Georgian food, wine gaining ground in US culinary scene

Global Business

The country of Georgia, about the size of West Virginia, was at the heart of the Silk Road, a place where Europe meets Asia. Although Georgia has been influenced by a variety of cultures, Georgian cuisine has stood the test of time and is gaining popularity in the U.S.

CCTV America’s Shraysi Tandon reports.

Chef and owner of Oda House, Maia Acquaviva, made me one of the Georgia’s most popular dish, khachapuri. The pizza-like dish serves as a vessel for plenty of cheese, butter, and — in some versions — an egg. The dish, she said, is a crowd pleaser.

A former plastic surgeon, Acquaviva left the medical field in Georgia to open Oda House in New York three years ago.

“When I decided to open Oda House in the city, everyone was against me. Everyone. All my family and my friends,” she said. “They said people don’t even [know] where Georgia is.”

Her gamble paid off. The restaurant is so successful that she recently opened a second location in New Jersey, introducing traditional Georgian foods like chakapuli and khinkali to Western palates.

When Acquaviva opened Oda House three years, there were only two Georgian restaurants in New York. Last year, five new Georgian restaurants opened there.

But it’s not just the food that’s gaining momentum. Georgian wine is also taking off. Traditionally drunk from a horn-like contraption called kantsi, Georgian wines are as natural as they come.

“There is almost a belief that God gave the grape everything it needs to make wine in a perfectly natural way. So the idea of adding too much sulphur, the idea of not using native yeast for fermentation, the idea of shaping the wine to please the public as opposed to doing the best that nature gave you, it’s sort of alien to many people,” Alice Feiring, author of “For The Love of Wine,” said. “So it’s nothing added, nothing taken and doing the best with nature.”

There are over 500 indigenous grape varieties in Georgia. In 2015, the country exported almost 30,000 bottles of wine to over 40 countries around the world, including France, Russia, China, and the U.S.

If the success of Georgian wine and it’s pizza-like dish Khachapuri is any indication, Georgian cuisine may be the next big thing to hit the U.S. culinary scene.

“I think after all these years, over-oaked, over-manipulated wines that don’t really have a sense of place, all of a sudden there comes I suppose a sort of innocence, a freshness, a difference, and you may not know where the place is but you know these wines have a sense of place,” Feiring said. “And I think it attracts people on an emotional level.”

Acquaviva’s motto, much like the country’s food and wine, is to keep it fresh and natural. She neither uses a freezer nor fries her food.

And although she said she sometimes misses being a doctor, she’s found transferable skills in being a chef.

“Before I have uniform, now I have uniform. Before I have a scalpel, now I have chef’s knife. Before I was cutting people, now I’m cutting for people,” she said. “What’s changed? Just the ‘for.'”