Georgian Delight in the Heart of Moscow
One of the aspects of my position that I love best is tasting food for MIR. As I sit at my desk and write this, I have a feeling of euphoria running through my body that comes from just having visited Djon Djoli restaurant and sampled as much of the wonderful food as I could at one sitting.
The name “Djon Djoli” doesn’t sound very Russian, and it isn’t; it’s a Georgian restaurant. The name comes from a small tree that grows in the Caucasus. In April, right after the leaves start to grow, flower buds also start to appear. These flower buds are collected before they open and then are used as a spice. They say the taste is similar to capers.
In most cases, when you are visiting Russia, you will have plenty of time to try Russian food; you are not coming for just a day or two. Also, if you are not planning on traveling to Georgia (and you really should because, if you are already on this side of the ocean, it is not really much of a jump to get there) you can try it here in Russia, where it is very popular. I do keep in the back of my mind that extra time at the gym will be needed after tasting all the different kinds of khachapuri – kind of like a cheese pizza – but it is well worth it.
We did a sampling at Djon Djoli. This was not a supermarket sampling. At supermarkets here, they give out tiny little pieces of some new product on a toothpick that just barely give you a taste. Our sampling at Djon Djoli lasted over two hours – and there were no toothpicks. It was plate after plate and fork after fork and spoon after spoon.
I have several favorite cold dishes, many of them using a staple of Georgian cuisine, walnuts. The first one is satsivi, chunks of chicken fillet in a slightly spicy sauce made out of ground young walnuts. Don’t be turned off by the word spicy. We aren’t talking mouth-burning spicy. We’re talking complex flavors.
The second dish is Badrijani Nigvzit, roll-ups made of lightly fried eggplants stuffed with a walnut paste and sprinkled with individual pomegranate kernels. I could eat an entire plate of them.
Still in keeping with the walnut theme, we turn to pkhali. They are similar in shape to a meatball, but without the meat. I like the ones made out of spinach, coriander, walnuts, and spicy tomato and pepper sauce, but there are also ones made out beets, cabbage, walnuts and yes, spicy tomato and pepper sauce.
Moving on to the hot dishes, I tried the kutabi, also vegetarian. They are similar to a pancake that is stuffed with spinach, coriander, sorrel, green onions, parsley and a salty, creamy cheese called suluguni. They are served with sour cream that you smear over them to make it a mouth-watering treat. The plates kept coming and coming.
Next was “Khachapuri Po-Imeretinsky.” They call it a pie, but to me it is more like a closed pizza; instead of being filled with many ingredients, it is filled with only that salty suluguni cheese. You could also try “Khachapuri Po-Megrelsky” which has suluguni cheese both inside and browned on the top. Or, if you want to be more exotic, and like your eggs sunny-side up, the boat-shaped “Khachapuri Po-Adzharsky” (Ajaran khachapuri) is the one for you.
You will also find a wide selection of kebabs offered in Georgian restaurants. Djon Djoli barbecues using real wood – no gas tank connected to this grill. Since I am not a big meat eater, I had the barbecued vegetables. I can tell you for sure that my colleagues, Zhanna, Tanya and Lena were all very envious of my plate. The aroma brought back memories of standing around the fire at the dacha during the summer preparing our shashliki (Russian for kebabs).
My fellow diners had beef shashliki, which also did not last long on their plates. After a little bit of begging, I did share my vegetarian portion. Georgian restaurants offer quite a few dishes suitable for vegetarians. And if you eat fish, the barbecued salmon will melt in your mouth.
At this point, we were all ready to burst. We thought our “sampling” had come to an end. We thought wrong. We saw the plates with dessert coming our way. My usual 45 minutes on the treadmill became 60!
I recommend washing this all down with their homemade drink called Tarkhun, which is made using real tarragon. Don’t be afraid that it is green. It is supposed to be.
Our waiters made sure that we were well taken care of and we felt as if we had made a mini-trip to Georgia. Not wanting to leave, but having to get back to the office, we rolled out of the door and found ourselves back in Moscow without ever having to go through passport control.
MIR’s foodie tour, A Chronicle of Russian Cuisine & Culture, specializes in epicurean delicacies, so a visit to an authentic Georgian restaurant in the Russia’s capital is a natural fit.
Or, you could have that taste at the source, in Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi. MIR has more than 25 years of planning expertise in travel to Russia, Georgia and beyond. MIR offers several small group tours, private independent trips and even a rail journey by private train that visits Tbilisi.
Of special note, MIR’s culinary tour to Georgia, A Taste of Georgia: Wine, Cuisine & Culture, is the small group tour to best get expert-level access to the flavors of Georgian cuisine.
(Top Photo: Happiness is “sampling” Georgian cuisine – Photo credit: John Seckel)
PUBLISHED: March 23, 2015