ST. PETERSBURG — We’ve been making pretty good progress on our checklist of Russian foods to try: blini, pelmeni, borscht and vareniki have all been crossed. Tonight we ventured south — culinarily speaking — to Georgia, the former Soviet Republic in the Caucasus.
We were following a lead from the New York Times to Khinkalnaya-Khachapurnaya, a few blocks away from our hotel. The name alludes to khachapuri (хачапури), one of Georgia’s most iconic dishes. It’s no ordinary flatbread — the first bite unleashes a slow ooze of salty cheese onto your plate (and into your mouth). I’m still amazed we only ate one.
Shashlik (шашлык из свинины) are the Russian/Central Asian equivalent of shish kebab — big pieces of meat that have been skewered and grilled. We tried it for the first time at our Lake Baikal picnic, where it was affiliated with the Buryat ethnic group. But Georgians make it, too. Tonight, the perfectly grilled chunks of pork were accompanied by a tangy tomato-based sauce, a big improvement on the beachside ketchup.
The most surprising dish of the evening was an appetizer of eggplant with walnuts (баклажан с грецкими) that was recommended by the Times writer. Wedges of eggplant were slathered in a hummus-like walnut paste and then thrown in the oven, where the soft flesh of the eggplant melded deliciously with the nuts. It reminded me a bit of baba ghanoush, but this was firm enough to eat with a fork.
It was the best meal of the trip so far (the train certainly doesn’t offer too much competition), and we certainly won’t be leaving Russia without another Georgian meal or three.
Khinkalnaya-Khachapurnaya is located south of Nevsky Prospekt at 8 Borovaya Street in downtown St. Petersburg, Russia. Dinner for two cost about 800 rubles, including sodas. For more on Georgian cuisine, Uncornered Market put together an exhaustive list of Georgian dishes back in 2007.