Located approximately 12 miles north of Tbilisi at the confluence of the Aragvi and Mtkvari Rivers, Mtskheta is one of the oldest cities in Georgia. The former capital of the eastern Georgian Kingdom of Iberia and the site of Georgia’s adoption of Christianity in 337. It remains the headquarters of the Georgian Orthodox and Apostolic Church. Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, Jvari Monastery, and Samtavro Monastery in Mtskheta are among the most historically significant monuments in Georgia.
My culinary adventures took me to the market next to Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. After visiting the cathedral, I went on a stroll through this colorful market. Traditional Georgian restaurants, wine and chacha shops, souvenir stalls, and many other products from the region can be found here.
Svetitskhoveli Cathedral – the original cathedral dates to the 4th century AD, but as a result of the repeated invasions and earthquake, the latest reconstruction of the structure was completed in 1029.
Kantsi – a drinking horn is a traditional Georgian drinking vessel made from ram, goat, and occasionally bull horns. Kantsi are important part of ritual toasting in Georgia. At a traditional dinner or gathering, they are filled with wine or brandy. Never beer. Filling kantsi with beer is considered an insult.
Dolls dressed in Georgian national costumes.
Georgia is one of the oldest wine producing regions in the world. Around 6000 BC inhabitants of the South Caucasus discovered that wild grape juice turned into an intoxicating beverage when it was left buried throughout the winter in a shallow pit. After this amazing discovery, Georgians started cultivating grapes. They filled clay pots, kvevris, with fermented grape juice, covered them with wooden lids, and then buried them in the ground sometimes for up to 50 years. Christianization of Georgians in 4 AD further strengthened wine consumption in the region. Nowadays there are thousands small and a few large wineries operating in Georgia. Wine is produced using both modern and traditional methods. Georgian wines are named after the regions they are produced at and are usually a blend of two or three grape varieties.
Chacha – Georgian pomace (grape residue left after wine making process) brandy. The strength of Chacha can range between 40% alcohol for commercially produced spirit to 65% for home brew.
Churchkhela also known as Georgian Snickers is a sausage-shaped candy made with grape must, nuts, and flour. To make traditional churchkhela, walnut halves are threaded onto a long string, repeatedly dipped into thickened with flour grape juice, and sun-dried for 5 to 6 days. This candy is enjoyed both as an everyday snack and dessert at the Christmas and New Year celebrations.
Tklapi aka fruit leather is a popular sweet and/or sour snack made with plums, apricots, figs, and other fruit. Cooked and pureed fruit are spread thinly onto a sheet of paper or plastic, and sun-dried.
Pomegranate juice in making.
Georgian Yard is located in the heart of the Mtskheta Market. The restaurant’s menu features a great selection of traditional Georgian dishes, and their wine shop offers free wine, cognac, and chacha tastings. I did’t have any alcohol tasting here, instead I enjoyed Borjomi, naturally carbonated mineral water from the springs in the Borjomi Gorge of central Georgia.
Lobiani – traditional Georgian bread filled with seasoned kidney bean puree, sauteed onions, and parsley – at Georgain Yard was delicious and the serving size was impressive.
Wine Shop at Georgian Yard.
Khachapuri and pirojki.
Sand Coffee – coffee brewed by nestling a pot filled with coffee and cold water on heated sand. The reason behind this method is that the sand offers a more consistent and even heat which results in perfectly brewed coffee.
With its hustle and bustle free location and friendly atmosphere, Mtskheta is a great place to learn about Georgian culture and history and savor traditional Georgian cuisine. Happy travels!