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Early on during my time visiting Georgia it became clear that food was going to be an important part of my experience there. Like many things with Georgia, the cuisine was unlike anything I’d really encountered before. I naturally started with Georgia’s most famous dish – khachapuri – which only spurred me on to try more national dishes. It wasn’t long before I set my sights on khinkali, curious-looking Georgian dumplings.
Over my two weeks in Georgia, I ended up eating khinkali quite a few times, because yes they’re delicious. That on its own doesn’t warrant a write-up really. No, the reason I thought I’d share this little short story is the strange circumstances that went with me trying khinkali for the first time. It’s exactly the kind of strange encounter you get when you travel alone and are open to weird and wonderful moments.
After a day or two exploring Tbilisi, getting my hands on some khinkali rose to the top of my to-do list. I’d chatted with some other tourists earlier that day who had raved about the dumplings. Their advice was that I couldn’t miss out on khinkali in Georgia without a good reason. That kind of prompt is exactly what I love when chatting with fellow travellers.
A little google research told me two things.
The first related to the dumplings themselves. While I’d learned that khinkali are a Georgian take on dumplings, I didn’t actually know what was in them. Georgian cuisine tends to incorporate a lot of different flavours and ingredients, from egg and cheese to nuts and grapes, so there was no way to confidently guess what they might be stuffed with. Having only had my first sweet pierogi several months earlier, I was trying to keep an open mind.
Turns out khinkali are typically made with meats like pork and beef, although there are also ones with mushroom as well. As someone who loves mushrooms and meat, it was music to my ears. Once cooked, the dumplings tend to fill with a tasty broth, similar in a way to soup dumplings from China. That last fact seemed to skip my notice, allowing a nice surprise later on.
Second on that list was where I could get them in Tbilisi. It turned out the nearest place, that also had great reviews, was the Khinkali House on Rustaveli. Appropriate, no?
The Student and Her Camera
Night fell and I made my way into the restaurant. The place was lively with plenty of large groups and large tables that seemed comical for someone dining alone. As I waited to be served, a woman in her late teens, early twenties approached me with camera in hand.
After establishing that I was a tourist that speaks English, she asked what is still one of the weirdest things I’ve heard on my travels.
“Can I photograph you while you eat here?” she asked quite nervously.
It turns out that she was a student with a photography project. She’d been asked to capture people doing an everyday activity and seemingly chose people eating a meal as her subject. As weird a request as it is, I decided to help her out, seeing no real downside in having a complete stranger watch me eat.
I chose to take her at her word that she really was doing it for a class, because who knows what else it could have been for. There was definitely a sense of relief in her voice when I said yes. She’d been asking people for over 1.5 hours and I was the first to agree.
A Model Khinkali-Eater
And so it began.
The shots started as soon as I was given the menu and ran right through my evening, right up until before I paid. She’d photograph each stage of the process, i.e. ordering, eating etc. and then move to the adjacent table and wait.
Hardly surprising, I felt pretty damn awkward and self-conscious though when the food came out and I started at it. That feeling only increased when I learned of the broth inside, making a real mess first time round. In later days I’d also learn that I was eating them completely wrong, adding fresh embarrassment to the whole moment.
Anyway, before leaving, she showed me a few of the photos that really weren’t flattering. Since I never had to see them again, I really didn’t care. And seeing as I got this little memory out of it, seems worth it in the long run.
Hot Tip for Eating Khinkali
You’re meant to eat khinkali by pinching them at the top, biting into them gently so they can vent. Then slurp out the broth and eat all but the nob at the top. Don’t use a knife and fork like I did!
But definitely try them if you have the chance in Georgia, or elsewhere for that matter. It actually turned out to be one of my favourite dishes in Georgia.
Have you tried khinkali either in Georgia or at a Georgian restaurant? Would you have let a stranger photograph you while you eat? Please share your thoughts in the comment below.
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