7 Delicious Destinations: Recipes from Uzbekistan, Georgia, Russia, and Beyond
The chewy round breads of Central Asia, the gooey, cheesy pizza-like khachapuri of the South Caucasus, the currant-studded saffron rice of Iran, the juicy dumplings called pierogi in Poland, the ubiquitous wine-red borscht of Russia and Ukraine topped with a dollop of sour cream, and the delicate dried-apricot soup of the Pamir Mountains all tell stories of their peoples’ histories and resourcefulness.
There is so much to learn from the food cultures of different peoples; sampling the unique cuisine of a place is more than an added bonus to a journey to a distant land.
For your epicurean pleasure, we’ve picked a handful of writers/cooks/travelers who have delved a little more deeply into regional cuisine than those of us who simply pass through. With their presentations to the culinary world, we’re given a chance to prepare a world’s worth of dishes in our own kitchens, as well as learn more about fascinating cultures that we may be inspired to experience firsthand.
1. Georgia and the South Caucasus
Thanks to award-winning food, wine, and travel writer and photographer Carla Capalbo, foodies, travel buffs, and armchair readers alike can discover the extraordinary gastronomic traditions of the little-known country of Georgia with her latest cooking compendium, Tasting Georgia: A Food and Wine Journey in the Caucasus.
Not only is this a favorite destination of ours, but Carla will escort one of our tours to the country: A Taste of Georgia is a culinary and cultural caravan, where travelers traverse varied landscapes entwined with grapevines, overflowing with wine, and abounding in hospitality, and discover the history and living traditions of an ancient country through its chefs, winemakers, artisans, and musicians.
“Georgia has this very exciting aspect to it at the moment because it’s both ancient and exotic, and at the same time quite familiar. I’ve lived in rural communities for such a long time, so even though I didn’t have the language, I could read the Georgian landscape in a way that I understood. It struck me in a very deep way, the differences and the similarities between parts of Europe and Georgia.
“Everything on the Georgian table is absolutely delicious. Most dishes on the table are laden with lots of fresh vegetables, nuts, and delicate spices that when combined create complex flavors. They’re vibrant too, since nearly every single dish features lots of fresh herbs. Some parts of the country might add a bit of chili spice to their dishes, but it’s very mild, and if people want more heat, they can add more.” (read our interview with Carla Capalbo)
- The Georgian Feast: The Vibrant Culture and Savory Food of the Republic of Georgia by Darra Goldstein
- Kaukasis The Cookbook, Olia Hercules
Travel and Taste in Georgia
Sheltered among the soaring peaks and valleys of the Caucasus Mountains between Europe and Asia, the little republic of Georgia has been recognized time and time again as one of the world’s greatest travel destinations — a fabulously beautiful country boasting breathtaking scenery, inviting Black Sea beaches, highland villages harking back to the Middle Ages, spine-tingling polyphonic singing, and, of course, unabashedly abundant feasts filled with sumptuous food and wine.
The Georgian method of fermenting home-grown grapes in big earthenware vessels called qvevri is handed down from parent to child, as is their joyous method of polyphonic choral singing. Celebrated by UNESCO as world cultural treasures, wine and song are an inseparable component of traditional Georgian life.
Travel to Georgia with MIR
Fall in love with this part of the world on MIR’s small group tours to Georgia:
- A Taste of Georgia: Wine, Cuisine & Culture – recognized by National Geographic Traveler
- Treasures of the South Caucasus (watch a tour video)
- Village Traditions of the South Caucasus
You can also opt to travel on your dates and at your pace on one of MIR’s private independent trips or on a private journey of Georgia, customized to your desired dates and style.
Next is one of our travelers’ favorite destinations – Uzbekistan, at the heart of the Silk Road. Caroline Eden, author of Samarkand, crafted a cookbook beautifully enhanced with photos and stories of the places where she found the recipes. Caroline escorted Backroads & Bazaars of Uzbekistan, MIR’s first culinary and cultural tour to Uzbekistan during the spring festival of Navruz in 2017. The small group journey introduces travelers to the enduring traditions and abundant hospitality essential to everyday Uzbek culture (more 2019 tour info).
Travel and Taste in Uzbekistan
The center of Central Asia, Uzbekistan is home to three of the most renowned of the Silk Road oases – Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva, all of them UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Every step along the way in Uzbekistan retraces the path by which silk, spices, ideas, politics, and spiritual beliefs moved across the ancient world (read our interview with Caroline Eden).
