This country could have been a paradise on earth but it has more mines than people. Few decades ago master Kapuscinski used this sentence to describe Abkhazia. Today war is a history, nature is reborn and cities slowy get up from riuns but the overall image of the country is still far from paradise. One thing that amazed decades ago and is still something special is Abkhazian cuisine. Let us take you to the journy through tastes and smells of country that doesn’t exist.
All roads lead to Nartaa
When we were directing to Sukhum and asked around for the best place to eat there, everyone answered nothing else but Nartaa. Even on the north of the country they knew and recommend Nartaa as the best place with local food. Finaly we got there and liked the place so much that we spent couple of nights there, felt a little at home and even got to know the place behind the sceens. It is located at the seaside promenade, between the collonade and the old sea port. As majoity of restaurants on Caucasus the main part of the place consists of separate boxes, small cabins. In the evening it is more than full so to get a good seat one has to wait for some time on their patio.
After a few minutes of waiting we finally got our own box. Ola has just fallen asleep so we parked her stroller in the box where she could sleep in peace until the main point of the evening – food comes on the table. Our first impression when we looked at the menu: few familiar dishes, some strange names, many products from Russia, especially alcohols. As we were starving we ordered blind some appetizers and chachapuri. Last time we were on Caucasus last year and we allready missed this dish. Exactly as in neighbouring Georgia they serve it with cheese and egg, but definitely avoid name Adjarian, calling chachapuri a boat. Intentional omitting relations of things with Georgia we will notice later more than once but here it is a little strange as Adjara, just like Abkhazia, fought for their independence for a long time. Temporarily there was even Adjara ASRR and after the collapse of USSR, Adjara became an autonomous republic. Only in 2004 after Rose Revolution under the threat of military intervention they overthrew the leader of the autonomy Aslan Abaszydza and restored Tbilisi control over the republic. This unfortunately is Caucasus where even food can be political.
Coming back to the restaurant, during one of our visits, waiting for the food to came we were allowed to see the whole restaurant behind the scenes. Cooks told us how they prepare this awesome chachapuri. The most important is a good flour to make the dough, which is formed in small balls. After the time for rising dough is rolled flat and each piece has its sides wrapped, corners joined to create a basin where they put earlier prepared cheese. After baking this for a while they take it out from the oven and right in the middle they add a raw egg and bake for few minutes more. Imeretian and magrelian chachapuri is being made similar way but they are round and the cheese is baked inside.
Abkhazian cuisine is full of dishes of flour and dairy products but we were more than surprised seeing on the menu mamaliga (porridge of corn flour), which until then we associated only with Romania and Moldova. In this area of the world it is called „abysta”. Just like in Moldova it has many variations here, for example the one with fresh ayladzh cheese and is served in addition to other dishes.
Vegetable feast, the secret of longevity Abkhazians?
Appetizers and salads are served as the first. Fresh vegetables, tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, peppers usually as a salad with a bit of parsley and corriander are a must. Another popular salad is the one of beetroots and peppers, very often with spinach and of course walnuts. Bean is also something very popular in local cuisine, as a dish itself and as an ingredients of others. The common dish of beans is lobio – thick stew of mashed red beans, baked and served in clay pot. We usually order also fried eggplant slices with a delicious walnut paste and selection of local cheese.
Waiting for our chachapuri we are going through the menu one more time. There are few dishes of meat, mostly prepared in traditional manner, as shashlik from the charcoal grill. Lamb and polutry are the most popular but you will also find some selection of fish as Abkhazia is a seaside country. Fish, exactly like meat, are usually grilled or smoked. Although meat is on the menus, Abkhazian do not eat it too often.
Traditional Abkhazian diet was almost lacto-vegetarian, what suited us perfeclty. Some people say that such diet is one of the reasons of Abkhazians longevity. The others say that the key to long life is mazoni – fermented goat or sheep milk drunk in big amounts to all meals. Another opinion have people in the mountains selling there-produced honey:
– How old do you think I am?
– Around 70.
– Look at me, I am way over 100! It is all thanks to that honey which you can buy here from me!
Indeed honey is to be found in Abkhazia in great amounts and it has been known since ancient times. Traditionally they make atshadzyua of it, a beverage which is advised for all ailments. Next to the fruits it is an ingredient of many local deserts. In fact in such abundance it is hard to reach for something else. We have always associated Abkhazia in our minds with mandarins and other citrus fruits but they also have peaches, nectarines, figs and aluchas.
Ajika, the basic spice of Abkhazian cuisine
Above mentioned honey is often used as a spice, marinade for all kinds of dishes but together with honey Abkhazians use a lot of walnuts in their cuisine. All salads are traditionally topped with dill, parsley and coriander, sometimes pomegranate seeds but the most importand spice, being a quintessence of Abkhazian cuisine is adjika. It is hot paste served with all the dishes. Basic ingredient is pepper with garlic and various herbs. Abkhazians find it a pearl of their cuisine and always underline that it has nothing in common with Georgia. They proove that even the word „adjika” comes from Abkhazian name for salt. The truth is: how many nations so many different versions. There is another strange thing with adjika, it is not available in Poland but it is enough to move to Lithuania or Belarus and you can choose from very wide offer of it. Two decades after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, its former boarders still define the culinary preferences. So being in Abkhazia it is a good idea to get yourself a couple of jars. They say that the best one is at the Sukhum market at Ms. Seda stand.
Finally we are getting the main dish and Ola gets up. We already forgot how much we like that Caucasus cuisine. Ola however gets convinced only to the sides of chachapuri but maybe next time she will reach for the stuffing as well. We are also tasting vegetable ragoût, something that reminds us of vegetarian version of hungarian lecso, very spicy but what surprised us, served cold.
Restaurant gets less crowded, dinner time has passed, all people are walking by the sea and heading home. Finishing our wine we are also slowly heading to the hotel. We almost forgot about wine, it is an integral part of Abkhazian cuisine but some more about it we will tell you in one of our next post!