The Khachapuri Index: It’s a genius way of describing something in terms that all Georgians can understand and relate to their life. All Georgians know and love khachapuri. It’s the national dish. Georgians eat it at home, they eat it on the street, they eat it in restaurants. If they don’t personally bake it, they buy it. The Khachapuri Index is used as a measure of inflation because the cost of ingredients needed to bake it in different parts of Georgia is monitored so that everyone gets at least a snapshot about how the Georgian economy is humming along. The Tbilisi State University announces the index every month.
Khachapuri is a cheese-filled bread. There are many recipes and I feel quite sure that all of them are wonderful. It has been said that there are as many variations as there are kitchens and everyone thinks their mom makes the best. I mean, really, it’s cheese and bread; what could go wrong? The different regions of Georgia have their own local variations with meat, vegetables, and herbs being the most popular fillings. It often has molten cheese in the center and the bread is torn off and dipped into the delicious gooeyness. In one province, mashed beans are used as filling and in another province, the bread is stuffed with onions and potatoes. Sometimes it comes with a cracked egg taking center stage. Some people liken it to pizza, but it came along way before pizza. People actually say that a dish like khachapuri was mentioned by Greek writers in the fifth century BC, but the word “khachapuri” was not put into writing until 1725. Ala, our fabulous guide in Turkey, warned me that the food in Georgia is crazy-good. I will admit that a lot of the food here doesn’t exactly rock my world, but I do love me some khachapuri.
Khachapuri is one of those beloved foods that everyone seems to feel the need to trace back to the Garden of Eden. I’m pretty sure Eve didn’t bake it, but there are those who really believe that it dates back to the twelfth century. I read that a retired professor named Dali Tsatava thinks it was brought by Roman soldiers who crossed Europe and passed through the Black Sea area bringing recipes a long time before tomatoes arrived on the culinary scene. I will admit that I’m skeptical. Soldiers bringing recipes? Where were they going? Home to mom? Were they bringing dirty clothes, too? Darra Goldstein wrote the book on Georgia food. It is appropriately called The Georgian Feast. She points out that “khacha” means cheese curds and the second half of the word, “puri,” means bread in Georgian. Plus, the little unassuming hunk of yumminess is chock full of symbolism. It is sometimes called cheeseboat and here is why: The shape is often boat-shaped to represent a boat along the coast of Georgia and the egg that is sometimes dropped right in the middle of the cheese represents the setting sun, and of course, the cheese represents the sea. This particular variation is called the Adjarian.
We were fortunate to spend the afternoon at a cooking school getting hands-on practice at making khachapuri. We had such fun and it was surprising how well they turned out. Sadly, we were all way too full from lunch to really enjoy them, but it was fun anyway. Our van driver went home with enough to feed his entire neighborhood. Below are pictures of our time at the cooking school. (Remember that if you want to read the captions, you will need to go to www.lawsonsontheloose.com because good old WordPress has a glitch here that doesn’t show captions in the email.)
Khachapuri had its moment in the sun at the Winter Olympics in 2014 when 175,000 breads were sold around Sochi. And because New York City has the largest population of Georgians on this side of the globe, restaurants serving khachapuri are rising everywhere. If you decide to try your hand at making khachapuri, keep in mind that it may be difficult to obtain chkinti-kweli cheese, but I think Google has plenty of suggestions for substitutions. Be sure to bake some on February 27 to celebrate Georgia’s National Khachapuri Day. I am loading a bunch of pictures of the different types of khachapuri to inspire you to get into the kitchen.