Khachapuri: Georgian cheese bread
Cultural overlaps and more of what binds us
It is said that the Aryans migrated south from Central Asia to settle in the Ganges plains in India around 1800 BCE onwards. The migration happened over several years and brought with it mixed influences that continue to live on in the Indian culture in recognizable ways.
Fast forward to the 1990s when my family lived in the Soviet Union and then Russia, our first hand experience with the diverse population in the culturally rich Moscow of 1990s brought us closer to understanding the similarities in language, food, looks, etc. of, among others, people from break away republics. Georgia being one of them. The Georgians we met in Russia, related with our look and color; the historical and culinary connection between Georgian and Indian food was irrefutable. There are some funny anecdotes involving their interest in knowing exactly how the sari is draped :-).
One very interesting observation that came early on was similar food names and tastes. Khachapuri; Georgian cheese bread is similar to Indian leavened bread styles. While Khachapuri is leavened bread with cheese filling, Indian breads like parathas, naans, puri, can at times have vegetable or cheese filing and taste similar. Georgian lobio are kidney beans cooked in spices quite like Indians cook red kidney bean curry also called lobio in some parts of India.
The Georgian taste palate, combining spices and condiments like cilantro/coriander, fenugreek, garlic are very similar to their Indian counterparts. Fresh spices and herbs roughly ground up in mortar pastel while food prep is similar to Indian cooking. Georgian chicken curry could easily be mistaken for Indian and the list goes on.
Long before Uber or Lyft, Moscovites had figured the use of their personal cars as informal taxis to make some extra cash over weekends and free time. If you stood by the road to flag a cab, very often a private car may stop and ask if you needed a ride. It was an accepted, well known, safe, affordable way to ride in the city in the 80s and 90s and usually had very friendly, chivalrous and often chatty drivers. It was a great cultural exchange opportunity for us expats in Moscow. One such time my mother and I got in the car of a Georgian gentleman, he asked where we were from, we told him India. The connection with food, looks and history were made and he was happily surprised to find out just how much we knew of his culture and how many similarities there were. Simple experiences like these keeps my memories of Russia pleasant and personable.
Keeping simple times in mind, I recently revisited memory lane and made Georgian Khachapuri and lobio from online recipes. My memory of eating these the last time are more than 25 years old and I do not remember ever trying to make them at home. My Caucasian husband enjoys anything with a lot of cheese in it, so he was one happy puppy today. The smell of freshly chopped dill on the oven fresh cheesy khachapuri took me back to Baku; a mixed central European restaurant in downtown Moscow where I remember eating Georgian food a long long time ago (in a Galaxy far far away).
As an extension of car ride stories with central European gentlemen, in more recent times I rode an Uber in Los Angeles, the driver was an elderly Armenian. As many are familiar, LA has the second largest Armenian population outside of Armenia. (Kar-da-shians… :-)). Anyway. Back to the Uber ride. I overheard the driver talking to his wife on phone to pick up something from the Russian store, which he was going to forget, but for my reminder. He was very grateful, it was something for their pet dog apparently. Anyway, I took the opportunity to browse the Russian store, which was on the outskirts of LA. My Uber guy introduced me to some cookies, and a Georgian plum sauce; a sweet, sour, savory medley of flavors that goes perfectly on meats, to be eaten with freshly baked bread. The store had freshly cooked meals and an outdoor café. That day I did something I have never ever done in my life; I shared a meal with my Armenian Uber driver in the sunny outdoor café of a Russian store, sharing stories of days in the Soviet Union, and enjoyed it very much. I paid for the meal, it was my pleasure.
Bits of our lost past live silently around us, we can find it if we only look.
I am not familiar with the Georgian language but here are some fun facts about Russian language and its striking similarities with Indian languages including Sanskrit.
Russian word for sugar cubes: saakhar (caxap in cyrillic) is identical to the Marathi word for sugar: saakhar (साखर in devnagri).
Russian for door: Dver. Old hindi: Dvar
Russian for fire: Agni, Ogon. Sanskrit: Agni
Russian for mother: Maat. Hindi: Mata
Russian for pineapple: Ananas. Marathi: Ananas
Russian for melon: Arbuz. Hindi: Tarbuz
The universal word for tea — Chai, is the same in Russian and Hindi.