that can grow there.

    Southern food is also much spicier than northern food. In Middle Ages, European empires went to wars over spices from India.

    Russians love Georgian cuisine just like the Brits love Indian cuisine, or like Americans love Mexican cuisine.

    I personally love Thai food. I have even planted a kaffir lime tree in my garden.

    When you visit London, I strongly recommend you go to a good Indian or Pakistani restaurant.

    When you visit Moscow, I strongly recommend you go to a good Georgian or Azeri restaurant.

    Bon appétit, everybody.

    • Does that suggest that British and American food sucks? Apparently that’s the criterion here – if you like to eat foreign food such as Italian or Chinese, it’s because your own national cuisine “sucks”.

      Just another example of small-minded pettiness and pathological hatred of everything Russian, as if bliny or golubtsy were some sort of direct menace to free-market democracy. Another symphony from the band that can only play one note.

      Thanks for your informative comment on Georgian food, RTR. I love spicy food myself, and your description makes it sound enticing indeed.

      • What is ironic here is that the above article parlays a pro-Russian message: that “ there are no problems at all for Georgians in Russia” and “Georgians in Russia are thriving“.

        But some people are like Pavlovian dogs: they saw that this article calls the Russian cuisine “bland”, decided that this article was damning to Russia, and reproduced it here. Thank god for that.

  4. Recently I made Crabsticks Salad and thought it was pretty good. Although I am a neophyte to Russian cuisine I suspect its record could best be described as spotty. Some good, some bad, some so so. LR is right though that Russia should perhaps try to improve its record here. Nothing wrong with trying to improve yourself!

  5. Georgian food is not bad.
    But the wine is a pure crap. Georgians themselves call it ‘faecal pulp’.

    • Never heard any Georgian refer to it as that.

      Obviously you have never had Telani Valley, or Kindzmaruli, or Bagrationi to name but a few.

      However ouch, as we all know, Russian wine is truly excreable, as is most Russian food.

      • No sane person would drink these ‘Minassali’ and ‘Vasobmanuli’ when decent wines from all around the globe are freely accessible.

        • Well, just showing your idiocy again.

          Georgian wines took top place in several international competitions.

          Unlike any wine produced in Russia in recent times one might add….

      • BTW Russian and Azerbaijan wines are infinitely better than Georgian.

        • More BS, Russian wine is like paint stripper.

          Armenian is OK, but Georgian wines are getting excellent reviews by international wine experts, while Russian wines are derided.

          • http://www.georgianwinehouse.com/News.asp

            Teliani Valley Teliani 2004 wins silver medal

            The competition “Concours Mondial de Bruxelles” organized by VINOPRES took place in the Center Congresses “MECC” in Maastricht (Netherlands) from the 29 April to 1 May 2007. At the competition 5735 wines and spirits from around the world (47 producing countries, with some ‘exotic’ destinations like Bolivia, Philippines, Barbados and … the Netherlands!) were blind-tasted and assessed by panel of 220 renowned œnologists, sommeliers and journalists (see attached photo). At the end of the three days of careful tasting, 1614 best vintages were awarded. Out of 14 Georgian wines which were presented to the competition, the following three wines won silver medals, including Teliani Valley – Teliani 2004

            Teliani Wines Awarded in France

            The Challenge International du Vin is the biggest French international wines competition and one of the most famous wine event in the world thanks to numerous assets. The competition was awarded approval by the European Community in 1986 and is governed by the rules of the “International Code of Oenological Practices for Vines and Wines”. It is almost 30 years in existence and represents France’s very first international competition. Over 30 countries participate in this competition every year. Roughly 5,000 samples are tasted at each edition. Depending on the performance of the wines entered, the Challenge tasters award three medals: gold, silver and bronze. Only about 25% of the samples in the competition are awarded a medal of some kind. The wines of PLC Teliani Valley “Teli”- white dry wine and “Mukuzani”- red wine were awarded silver medals.

            And Russians have to try to pass off their dogs piss as Georgian wine in a vain attempt to sell any…..

    • Ouch,
      Georgian wines are becoming more and more popular in the USA so thank you, Russia, for pushing the good Georgian wines to the Western Hemisphere.

