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The Search for Khinkali
On my way to Georgia, I was on a mission. I had researched the local dumpling and was fascinated by it. I love the way it looks, the way people eat it. I definitely wanted to learn how to make it, but could not find a cooking lesson advertised anywhere. Upon our arrival, the first thing we did was pick up our rental car. Jim always makes those reservations, and I didn’t realize that it wasn’t just a rental place, it was a full on tourist agency. While we sat and did all the paperwork, which was more time consuming than usual since we were taking the car to Armenia as well, I asked one of the agents if they knew of a place I could learn how to make khinkali. To my surprise she gave me the name of a restaurant in Telavi to call. Supposedly they would teach me.
Once we had the car rental straightened out and were on the road we decided to make Telavi our first stop. I wanted as much time as possible to be able set up a cooking lesson, and since we had no reservations anywhere, I figured we would let this be our first goal and see what happened. Upon our arrival, we checked into our guesthouse. The owner’s son spoke a little English, and when they asked me if I needed anything I asked if he would call the restaurant for me and see if they could teach me how to make dumplings. After a long conversation, he told me they would and I could come right over. I was amazed that it was happening so fast. I figured I’d have to wait a day or two but was overjoyed that we could do it right then.
Into the Kitchen
The restaurant, Restorani Telavi, was not in the center of town and when we arrived there was only one table with customers at it. The guesthouse guy walked us in and introduced us and then took off. No one really spoke English except a waitress who was only there for a few days picking up some extra money as she traveled around her country. How lucky was that?! Zaza went and talked to the folks in the back for about five minutes and then came back and explained to us that we could go back into the kitchen.
Let the Lessons Begin!
In the small, spartan kitchen we met Marta and Anna. Marta had been the chief cook and khinkali maker for a long time and had even mangled her hand in the dough pressing machine. She was a large, imposing woman who really didn’t seem pleased at first that we were invading her territory, but within minutes of us fumbling around she really warmed up to us! The cooking lesson was less of a cooking lesson than it was a folding the dumpling around the filling lesson. The dough and the filling was already made, but she did tell us how she did it. Then she showed us how to press the small sheets of dough in the pressing machine and then how to hold, wrap, and fold the layers to make the delicate shape that looks like a purse cinched up holding its treasure within.
Using the two dough pressing machines were a little daunting as the rollers tend to grab the dough and do with it as it pleases. Yes, Marta could make the shape she was looking for in her sleep, but I tried time and time again and never seemed to quite grasp the trick. The same can be said with the folding of the pleats. These ladies picked up a sheet of dough, splashed in some broth and meat and within seconds produced a perfect little pouch, with even pleats, and a nice little hat on top. After too many tries to count, I figured I would never quite get the hang of it, so I decided right then and there that I would spend my energy perfecting the eating of khinkali, something that speaks much more to my personal talents.
When I asked my instructors, during the critical part of the folding lesson, what their favorite food was, they hesitatingly answered “maybe khinkali” and now I know why. It takes a long time to make those delectable little pouches, and I’m sure they don’t have dough pressers at home to facilitate the process. Even though I started my dumpling project trying to get the stories of the family all being together in the home while they made these time-consuming specialties, nowadays they just don’t have as much time as they possibly did in the past.
Into the Pot With You!
Now it was time to cook our little packets of meat and broth. That is one great reason that khinkali are so tasty. Most other dumplings do not contain their own liquid, but watch out with khinkali, since you eat them straight out of the pan, that liquid is hot and so delicious (you definitely don’t want to lose a drop)! In the pot Marta dumps the khinkali and she takes a huge wooden ladle with handmade holes bored through it to stir bubbling cauldron. I loved that massive, wooden spoon. I asked her about it and she said that “it is special” so I wasn’t going to be able to find one to buy. But I love a challenging mission so guess what? Anyway, that’s another story for a future post.
The khinkali were done, Marta unceremoniously dumps them on a plate and Jim and I head back out to the dining room to eat them all. Delicious!
- Telavi is a small town at the heart of Khaketi, the popular wine region
- Khinkali originated in Georgia’s mountain regions and has spread throughout the Caucasus countries
- There are many different fillings to include, potatoes, cheese, lamb, beef, and mushroom
- Khinkali are always eaten by hand, never with knife and fork
- The first bite is taken carefully and all of the broth is slurped out with it
- Hold the khinkali by the top knot, or hat, which is never eaten but left on the plate to show how many have been consumed
- Restorani Telavi can be found on Giorgi Leonidze Street, about half way up the road (sorry no address)
Have you ever had khinkali? Where?
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