As with many cultures, making bread in some traditional manner has been a home-based method to keep the roots to one’s past. While the concept of mixing ground flour and water together to make something that can be baked into an edible substance is likely the oldest form of food, Georgia has a special tradition in bread making.
While Georgia has many interesting and unique bread types and recipes, one stands out. In the southern part of the country, the region of Samtskhe-Javakheti has had a breadmaking tradition going back hundreds of years, albeit with a curious approach that is inextricably linked to the history of the province. .
The region has been a long-time center of power in ancient and medieval Georgia. The medieval kingdom reigned over parts of northeastern Turkey, northern Armenia, and the Russian city of Sochi on the Black Sea. Due to the centrality of the region to the empire at the time, it provided administrative and military dominance in the region. The cave complex of Vardzia (an article on this coming soon) was a major religious hub, as well as serving as a sort of forward base during war.
Refocusing on the bread, its construction is not dissimilar to that of European “puff pastry” style of bread construction. It is light, flakey, airy, and can be filled with a selection of traditional mixtures. The basic bread construction begins with a simple mixture of ground Georgian wheat flour, cool water, pig fat, and salt.
The flour, water, and salt are mixed in the usual fashion, then rolled to a thin sheet. The pig fat, warmed to a spreadable consistency, is applied to the dough. With this, the already thin dough sheet is stretched exceptionally thin. It should be translucent and paper thin, so much so that tears are not uncommon.
Using one’s hands to roll the dough into a volcano-like cylinder, cheese or meat can be packed inside to create a delicious pastry. However, many traditional Georgians in the region use a mixture of flour, pig fat, and salt. Often finished with an egg before being baked, it is a filling and easy to make meal that uses few resources. This makes it something that can feed a large number of people while being sustainable on even low supplies.
Because of the large wheat production in this southern region, many of the dishes focus on exploiting this plentiful resource. Other dishes include simple noodle-like recipes, boiled whole wheat grains with butter or meat, and simple boiled and fried wheat dumplings. The bread itself, when served at the table, is often paired with jams, different cheeses, beans, and fried eggs.
At one guest house, I had the opportunity of producing a small set of video projects that display the creation of the bread and the khachapuri (cheese filled variant) versions. In the video, you can see the dough being basted with the egg wash before going into a stone oven. With the oven baking at particularly high temperatures, it takes only a few minutes for the bread to finish.
All photos and videos are from MikeReports