      • MCC,

        The only people who buy Georgian wines in USA are emigrants from the former USSR, and Russian emigrant food stores are pretty much the only stores that sell Georgian wine. But Azeris seem to be buying more Georgian wine:

        http://www.news.az/articles/7404

        2009 export of Georgian wine to Kazakhstan, Belarus, Latvia, Azerbaijan, China and several other countries grew over 2008

        However, BG reports that a significant decline has been fixed on the main sales market. By official information, Georgian wine export to Ukraine dropped 32% in 2009 as compared to 2008.
        ……………………………..

        I wonder why Ukrainians are refusing to buy Georgian wine.

        Is it because Ukrainians are boycotting Saakashvili’s aggression in 2008? Or is it just because the sanitary quality of Georgian wines continues to fall?

  6. BTW the topic is ‘Russians lap..’
    Interesting though no russian opinion presented there in the article. Only georgian.

  7. Ouch,
    I have NEVER heard about Russian wines – it must be an equivalent of the Soviet perfumes called ‘Krasnaya Moskva’ that, according to the Soviets was better then Chanel 5, 6 12 etc. what a cr….p!!!

    • Bloody soviets mostly promoted Georgian wines.
      All the big country had no other choice than their ‘bormotukha’. Let’s see how these maimunas will compete with France or California.

      • A,
        Ouch and the hordes of Russian alkoholics don’t know the difference between wine and cheap perfumes – they enjoy drinking the cheap Russian perfumes e.g., ‘krasnaya moskva’ or Stalin’s fart ‘ just to mention the few – the perfumes probably test better than a contaminated samogon.

    • mcc, do you really think Ouch knows the difference between wine and cheap perfume? :)

  8. You love a good Russian whine don’t you ouch?

    • If Russia invented a bullet that would kill only Russians, you people would mock and criticize it. How’s that promotion of Russia as a free market democracy thing working out for you? Much Russian interest in your plan, do you think?

      • People mocking and criticizing lies and Russian mendacity. How can one promote Russia as a free market democracy, when it’s neither free nor market nor democracy? Only by lying that it is all of those three things.

        I’ve never drunk any Georgian wines, they are not easy to get outside New York or Los Angeles. Perhaps I can order some via Internet. I’ll try to do that. Al that wine talk definitely made me want to try some Georgian wine to see what’s this fuss is about

        • “We are team blog, the work product of many dedicated and talented people working for a common goal: To see Russia become a prosperous, democratic, contributing member of the world community ”

          Then you will naturally endorse the removal of that objective from this blog’s mission statement. Your support is a pleasant surprise.

        • RV,

          Do you like sweet dessert wines? Georgian wines tend to be way too sweet for the American palate.

          • Well, I love a good Portuguese Port and Italian Marsala. And cherry is great too to my taste. So, if Georgian wines are like that, I guess I have something to look forward to

            • Yes, in a way. Plus they have their own unique aromas: Kinzmarauli, Akhasheni, Khvanchkara.

              Unfortunately, quality vintage Georgian wines are rarely available outside of Georgia. If you taste the stuff they sell as “Georgian wine” here in USA, you will never understand what’s so special about Georgian wine.

  9. http://adm.rt.tv/Top_News/2010-03-04/georgia-saakashvili-hollywood-film.html

    The Saakashvili show must go on in Hollywood – US movie-trash factory. Funny movie that could be with the necktie version of the events to be added but I doubt it. You are free to do what you are told in the land of the Free.

  10. Sergey Shelukhin

    Ta-da! Village circus called LR continues! The only “American” food I can get here in a town in WA is inedible junk like subway, but the place is full of Mexican, Chinese, Japanese and whatever else food – and all these places are full of Americans! Hey, my street in downtown Vancouver had like 5-7 Chinese/Japanese/mixed places, Iranian tea place, Pizza (2 I guess, that would be Italian?), and Starbucks (at least something is North American! Or is it? Tastes like European to me!).
    The only famous northwest salmon you get in 9 places out of 10 is in the form of sashimi.

    Yes, Russians go to ethnic restaurants only because their food sucks, just as Americans and Canadians, with all the Chinese food because theirs tastes so terrible too!
    That is not mentioning how many Georgians are living in Moscow and also go to these places, and the fact that people all over the world would go to other cultures’ restaurants because their own is “just everyday food” for them.