Uzbek hospitality is legendary, with deeply ingrained traditions that remain essential to everyday life along the Silk Road. We think there’s no better way to understand Uzbek culture and connect with its warm people than with a chance to visit local families inside their private homes.
Travel to Uzbekistan with MIR
Experience the brilliant country of Uzbekistan for yourself on one of these MIR itineraries that travel to Central Asia:
- NEW! Silk Road Backroads & Byways
- Journey Through Central Asia: The Five ‘Stans
- Silk Route Odyssey: Caravan Across Uzbekistan
- Once Forbidden Lands of Central Asia & Iran
- Backstreets & Bazaars of Uzbekistan
- NEW! Persia & the Silk Road by Private Train (Westbound)
- Jewels of Persia & The Silk Route by Private Train (Westbound)
- Iran & The ‘Stans by Private Train (Eastbound)
- Essence of the Silk Road by Private Train (Eastbound / Westbound)
- Essence of the Silk Road & Beyond by Private Train
- Caspian Odyssey by Private Train
You can also travel on one of MIR’s handcrafted private independent travel itineraries, Essential Uzbekistan or Essential Central Asia, or book a custom private journey – each trip handcrafted to your interests, dates and pace.
Please to the Table, by Russian-born Anya von Bremzen, is a collection of traditional recipes from around the former Soviet Union that may surprise and delight a person who has heard that Russian food used to be boring. Along with nearly 400 recipes, Anya includes anecdotes, literary quotes, and cultural explanations. One reviewer said the cookbook is “not merely a list of recipes, but an exciting opportunity to learn about other peoples and cultures.”
Travel and Taste in Russia
Russia’s domed Orthodox churches, world-renowned museums, high culture and down-to-earth street life make up a whole that is at once well-bred and wild, huge and intimate, formal and free-wheeling. It is a fascinating hotbed of political intrigue and a fertile field of artists, poets, entrepreneurs, musicians, writers, scientists and humanitarians. The natural beauty of the sweeping Siberian taiga and steppe, pierced by knife-shaped UNESCO-listed Lake Baikal, contrast with the human-made monuments of the more settled western regions, where magnificent Moscow and storied St. Petersburg reign.
Travel to Russia with MIR
MIR is your Russia travel expert – with 30 years of travel experience there and with affiliate offices in Ulan Ude and Irkutsk (both in Siberia), as well as in Moscow and St. Petersburg (in Western Russia).
You can visit Siberia, Western Russia and beyond with MIR a number of ways, from a deluxe rail journey by private train, to an adventurous small group tour or an independent trip put together just the way you want it.
4. The Pamirs
The gorgeous but harsh Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Afghanistan are not likely places to look for excellent cuisine; this more-than-a-cookbook tells about how the Pamiri people have learned to live and celebrate within the region’s geographical shortcomings.
With Our Own Hands: A Celebration of Food and Life in the Pamir Mountains of Afghanistan and Tajikistan, by Frederik van Oudenhoven and Jamila Hauder is published in three languages, so that the authors could give a native-language copy of the book to each of the 1,800 communities, schools and libraries in the Pamir region.
A BBC review lauded With Our Own Hands:
“This book is as vibrant as the people and recipes it describes, with exquisite, intimate photography decorating almost every page. Recipes are explored through the eyes of the Pamiri people and the history of their homeland, with spellbinding stories of local legends, opium addiction and Soviet influence. Readers will learn that time can be recorded without a clock and that ‘enough’ can be a form of measurement.”
Travel and Taste in the High Pamirs
The Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are some of the most rugged and beautiful on Earth, soaring upward where the Himalayas, the Tien Shan and the Hindu Kush meet. The Pamir Highway is a breathtaking route, in use since the time of the Silk Road. The rural people here are used to living simple lives, and they welcome the rare traveler who cross their paths.
Travel to the Pamirs with MIR
Explore the soaring Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan one of these small group tours:
MIR can also hand-craft a custom private journey through this undiscovered country, personalized to your interests and travel pace. If you want ideas for a private trip, check out our Essential Tajikistan and Essential Kyrgyzstan itineraries.
MIR’s Director of Sales, Joanna Millick, was born and raised in Warsaw, the capital of Poland. She recommends the pragmatically named Polish Cookbook, put together by the Culinary Arts Institute, as the place to start exploring Polish recipes. This is her go-to cookbook when she craves some good old-fashioned Polish comfort food.
