Shemomechama (Vegan in Georgia)

"Shemomechama" is a Georgian phrase, translating roughly to the passive "it happened that I ate everything." I like to think of it as "I accidentally all the food." Which is very much what happened during my two weeks in Georgia.

Traditional (or, some would argue, modern-tourist-adapted-traditional) Georgian food is actually vegan heaven. When you peer around the meat and cheese, you discover a whole world of beans, bread, potatoes and mushrooms. They do great things with veggies, particularly aubergine, and I've never had such spectacular and simple salads. My usual 'vegan in' posts are a list of places to eat, but in this case I'm going to do a list of dishes, most of which you can get in any random Georgian restaurant you find on the street. At the end I'll also list a few places across Tbilisi and Batumi that I thought were particularly good.

Other things to note about Georgian cuisine is that it's generally served family-style.. that is, huge plates, ideal for sharing. If you're eating on your own, you really must resist ordering many dishes even if they look like sides because this is too much food. If you're with a group though - even a meat-eating group - it's ace. Because so many totally normal common side dishes and well-loved mains are vegan! On more than one occasion I sat back and let other people order a bunch of stuff, and there was always stuff I could eat.

A wooden table set with various plates of vegetables and bread A plate piled high with fluffy bread A wooden table set with various plates of fruit, potatoes and salad A wooden table set with half eaten plates of food and a clay pot of bean stew

Fasting

One of the reasons Georgian food is so vegan-friendly is because of the Orthodox fasting periods. Wednesdays, Fridays, and many many special occasions, many adopt essentially a pesca-vegan diet - they can't have any food from land animals. As a result, many restaurants have a 'fasting menu', or at least understand the concept of vegan if you ask if something is okay for fasting. And since Georiga is not the kind of country to add secret fish to things, ordering anything from a fasting menu that isn't explicitly fish is pretty safe.

Lobio

Lobio is bean stew. It comes in a clay pot, and is delicious. That is all.

A clay pot on a table with some bean stains down the side and a nearby green chilli A white plate and fork with a blob of bean stew A white plate containing flatbread and bean stew next to a jug of red wine

Mchadi

Mchadi is Georgian cornbread. It's vegan, and soaks up the juice from lobio like a treat. Comes in fried and non-fried varieties, and may be thick and chunky or flat and round. Fried ones can be seen in the foreground of this meal.

A white plate with a half eaten flatbread and a glass jug of plum sauce

Lobiani

Lobiani is bean paste in bread. There are so many different kinds! And of varying qualities. Sometimes, the bean paste is just dry and maybe not even seasoned. If you're around for a while, it's worth scouting out different places to find the best lobiani.

If you get it from a bakery or streetside 'fast food' type place, you'll likely end up with a flaky pastry type deal. This is fine, but not my favourite. An improvement on this theme was from Literature Cafe in Batumi, where the lobiani was more of an upright giant-dumpling shaped pastry; the bean filling was particularly good. In restaurants, it tends to come as a pizza-sized round flatbread. Bread-wise, this is my favourite (again, the bean filling varies from place to place), partly because I'm a sucker for flatbread, but also because the bean-bread ratio is more balanced.

Ajarian lobiani, which is fairly widely available in Batumi (since it's in Ajara), is a regional take on their famous khachapuri. I have to digress here, since khachapuri isn't getting its own entry in this list. Khachapuri is a very famous Georgian food, and in general is cheesebread. The Ajarian take on khachapuri involves a boat-shaped loaf of bread, carved out and filled to the brim with cheese, butter, and egg, heart-attack-on-a-plate style. So Ajarian lobiani then, obviously, is the bread-boat full of beans! Usually served with some pickled chillis. Whoever thought of that is a genius. This is giant meal. I got mine from Porto Franco, but many large Georgian restaurants will have it.