    LR, seriously,are you posting this kind of junk to discredit other stuff you repost, that actually make sense; to look like a loonie?

    Btw, I bet that as an all-seeing eagle observing Russia you couldn’t miss this article about Russian cops and overall system and its absurdity: http://www.openspace.ru/society/projects/201/details/16563/page1/ , and you have all these staff and translators who should immediately jump on it?
    And I bet you already saw http://www.putinavotstavku.ru site and eager to post about it?
    Actually, forget it, I rather see you describe some Russian tennis player losing the game 0 a clear indication of barbarous cruelty of the regime!

  11. About russian wines:
    http://www.kovr.ru/522
    Recently Passport’s Knights of the Vine gathered to gauge the progress of Russian wineries. With a selection that included 28 bottles from the Metro discount cash-andcarry chain and eight more from Château Le Grand Vostock in Krasnodar region, Russia’s only modern winery, and Praskoveya Winery near Budyonnovsk in Stavropol region, preparation for the event reminded me of my first trip to a Russian winery, in September 1992.
    http://www.wine-fest.com/drinks/en/news/index.php?news=778
    The sweet Ice Wine 2006, which has lots of awards at the international competitions, was also mentioned by the guests and experts. The dry white wine “Chardonnay Myskhako”, which is one of the best examples of European quality, has interested the guests as well. In 2004 this wine got a bronze medal, and in 2006 the silver medal at the leading international competition The International Wine & Spirit Competition in London.

  12. GEORGIAN WINE, WATER TAKE THE BACK DOOR TO RUSSIA?
    Nino Patsuria 6/18/09

    Three years after Moscow banned agricultural imports from Georgia, a Kremlin-financed business publication claims that Georgian wine, mineral water, fruit and vegetables are now entering Russia via third countries.

    Supplies of Georgian-produced wine, mineral water, fruit jams and tea to Russia more than tripled between January and April 2009, the Russian Business-Gazette (part of the state-run Rossiiskaya Gazeta) claimed in a May 5 article. Azerbaijan, Belarus and Armenia were named as the chief transit countries. Sources for the data were not provided.

    Russia banned the import of Georgian wines, mineral water, fruits and vegetables for alleged sanitary reasons in 2006. Georgian exports to Russia declined by more than half after the embargo went into effect, according to the Georgian National Statistics Service.

    Both Georgian and Russian government officials state that they have no knowledge of whether or not the goods are entering Russia via other countries. The head of one prominent Georgian business association, however, told EurasiaNet that such exports do, in fact, take place.

    “I have some information that Georgian products — wine and mineral water or bay leaves, for example — are taken to some third country — say, Azerbaijan — and bottled and packed there by a local company,” said Jemal Inaishvili, president of the Georgian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “This kind of product then enters Russia as produced in Azerbaijan or Belarus — not in Georgia — as a re-export.”

    Inaishvili said that “two to three” Georgian companies are reportedly involved in such transactions with Azerbaijani firms, but stated that he does not know their names. That lack of knowledge, however, does not apparently extend to the size of the trade — Inaishvili claimed that Georgia’s re-export transactions to Russia are “not so important” because the volume of such exports via Azerbaijan is “insignificant.”

    Leading Georgian wine and mineral water companies contacted by EurasiaNet maintained that they are not re-exporting their products to Russia via third countries.

    One investment expert in Tbilisi, however, affirms that Georgian firms have been re-exporting wine to Russia since immediately after the 2006 embargo went into effect.

    “In fact, we do know that Georgian wines and other products have been re-exported via Ukraine immediately after the embargo was established and via Moldova as soon as the embargo on Moldovan [wine] products was lifted [in 2007],” commented Ditrikh Muller, an economic expert with the Georgian Investment Group, a brokerage and market research firm. Muller did not identify by name the firms allegedly using re-exports to access Russia.

    Both Georgia and Russia have a free trade regime with Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan, which means that customs fees are not imposed. One Georgian businessperson named dodging Russian customs fees as a key incentive for Georgian companies to consider a re-export strategy.

