Centuries of invading empires have left Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, with a pleasantly eclectic palate, so perhaps it’s not surprising that the national dish, khinkali, is said to have come from 13th-century Mongol warriors.
Khinkali look like a chunky cousin of the Taiwanese soup dumpling, xiaolongbao. Most commonly filled with a beef-pork mince mix, herbs and a little water, the parcels are steamed to create a moreish broth within.
Locals are skilled in the art of extracting the hot juices in one bite, cautiously using the top knot of dough as a handy grip. Plates strewn with discarded knots sit on cafe tables.
Kartveli Tours founder Irakli Shengelia, who lives in the city, says khinkali are best eaten with alcohol: “We can’t decide whether vodka or beer is best so we drink both: chakiduli is a shot of vodka followed by a beer.”
Residents revere khinkali and only tourists dare relegate them to a mere side dish. Some restaurants have a minimum order of five and, as Irakli says, “an average Georgian eats between six and 10 in one sitting”.
Khinkali are traditionally the food of shepherds in the Tusheti and Pshavi regions, which is where you’ll apparently still find the best. Fortunately, for those who can’t navigate remote mountain passes, the capital is peppered with decent spots to sample the national staple.
Tbilisi is vegetarian-friendly so, alongside meat, you’ll find fillings of cheese, mushrooms and mashed potato. Khinkali may be revered, but they’re rarely expensive. An order of five at Veliaminovi, a traditional restaurant in the old town, will set you back about £1.15.