Georgians have a rather sensitive relationship to the word ‘heart’ (guli) and a number of Georgian words are composed from it, like the word ‘filling’ (gulsarti). The heart is the main center of emotions, joy and love and it is no coincidence that some food also has a heart – a center where the main artery of the dish is located. Georgian creativity in this case is really boundless and the gastronomic culture of the country is rich in the variety of gourmand food and fillings.
Yes, indeed, khachapuri is the main food and holds a special place in Georgian gastronomical culture. It is a kind of ritual dish and you can hardly find a Georgian feast without khachapuri. It permanently accompanies celebrations, is also an appetizer, dish and desert; it is timeless and can be eaten everywhere and whenever you wish. It is the most festive as well as most common dish. In ancient times, it was a shame and an insult to a deceased person to serve khachapuri at a funeral repast as the dish was associated with celebration. But time has changed and ‘thanks’ to every-corner bakery, the grandeur of khachapuri has been reduced by turning it into a cheap meal.
Every Georgian region is famous for its own khachapuri; families have their secret recipes and every family asserts that their recipe is the tastiest and most unique- a kind of family pride passed down from their grandmas.
The tradition of putting filling into pastry appears in almost every country; old Sumerians used dough kneaded in milk and filled with date; Turkish giozleme – milk dough with cheese and spinach; Cherkezian khichins – with Adige cheese and fresh coriander; Ingushetian chepalgashi – a business card of Ingushetia: cottage cheese with different herbs and spices, or cheese with sour milk and herbs; Indian alu partha – potatoes and cheese with various spices; Chechen chepalgashi – cottage cheese, eggs, cheese, different greens and onion, Mexican quesadilla – a plethora of dishes with different fillings.
It’s really difficult to define the semiotic meaning of ‘khachapuri’ and most likely this comes from cottage cheese (khacho) and bread (puri).
Having tasted almost all versions of Georgian khachapuri, one foreigner told me that Georgians must be exceedingly creative to have so many fillings for pretty much the same dough. Adjarian khachapuri is a nice example of this creativity and is regarded as one of the highest-rated dishes among tourists and gastronomic researchers. The popular American edition ‘Business Insider’ selected the best dishes from 19 countries in its 2016 study, and Adjarian khachapuri was included among them. According to the edition, it was named as one of the most popular Georgian dishes with cheese filling, generally served with egg and butter. A history of Adjarian khachapuri is linked to Lazeti and people living there, who used to be the best sailors. People love exploring history and this khachapuri is a kind of touch to history with its boat-shape and egg yolk symbolizing the sun.
Imeretian khachapuri is made of yeasted dough and Imeretian cheese. Lukne is Svanetian khachapuri, with a mix of cheese and flour. Svanetian khachapuri is the real extravaganza – cheese filling with ground millet and hemp seeds that give a very special taste to the dish.
Megrelian khachapuri is one of the brands filled with young cheese and afterwards covered with grated sulguni. Gurulian khachapuri, baked only at Christmas, has a ritual assignment and a half-moon shape. There is a boiled egg inside the filling, which over two days is hung and smoked in the chimney in order to add a picante taste to the dish.
Kotori is Tushetian khachapuri, made with very thin dough and a filling of cottage cheese and boiled butter. Kotori was prepared only for rituals in the past.
Cheese has always been regarded as one of the most important and commonly used products for Georgians and is a sign of the family wealth. Cheese is commonly used in fillings, for example in chvishtari, prepared with corn flour. Chvishtari dough is generally kneaded with whey or matsoni and the cheese should equal the dough in quantity. Chvishtari was usually prepared for Christmas rituals.
Svaneti was also famous for its specific khachapuri with fresh green onion and fatty cheese; but the real royal dish of Svaneti is kubdari with its majestic filling of minced meat, wild herbs and other spices, kneaded for a long while and baked in a famous Svanetian oven. One gastronomic masterpiece is kubdari with a filling of trout from the mountain rivers.
Once, one foreign gourmand told me that after returning home, he often saw Rachvelian lobiani in his dreams. Rachvelian lobiani is baked in a tone (Georgian traditional oven) and filled with beans and Rachvelian ham that gives an extraordinary taste. In previous times, this dish was also filled with pumpkin, but I think it was long ago, even before Columbus had changed the world gastronomic culture.
Actually, the theme of fillings is really boundless in Georgia, and especially in the mountains, where fantasy has no limits and field grasses, spinach with cheese, nettle with cottage-cheese, mushrooms and other different products can be used as fillings to impress gourmands with a unique, authentic and rich taste.