    Aside from transportation, the largest cost would come in the form of the take paid to re-export brokers. Companies fulfilling that function for Georgian re-exports to non-Russian markets typically charge a “50-percent” take of the sales profit, according to economic expert Dato Narmania, who qualified the transactions as legal, but “an extremely private business.”

    Tbilisi’s options for travel to Russia recently expanded with the resumption of daily flights to Yerevan and on to Moscow with Armenian airline Armavia. A Georgian cargo service representative named Armavia as the cheapest option for cargo shipments to Russia from Tbilisi: Armavia charges roughly $1 per 100-300 kilos of Moscow-bound cargo, while cargo to Kiev costs roughly 70 cents (50 euro cents) and to Baku $1.50. Rates are determined by shipment frequency, size and distance, as well as overall volume of trade with a given market.

    The Russian Business-Gazette named Belarus and Azerbaijan as the re-export partners of choice, but Airzena’s Lakia stated that cargo demand for Minsk is a mere fraction of shipments to Ukraine, Georgia’s third-largest trading partner after Turkey and Azerbaijan.

    Some leading Georgian companies argue, however, that air fares mean that they would have little incentive to ship cargo to Moscow by plane via a third country.

    “Even legal cargo transportation via air is ten times as expensive as via sea or ground. We use air shipments very seldom . . . .” said Giorgi Margvelashvili, general director of Tbilvino, one of Georgia’s largest wineries.

    Tariffs for cargo shipped between the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti and the Russian Black Sea port of Kavkaz were halved in April. The ferry line currently only operates for Armenia-related cargo.

    The lack of diplomatic ties between Georgia and Russia makes it difficult to verify whether or not genuine Georgian food products have been able to penetrate the Russian market. A spokesperson for Russia’s Ministry of Economic Development claimed that it was not within his competency to assess the Russian Business Gazette report or to provide referrals to officials who could.

    Georgian officials also declined to comment.

    “I cannot make any comment [about re-exports of Georgian goods to Russia] since I do not know for a fact that any Georgian product is sold anywhere in Russia,” commented Economic Development Minister Lasha Zhvania.

    One Georgian economist, however, argues that demand alone suggests that Georgian products — albeit as contraband — have found their way into Russia. Russia accounted for roughly 56 percent of Georgian wine exports and 73 percent of its mineral water exports before the 2006 embargo went into effect, according to government data.

    “Do you really think that the Russian governmental supervisory structures are so powerful that they will not miss a single case of contraband?” asked Paata Sheshelidze, president of Tbilisi’s libertarian New Economic School. “. . . Demand defines supply. There is a demand for Georgian products and some smart guys are making money, that’s all.”

  13. Georgians and Ukrainians are natural friends. In the US, a Ukrainian restaurant has Georgian Cuisine on the menu. There were many parties and much dancing. The Georgian Music and folk dance I could not get enough of.

    The only problem just once, was a drunken paranoid Rashan who wandered in drunk and took his shirt off, then ran outside, in winter, with D.T.’s. putting his back to a building and starring wild eyed at people passing by, just some animal that everyone ignored.

    There was much toasting between Georgians and Ukrainians, and one of the them was, something like this: “I would jump in front, and take the bullet that was meant for you.” I always thought those Georgians really meant it.

  14. Russians Lap up Georgian Cuisine (yup, that’s how much their own sucks)

    Very logical. And Americans lap up French, Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese and Thai Cuisine (yup, that’s how much their own sucks). :-)

    Is there any country on Earth that doesn’t “lap up” any foreign cuisine?

    • RTR,

      The point that you missed is that Rashan Cuisine just plain sucks, and is very heavy with fat, even salads. Nothing fresh for the most.

      Best reason for McDonnalds there, and no chain restaurant from Mosckovia here in the USA.

      • You’re talking about ukrainian food.
        It’s disgustingly fat and tastes like a vomit indeed.

        BTW, how many georgian chain restaurants are there in USA?

      • Georg,

        Go visit Russia, Georgia or Ukraine one day. You will discover that the food in these countries is very good.

        Your problem is that the only Ukrainian/Russian food you have eaten comes from your Uke-Australian grandparents with poor cooking skills.

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