I'm going to digress again to tell you about bakeries. Georgian bakeries have a giant round clay oven called a tone, which is like a partially submerged well of FIRE. They make bread dough, and slap it onto the burning hot side of the oven for just a few minutes, before peeling it off all baked and delicious. Tonis puri is bread that is baked in this way. THUS tonis lobiani is, you guessed it, bread dough stuffed with bean paste and baked in a tone. I got it in at a very wee bakery next to Irmale's Cafe in Tbilisi. The bread is obviously fantastic all by itself, straight from the oven. The beans inside were a bit dry; I don't know if this is a side-effect of the cooking method, or just this one place.

A round pastry on a white plate next to a glass of red liquid and the corner of a laptop A plastic bag with a pastry in seen from above held over a pavement A view into a plastic bag containing a pastry and napkins A plate with a giant hunk of bread carved out and filled with bean mush, with three pickled chillis sticking vertically out A white plate with two triangular pieces of bread (they are concealing internal beans) A long brick room with arches and not much light, and a glass cabinet with pastries in the foreground A long bread held by squared paper, and a hand reaching for it A cloth bag with two giant breads poking out

Khinkali

Khinkali are dumplings. The dough is vegan. So, the fillings? See a fasting menu for potato and mushroom options. Traditially they're meat or cheese, and you may have to hunt a bit for the the veg alternatives. I was under the impression for most of my time in Georgia that the fasting khinkali are a perfectly ordinary traditional Georgian food, but on my last night a hostel employee plus an old lady she found to back her up absolutely insisted to me this is not Georgian food and was only invented for tourists. It was way more common in Tbilisi than in Batumi, in any case.

I don't care when or why they were invented though, because they are fucking delicious. The first time I went to a khinkali house in Batumi, the potato and mushroom ones were on the menu but they were out. I then spent a week craving a food I'd never eaten, until I was finally satisifed in Pasanauri in Tbilisi. The correct way to eat khinkali is to pick them up by the knob at the top (lifehack: stick a fork in if it's too hot or slippery to grab and you're too impatient to wait 5 minutes), make a small bite to suck the juice out (potato ones don't have juice, but mushroom ones do) and then eat the rest, leaving the knob that you're holding on your plate, so that you can count how many you demolish. There are various positive superstitions about people who manage to eat khinkali without getting any juice on the plate. You're not supposed to put sauce on them or dip them in anything, but really if there's tkemali on the table whatcha gonna do?

Most places seem to list khinkali on the menu with a per-dumpling price, and have a minimum order of five. Five is a reasonably sensible number to eat all by oneself as long as you're hungry and don't order anything else. Heh. They don't let you mix and match fillings though.. so the first time I finally went for khinkali obviously the only thing I could do was to order five mushroom and five potato ones. I wasn't alone.. but neither of my lunchmates wanted to eat my khinkali. So I ate ten. And some lobio. And some bread. It was great. It was a slight struggle, but I have no regrets.

A white plate with five khinkali, all with knobs pointing up An empty white plate with a knife and fork, the remains of ten khinkali and some smeared sauce A red pot brimming with dumplings A sign saying 'My head says gym but my heart says khinkali' Five khinkali on a white plate on a wooden table A half eaten dumpling with potato inside, and in the background more dumplings

Mushrooms on a ketsi

I don't know if there's a Georgian name for this. A ketsi is a clay dish, and if you order mushrooms on a ketsi, you get a clay dish with sizzling, delicious, juicy mushrooms. Why wouldn't you?

Be careful not to get a cheesed-up version (eg. with sulguni).

Bonus points: if you're in the mountains and it's mushroom season, you can get really expensive fancy mushrooms that will blow your mind and are worth every penny (we did so at a roadside restaurant called Zgapari).

A wooden plate with two clay pots of different orangey mushrooms, and flatbread A clay pot in the foreground with a pile of orange mushrooms

Ojakhuri with mushrooms

Ojakhuri is typically a dish where potatoes are slow cooked with pork.. but you can get it with mushrooms instead. And it's delicious. When I ordered it, it had some onions, tomatoes, and chilli peppers thrown into the mix.

