Tbilisi, Georgia is a place with a rich European culture, a long and colorful history, and one of the best culinary cultures in the Caucasus. Georgian cuisine, as exotic as I first thought it was, once I got a taste of it, made me go back again and again to get another taste of its diverse flavors. I always love to experience the local life whenever I go to a new country, and what better way to do that than to immerse myself in their food. That’s why I made it a hobby of mine as I go around the world to enroll in a cooking class or go on a food tour through the markets where the best things are always found.
I figured that if I have the time, I might as well try both! I joined a culinary backstreets tour Tbilisi made up of a small group of five led by one Paul Rimple, a native Californian who has been living in Georgia for 11 years and has a contagious enthusiasm for Georgian cuisine. Paul knows the city like the back of his hand and made great recommendations where we can get the best meals and where we can get the freshest ingredients during the very worthwhile seven-hour tour.
Old Market & Beyond: Food Tour by Culinary Backstreets in Tbilisi
For a foodie, the Old Market & Beyond Food Tour by Culinary Backstreets in Tbilisi is a dream. It seems like we visited every nook and cranny the culinary side of Tbilisi has to offer and I’m sure there are still a lot more food spots to discover. Paul took made us experience everything like tasting traditional Georgian food, exploring the countless stalls in Dezeter Bazaar, wine tasting, and eating at a family-owned restaurant called Ezo. We learned a lot about Georgian cuisine, that the traditional food full of cheeses are always fresh, locally grown, and made.
Paul led us to Old Town for the first part of the tour. Inside a seminary in its basement is a bakery where traditional Georgian bread is made. We watched the bakers make their fresh bread using traditional tandoori-style ovens while Paul explained to us that the dough is glued to the oven wall for it to bake and the bakers have to dive in the hot oven to stick the dough to the oven wall by hand. It was a sight to witness.
We got to eat hot Puri that I have trouble slowing down consuming because it was so fresh and good. Paul also pointed out that the store next door makes a really good khinkali or traditional Georgian dumplings which I went to the next day. The khinkali was indeed good and the owners even taught me how to prepare khinkali and how to eat it with my hands using the knob of dough at the top as a handle.
After the bakery, Paul purchased loaf to go and he said “we will need this for later”. Paul took us to the biggest, vibrant, fresh market in Tbilisi, Dezerter Bazaar. It got is name in the 1920s where the soldiers from the Russia-Georgian war started selling off their weapons here. Now, I see no weapons in sight, but if you want to experience local life, the market is the place to go. Paul said that the market is not a place where most people love going to but it’s somewhere he enjoyed spending his time in. We spent at least three hours in the huge market with countless stalls and fresh produce and meat everywhere. The vibrant colors and fresh smells are a party for the senses. It simply has everything that’s needed to prepare Georgian cuisine.
The Georgian vendors were just as vibrant as the foods they sell. Everywhere we go there are smiles and welcome greetings. We were allowed to get a taste of everything that the vendors, stall owners and dealers proudly present. Most of the time, they asked us what country we were from. I guess they were just curious too.
Paul took us to his favorite stalls. He took us to this stall selling these fresh, high-quality Georgian sauce and introduced us to the stall owner Tina, who was quite lovely. Like any Georgian tradition, she starts out by handing out Cha-Cha. After last night’s big night, Yes, I had arrived in Tbilisi on a Friday night, greeted by fellow bloggers who knew how to have a good time. I definitely had tried a lot of Cha-Cha. As much as I loved Tina, this was a shot I couldn’t do.
10 minutes prior to arriving here, Paul just introduced us to Matsoni , a cheesy flavored yoghurt with thick cream. He claimed that every Georgian would call this the perfect cure to a hang-over. This, and Borjomi. After a big night, perhaps every tour in Georgia should start with a Matsoni.
Going back, Paul brings out his loaf of bread that we had purchased earlier and he gave us samples of Tina’s sauces. We began with plum sauce, then adjika paste and finally something he called, Georgian Salsa. Everyone knows I am a sauce/ spice girl therefore I enjoyed everything in Tina’s store. I actually thought, if only I was heading home after Georgia, I would have purchased more but unfortunately not. I didn’t have space in my luggage but I did make space for the Georgian Salsa. It was Day 2 in Tbilisi anyway, I still had 2 weeks in Georgia. I could use it for breakfast.
Paul also took us to Louisa, who manages his favorite spice stall in the market. She handed us a sample of something called Tbilisi Salt which just by the smell of it is really good. She had lots of mixes of spices and each one smelled so delicious, perfect for seasoning dishes. Paul also made us taste the best pickles in the market, fresh vegetables and finally he brought us to the cheese stations in the market where we got to try the best cheese and this favorite Georgian food that was cheese inside of cheese with more cheese. It was crazy fun!
Our final stop in the market was to try home-made Georgian wine that was really cheap. Paul said he liked bringing his guests here so that they can differentiate home-made wines from bottled wines which he was going to take us next. Paul shared a lot of insights about Georgian parties and what not and in my head, I just thought, I could really live here. My first full day in Georgia and I was already loving the cuisine and the atmosphere ( plus the fact that it’s been really cheap).
Next, Paul took us to an underground cellar called Vino Underground were we were given a taste of two red wines and two white wines Georgia has to offer. Georgia has a long history of wine-making which is something they take seriously, Paul explained. So when in Georgia, taste their wine. One of the guests said that wine is Georgia is so good and so cheap that he was actually taking bottles to bring home with him in Switzerland. After trying the wine, I understood what he meant.
Paul ended the tour with the six of us having supper in a family-owned restaurant called Ezo where. It was the perfect conclusion of a great food tour where the dishes that were served barely fit on the table but were a perfect representation of Georgian flavors that we’ve been sampling all day. The restaurant was often frequented by locals and it truly brings the feeling of us living in the city, just like everybody else, not just as a tourist visiting.
Paul entertained us with Georgian history and the evolution of its cuisine as well as his personal stories here in Georgia. After which when the meal is done, we said our greetings and went our separate ways with our newfound knowledge and enthusiasm for Georgian cuisine. We are now off to explore the food scene of Georgia on our own. Paul did a great job with the tour. One of the best experiences I’ve had for sure.
I have to say, it was my first 7 hour food tour with Culinary Backstreets and it included a lot of tastings but also a lot of insights to local life. I’ve always enjoyed food tours so perhaps I’d like to try some of their other tours in other cities around the world. If ever you’re in Georgia, don’t miss the chance to try it out. We had a full day to understand Georgian food, history, culture in the presence of likeminded people. Definitely a good way to start my holidays in Georgia.
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