They look like knobbly sausages hanging along the rural roadsides and in the food markets of Georgia, except their skins are a bright, shiny, deep red.
They look like candles, except their pointed ends have no wick.
This is churchkhela, a sort of wholefood candy, made mainly from nuts and grape must — an intense stew of the crushed fruit. Usually 25 walnut halves are threaded together and dipped in the thickened grape juice, which has been heated and stirred to a thick, creamy, stick consistency. In some areas almonds and hazelnuts are used.
I buy one on the roadside, cut a first piece a couple of centimetres long. It is dense, not overly sweet (sugar isn’t added) and incredibly filling. Two pieces and I feel completely full, as if I’ve had a three-course meal.
Churchkhela is a very efficient, high-energy food and that takes us into the cultural roots of Georgian food.
GEORGIA ON MY MIND
Other memorable food and drink in Georgia:
Khachapuri — Georgian bread, cottage cheese and egg, a sort of early pizza.
Shoti or shota — Armenian bread, bought fresh on the roadside.
Breakfast olives — in a thick, sweet syrup.
Soko ketsze — mushrooms and cheese. Georgians love mushrooms and grow many varieties.
Georgian cheeses — especially sulguni, and imeretian from the Imereti region, which is a popular curd cheese made from cows’ milk.
Turkish coffee — smooth, rich, not bitter, more like chocolate.
Georgian sparkling water — comes out of the ground effervescent in some places. Georgia has more than 2000 mineral water springs.
Fresh fruit — cherries are well under $10 for a big bucketful.