A clay dish with greasy potatoes, mushrooms, onion and chilli

Ajapsandali

Ajapsandali is like ratatouille - a tomatoey vegetable stew, usually with aubergine, capsicum, and other seasonal veggies. Simple, but, like all things Georgian, delicious.

A table set with many dishes, including a clay pot, wine glasses, plates of vegetables

Phkali

Phkali are a cold starter or side dish, consisting of different coloured balls of mush. They're vegetables minced with walnuts and seasonings. You'll find spinach, aubergine of course, and beet commonly. Aubergine and red peppers may also be grilled, sliced, and spread with walnut mush then rolled up. They can be exceptionally tasty, but they can also be kind of meh. They were a common conference buffet food option, often the only vegan thing around, so I ended up eating more than I would have given my walnut allergy. I don't know if it's a faux-pas to smoosh them onto bread but.. that's also nice.

A wooden table with a plate of aubergine spread with walnut paste in the distance, and dark Turkish coffee in the foreground

Salad

Cucumber and tomato salad is a staple at every table and somehow manages to be thoroughly delicious. The fresh seasonable vegetables help of course, and liberal dressings of locally sourced rich sunflower oil also contribute. You can usually order it with or without walnuts.

There are various other kinds of salads too. Just watch out for ones with cheese, and you'll be safe. A plate of 'greens' is actually mostly fresh herbs like tarragon, maybe with other strong things like spring onion and radish. Which can be pretty intense to just chew on, obviously meant to accompany the other food you're ordering.

A white dish with red paste beside a pile of green leafy things and some raddish

Pickles

PICKLES. They pickle everything. You can order mixed pickles, or plates of specific pickles. Pickled tomatoes may be whole juicy red ones (so good) or green tomatoes. Cucumber, obviously. Pickled chillis are also common. A weirder one is jonjoli flowers, which are bascially weeds. I loved them, several people I met don't. Pickle all the things! I love them so much.

A partly empty plate with some straggly leaves remaining A white plate with pickles: red tomato, green cucumber, chilli and jonjoli A blue and white table set with an empty plate, a glass cup of tea, and two plates of pickles

Sauces

Tkemali is a sour plum sauce. It's really good with everything. Get some with every meal.

A glass jug containing yellow-green sauce with a spoon in, in front of a plate with bread on

Adjika is a spicy deep red sauce, which reminds me subtly of Korean gochujang. Also fantastic, would eat with every meal. See a picture of adjika with greens.

Bazhe (sometimes spelled baje) is a really delicious walnut sauce. How do I know it was delicious? I am allergic to walnuts and I ate a bunch of this sauce on stuff and it was WORTH EVERY MINUTE OF PAIN.

Churchkhela

You see them dangling from souvenir shops, street carts and market stalls, churchkhela are a traditional sweet made from stringing up a line of nuts and then dipping them repeatedly in fruit syrup. The syrup sets, and the amount of dips determines the thickness and shape of the final strand, and the colour depends on the fruit juice that was was used. You'll see red pomegranate, purple grape and brownish white grape. I haven't figured out what the green ones are yet. Mostly they use walnuts, but I managed to get hazelnut ones. I hear the may also be made with peanuts and almonds, but I didn't find them. They look like sausages, but don't worry, they're all-natural vegan candy.

A blue plastic bag containing three churchkhela, kind of bent around

Restaurants

Kiwi Cafe (Tbilisi)

Kiwi is a vegan cafe in Tbilisi that has been around for a while. They were once attacked by sausage-weilding neo-nazis, and had to move location. The new location is really spacious and pleasant. There's power and wifi, friendly staff, and great food.

It's a good place for a vegan (or anyone) to take a break from traditional Georgian cuisine, and eat things like pizza, burger, curry, salads, sandwiches, pasta, apple pie, milkshakes.. and more. It's reasonably priced - not above average. I went here a bunch of times.

