Everything You Need to Know about Khachapuri on MUNCHIES

MUNCHIES just published my article on khachapuri: “Georgia’s Cheese Bread Might Be Better Than Pizza”. It covers all the various types of cheese breads you can find in Georgia, from the classic Imeretian khachapuri to the much rarer khabizgini.

To help you orient yourself, I’ve created a map of all the Georgian regions that claim their own local variations of the dish. As you can see, they are pretty much all located in Western Georgia, which makes me wonder if there’s a connection with the historical division between the kingdoms of Colchis and Iberia in antiquity. That is, I wonder if cheese breads descend only from the former.

Khachapuri - Georgian Regions

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Imeretian Khachapuri, or Simple Georgian Cheese Bread

I’ve written countless times about khachapuri. The Georgian cheese bread is featured in each of my Georgian restaurant reviews at least once, if not more, and it appears on the menus of many Russian restaurants too. I’ve posted my Adjaran version, but I’ve never posted an Imeretian khachapuri, the simplest kind, which consists of a round bread stuffed with cheese.

The reason why I’ve waited so long is that I wanted it to be really good. I’m sure I’ve read most of the khachapuri recipes ever published, and I’ve tried a good dozen different formulas. I also had to make my own cheese, which took yet more time to perfect; I’ve posted my takes on Imeretian cheese and sulguni recently.

Georgian Cheese Bread - Imeretian Kachapuri

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Imeretian Cheese, the Gateway Cheese from Georgia

So you want to make your own cheese but don’t want to break the bank buying a cheese press? You don’t want to spend your weekends monitoring the temperature of your milk, or get up in the middle of the night to heat / stir / drain / flip your curds every 30 minutes? Well why not try Imeretian cheese!

Georgian Food - Imeretian CheeseImeretian cheese is a fresh cow’s milk cheese. Although it originated in the Imereti region, you can find it everywhere in Georgia, whether it’s homemade or bought at the market. There are many variations, the subtleties of which haven’t really been recorded in a book so far, to the best of my knowledge. This is the cheese traditionally used in khachapuri, the infamous Georgian cheese bread. This is also the basis for another well-known Georgian cheese called sulguni (more on this in another post).

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Cooking National Dishes for Ingredient Matcher

Ingredient Matcher is a new web site (and app) that offers to compare a list of ingredients you already have to its recipe database, in order to figure out what you can cook for dinner without having to go to the store. It’s so new, in fact, that it hasn’t even officially launched yet.

Belarusian National Dish - Draniki

While I would have a lot to say about offering recipes based on user inputs, what initially caught my attention was a series of contests that they recently started. In an attempt to gather recipes for the national dishes of all the countries in the world, the creators have been inviting food bloggers and other home cooks to submit their dishes for the illustrious title of Country Chef, plus some more material prizes.

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Bakery Review: Georgian Bread

Georgian Bread, in Brighton Beach, occupies what could be the ultimate niche market. As you probably guessed, it makes Georgian bread. Two kinds to be precise: shoti and khachapuri. And this is pretty much it! Sure, there are a few homemade spreads and salads, grocery items like tkemali, adjika, pickled walnuts, sodas, and Georgian-style cheeses — all things that you can find in Brighton supermarkets with a much wider selection. But the two breads are the only bakery items, and they totally justify the trip.

I’ve been going to Georgian Bread for years, but it looks like I missed the blogging bandwagon. Law & FoodSerious Eats and Fork in the Road all recently published excellent posts about the place. Someone even posted a picture of the oven on Yelp.

Back to the breads:

The shoti is a long, flat yeast-dough bread baked in the toné, the Georgian tandoor. This bread is delicious when you eat it fresh from the oven, and Georgian Bread’s rendition is no exception (you have to get there early, as the bread is done first thing in the morning and partly sold to the few local Georgian restaurants). Unfortunately, its very shape means it goes stale quickly. In a perfect world, it would always be baked to order, but even in Georgia this is rarely the case nowadays.

The khachapuri, a cheese bread I’ve already talked about many times, comes in its most classic form, called Imeretian, with the cheese trapped inside the dough. See how the cheese appears in the center? This gives us an idea of how the man must be assembling the pies: the cheese is placed in the center of a disc of dough, then the dough is folded like a purse, the knot of extra dough in the center is cut off,  and maybe the whole thing is flattened a bit to its final shape. This is why you don’t see any sealed edges.

Tasting time! The bread survived the return trip quite well and was still warm when we got home, which is good news as I wouldn’t recommend reheating it or eating it cold. This is certainly the most authentic khachapuri I’ve tasted this side of the Atlantic. Unlike what so many lazy restaurants seem to think, it does pay to make your own dough instead of using crappy store-bought pizza dough — surprise! The oozy cheese mixture, made with a blend of Georgian-style cheeses found at the store, has an unexpectedly light texture and the rich, salty flavor I’m usually looking for, slightly on the mild side. The dough is fairly airy and has a good bread taste.

I’m not going to give Georgian Bread a rating like I do with my regular Restaurant Reviews; it would be unfair to treat it like a sit-down restaurant when it’s really just a counter selling a few items. But needless to say at this point, it has my seal of approval!

Adjaran Khachapuri, or Death by Cheese

Wherever you go in Georgia, you can be sure to eat khachapuri at least once a day. These national cheese breads come in various shapes. The Imeretian khachapuri is a round pie filled with cheese, by far the most common. The Mingrelian one is similar, but topped with more cheese. The cheese is usually whatever is produced locally, from curds to sulguni, fresh or aged.

Today we’ll look at the Adjaran khachapuri, an open-face version topped with tons of cheese, plus an egg and slices of butter for maximum artery clogging. The bread is comparable to pizza dough, and many places actually sell both khachapuris and pizzas.  If you travel to Abkhazia, you’ll find out that the exact same dish (though sometimes without the egg) is marketed as the national dish:

Don’t call it Adjaran there though — you might get shot in the head! Locals have renamed it “lodochka”, “little boat” in Russian, which is particularly funny when you know that the only boats you’ll see in Abkhazia are Russian war ships.

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