It’s easy to explore on foot, a quick read of the guidebook a chat to the hotel porters and a map from the Tourist Information office meant that we were out and about exploring the streets of Tbilisi without too much hassle. A central location made this easy, as did a pair of comfortable walking shoes and a degree of flexibility on our side. Do check beforehand about the many religious dates, for example during Orthodox Easter many of the attractions are either closed, or opening at unusual hours. Some of the street markets may also be closed.
The popular check list would be to visit the Saturday Flea Market, Sulfur Baths (although we avoided the later), taking the funicular, climbing up to the Narikala Fortress, a cruise on the Mtkvari river, walking through the narrow, winding back alleys as well as regaling at the distinctive architecture of the buildings along the Rustavelli Avenue. It’s through the bricks that the entire history of the city unfolds – an eclectic mix of styles from different periods.
What to Eat
As much as our trip was to explore, we were able to fit in quite a few culinary treats too. The Georgians have taken advantage of their heritage with influences from the Greeks, Mongols, Turks and Arabs. It’s a food lovers’ paradise. Our first stop was for some heart stopping good khachapuri, which to this day, we still dream about (the salguni cheese makes all the difference). Georgian dishes stand out in their simplicity – for example, a garlic chicken seasoned with a local secret spice that we mopped up with freshly baked bread, or the juicy and steaming hot Khinkali (dumplings in soup) which we later learnt to make in a cooking class and the sweet and indulgent candle shaped candies – Churchkhela (strands of walnuts, almonds and other nuts are threaded together and dipped in concentrated grape juice), which are eaten whilst walking along the streets.
Where to Eat
Samikitno: There are multiple branches of Samikitno and puritans may scoff at this fast-food style restaurant, but they are open at all odd hours and specialise in Georgian cuisine, serving freshly cooked food in no time. With our flight landing at a wee hour in the morning, the Samikitno at the Freedom Square was almost like a life saver. And with our first taste of Khachapuri in there, it will always be treasured in our memory!
Breadhouse: Situated by the Mtkvari river and with a menu that offers a variety of speciality breads and traditional Georgian dishes, Breadhouse is one of the popular places with the tourists. The dining experience here does make for keepsake culinary memories from Georgia. A large bread oven is the highlight inside the restaurant, with a live presentation of the drama of bread making.
Funicular Restaurant: Take the funicular up to the Mtatsminda Plateau and enjoy stunning views of Tbisli below you as you indulge in a set menu of traditional Georgian dishes at the Funicular restaurant, one of the ve restaurants in the Funicular Complex. The later is one of the most important places in Tbilisi, with its significant long history dating back to 1905. Take a seat on the terrace for the best views and walk off the excess carbs at the park afterwards. A note of caution though: It tends to be really windy up there!
Tbilisi at nigh time: Two streets – Jan Shardeni and Rkinis shoot off the Metekhi Bridge into the Ortachala neighbourhood and are lined with a variety of restaurants serving different cuisine. While some of these restaurants are open for sumptuous breakfasts in the mornings, during the nighttime they are transformed into night clubs and lounges. Each restaurant sits next to each other, almost onto each others’ laps and there’s a coziness that tucks every diner in. We had breakfast in Singer, a Jazz Cafe by the evening and a casual restaurant during the day, where all the tables were built with the legs of the Singer sewing machines!
Khinkhal: These are Georgian Dumplings traditionally filled with spiced meat (beef, pork or lamb) along with herbs, onions and garlic. Non meat options are made with cheese, potato or mushroom. These are eaten plain when piping hot by first sucking out the juices and then eat the rest of the dumpling. The meat filling is cooked raw and that generates its own juices which are trapped inside the dumpling. To get the perfect pleats of a Kinkhali and stitching the edges together so that the filling doesn’t pour out may sound very easy but is absolute Rocket Science, as we found in our masterclass at Iago’s Winery in Chardakhi!
Khinkhali – These are Georgian Dumplings (above) traditionally filled with spiced meat (beef, pork or lamb) along with herbs, onions and garlic. Non meat options are made with cheese, potato or mushroom. These are eaten plain when piping hot by first sucking out the juices and then eating the rest of the dumpling. The meat filling is cooked raw and that generates its own juices which are trapped inside the dumpling. To get the perfect pleats of a Kinkhali by stretching the edges together so that the filling doesn’t pour out may sound very easy but is absolute Rocket Science, as we found in our masterclass at Iago’s Winery in Chardakhi!
Khachapuri – Filled with melted cheese and topped with a runny egg, this flatbread is best eaten hot — tear off the crust and dunk it in the well of cheese and egg. Make sure you have a super- hot oven; a pizza stone helps. Do check out the recipe here.