Another Polish cookbook the Joanna recommends is:
Travel and Taste in Poland
It’s hard to find a country more inspiring than Poland. Modern Poland is one of Europe’s most exciting countries, brimming with lively urban centers, beautiful countryside, verdant mountains, cultural treasures, and deep beliefs. Survey Poland’s capital, animated Warsaw, and the former royal city of Krakow with its medieval town square and underground pubs. In just a few days, you can visit four Polish UNESCO sites – Warsaw’s Old Town, Krakow’s Historic Center, the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, and the Wieliczka Salt Mine.
Travel to Poland with MIR
MIR’s small group tour, Christmas Traditions of Poland, is a rich wintry journey that brings you close to the warm heart of Poland’s long-standing customs, from a cooking class teaching how to make traditional Polish-style pierogi with your own private chef, to a brisk sleigh ride followed by a bonfire, roasted kielbasa, and a tasting of Polish vodka and hot mulled wine.
You can also have a MIR Independent Travel Specialists can handcraft a custom, private tour of Poland any time of year, around your interests and travel preferences. Or, opt to travel to Poland any time of the year on our Essential Poland independent journey itinerary.
Taste Of Persia: A Cook’s Journey through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, and Kurdistan, by Naomi Duguid, is a lushly illustrated book of exotic-sounding but simple recipes that bring the fragrance of Persian cuisine into your kitchen. Tender eggplant in a chunky tomato sauce, rice pilaf flecked with wild rice and pistachios, tiny tender lamb chops dredged in a seven-layered spice; these are only a few of our favorite recipes from the book.
Travel and Taste in Iran
A trip to Iran is an eye-opener for any traveler who may have read some of the negative media coverage of the past few years. In contrast to expectations, travelers find the Iranian people to be unfailingly and lavishly hospitable and friendly, especially with people from the U.S. With a welcoming and highly educated population, as well as unsurpassed ancient archaeological sites, Iran is a fascinating and rewarding place to visit.
Travel to Iran with MIR
You can visit Iran in a number of ways:
- Small Group Tours
- Rail Journeys by Private Train
- Custom Private Journeys
- If you have special interests or specific destinations in Iran you’d like to explore, MIR can work with you to create a custom, private journey that reflects your desires and timeline. You can also travel on one of MIR’s hand-crafted private independent travel itineraries, Essential Iran or our new Essential Iran Enhanced.
Braised wild mushrooms, holubtsi (stuffed cabbage rolls), and salo (cold brined pork fat) are some of the signature dishes of Ukraine. Olia Hercules’ cookbook, Mamushka: Recipes from Ukraine and Eastern Europe, tells you how to prepare and present these and other traditional dishes of the region. A review from SAVEUR Magazine calls it “…a gorgeous love letter to the food of her homeland that definitively proves there’s more to the Ukraine than borscht and potato dumplings.”
Travel and Taste in Ukraine
Bigger than either France or Germany, Ukraine is much less frequented and more unspoiled. A visit to Ukraine is packed with contrasting experiences. The glittering golden cupolas and imperial palaces of the cities, the warm Black Sea coast, the sobering Chernobyl Museum and the vivid cultural legacy of the Carpathian Hutsul people combine to make Ukraine a rewarding destination.
Travel to Ukraine with MIR
MIR has more than 30 years of travel experience in Ukraine and has an affiliate office in Kiev. Experience cosmopolitan Ukraine on MIR’s small group tour Belarus, Ukraine & Moldova, or on the private itinerary, Essential Ukraine. You can also create your own Ukrainian exploration with the help of our custom and private specialists.
Travel and Taste with MIR
MIR has over 30 years of travel experience in these destinations. We have a roster of contacts that can take you to places that you didn’t even know you wanted to go.Our full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”
If any of these recipe and story books has awakened your taste buds and alerted you to the desire to sample the fare you’ve only read about, then give us a call, shoot us an email, or page through our 2019 catalog to find out how to get there.
Chat with a MIR destination specialist about travel to delicious destinations by phone (1-800-424-7289) or email today. We would love to take your ideas and blend them into a trip cooked up especially for you.
Top photo: Khinkali dumplings, Iago’s Winery, Mtskheta, Georgia. Photo: Kees Sprengers
PUBLISHED: November 28, 2018