A colourful pizza on a plate with various veggies and not-sausage, on a table with a chocolate-coloured glass Two halves of a wrap filled with tofu on a white plate, one on top of the other, with some green chillis in the foreground and a plate of potato wedges in the background A plate of lettuce with tomato slices fanning out, and not-cheese grated on top A white cup with purple tea Inside a cafe with several tables, an ornate wooden cabinate against the wall, and a mural of birds flying from a tree

Irmale's Cafe (Tbilisi)

A brand new, very small "healthy vegan friendly" cafe outside of the old town. I happened to be staying around the corner, so I dropped in here a number of times. The smoothies packed with 'superfoods' are not the cheapest, but really good. There are cold soups and salads which I didn't try. Buckwheat pancakes with two fillings - scrambled tofu with sprouts, or cashew cream with fruit - are both really tasty but very small. A light breakfast at most. There's an array of tiny healthy cakes, energy balls, cheese cakes, all made with love. The coffee is good. There's wifi and power, and outdoor seating, but not a lot of seating in general (a table for two, and four bar stools). I anticipate the menu growing as they find their feet.

Two small pancake rolls on a white plate with lots of green sprouts and silver cutlery Two small pancake rolls on a white plate with scattered cinnamon and berries peaking out A pancake folded into a triangle with cream and strawberries visible, on a white plate with a silver knife and fork A glass jar cup with pink smoothie and a straw A white coffecup with foamy contents A woman sits at a table by a window in a cafe, eating a pancake with a knife and fork A glass cabinet with lots of light reflections, inside of which are a selection of small cakes A brown paper bag supports a tiny dark coloured ball covered in white powder

Mama Terra (Tbilisi)

I didn't actually eat here, but it's a vegetarian (mostly vegan) place almost next door to Kiwi. I did go to the secret bar behind the bookcase at the back, which you only know about if you know about it...

Pasanauri (Tbilisi and Batumi)

This is a traditional Georgian restaurant, of which there are two (at least) in Tbilisi and one on the beach in Batumi. They have a whole fasting menu, which is a filtered down vegan-friendly version of the regular menu, on the back page. Handy dandy.

An open menu, with words and pictures A wooden shopfront with a sign saying Pasanauri and a woman entering A stoney beach leads to the sea, with a white tent on the left, and a palm frond in the corner

This is where I ate ten khinkali, and a bunch of other things, and went to both branches in Tbilisi and the one in Batumi. The khinkali are particularly good because they dough is thin and the fillings are well seasoned.

Luca Polare (Tbilisi and Batumi)

A chain of ice cream shops. They're ten a penny on the Batumi seafront, and I ran into at least three in Tbilisi. They have soya milk for coffees, and a bunch of vegan sorbets. They make 'fruit frappes' which are sorbet with fruit juice too, and seem to always have one vegan cake (labelled!). They tend to have wifi and power, air conditioning, and a nice atmosphere to hang about. They're also open aaall the time (8am to 2am).

A hand holding a colourful paper cup containing lemon sorbet, with a green plastic spoon sticking out the top An empty display case with labels in Georgian and one that says 'VEGAN' A plastic cup full of milky bubbles, from above A plastic cup with a brown Luca Polare label, containing yellow slush

Porto Franco (Batumi)

A Georgian restaurant that's part of a hotel, I was surprised to be recommended such a place by a local. I had ajarian lobiani here, and it was really delicious and all good prices. It opens early (because of the hotel I guess) and it's rare to find places for breakfast in Georgia, so that was nice.

Uncle Feng's (Batumi)

A Chinese restaurant, with several vegan things labelled on the menu. They were out of tofu when I went, but I ate delicious spicy ("Chinese spicy not European spicy") handmade noodles with vegetables, and a pot of Chinese tea. Pretty busy, but a nice atmosphere, and power and wifi. A good option for a break from Georgian food.

A restaurant interior, lots of bamboo decorating a blue wall, with wooden tables and chairs A plate piled high with brown noodles, red and green vegetables, and a teacup and pot in the background

🏷 travel food vegan Georgia (the country)