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The Big V

GEORGIA | Saturday, 16 May 2009 | Views [503]

Just a sampling of my new favourite ethnic cuisine

Just a sampling of my new favourite ethnic cuisine

April 7-8: Train from Baku to Tbilisi

While waiting for my platzkart-mates to succumb to their vodka-induced stupor for the night, I perused my Lonely Planet Georgia print-outs for some background information on the next country on my route. I started a mental check-list of things to do in the capital, Tbilisi, but then was confounded by something I had never seen before beside some of the restaurant listings: the letter ‘V’. Most travel guidebooks have symbols denoting special attributes such as air conditioning or internet in hotels, wheelchair accessible sights, and so on. This ‘V’, however, was a new one for me.

I didn’t think much of it until I nearly drooled over the thought of Georgian khachipuri (dangerously tasty cheese pies), pkhali (spinach and garlic dip), and home-made organic wine. My god, I thought to myself as the lightbulb inside my head ruptured a few brain cells. VEGETARIAN!! The ‘V’ means vegetarian!!

I had been a staunch veggie for about 6 years but admittedly started eating meat again after the first four months in Tajikistan. My decision to convert to the dark side, if you will, was as much for cultural sensitivities as for personal health; pretty much every meal in TJ is built around meat, especially those prepared for guests (which I often was during fieldwork with MSDSP), and I had lost a lot of weight quickly from a heavy workout schedule and not enough calories. After leaving Tajikistan for my travels throughout the rest of Central Asia, I came across the same difficulties in turning down meat offered to me expectantly by incredibly hospitable families and friends. After hearing rave reviews of meat-based Middle Eastern dishes such as shawarma and kebabs, I decided to continue on my omnivorous ways to maximize the travel experience (selfish, I know). But hey, at least the animals are free range...!

But here in Georgia, it seems that not eating meat at every meal may even be part of the gastronomic tradition. After 9 months of mutton fat-laden Central Asian dishes, my heart literally skipped a beat at the prospect of gorging myself on guilt-free organic herb dips, cheese pies, and Big Salads (Seinfeld, anyone?).

I was awoken in the middle of the night as the train pulled up to the Azeri-Georgian border and customs guards traipsed noisily through the wagons for the obligatory baggage searches and passport checks. When my trusty blue (though I think it should be red) Canadian passport was returned to my outstretched hands, I breathed a sigh of relief at the second welcome mat laid out for me: I didn't need a visa.

I grinned to myself. Well, Miss Georgia, it certainly is a pleasure to meet you.

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