In the picturesque eastern region of Kakheti, Georgia, the end of the grape harvest signals the beginning of a unique culinary tradition. Vineyard owner and hotelier George Piradashvili is engrossed in the intricate process of crafting churchkhela, a traditional Georgian delicacy, from the leftover grape juice of the season’s yield.
Churchkhela, a staple in Georgian cuisine, is a testament to the country’s rich culinary heritage, deeply intertwined with its ancient winemaking practices. The process of making churchkhela is as fascinating as the snack is flavorsome. It involves boiling grape juice to a thick consistency, then dipping strings loaded with walnuts into the mixture. The result is a chewy, candy-like treat, rich in flavor and nutrients, often likened to popular energy snacks like Snickers or Mars bars.
Georgia’s culinary landscape is as diverse as its history, nestled between Russia and Turkey along the southern slopes of the Caucasus mountains. The country’s food culture offers an array of unique dishes, from the buttery and egg-laden khachapuri pastries to the robust khinkali dumplings, a specialty of the northern mountains. Churchkhela adds a sweet note to this predominantly hearty and spicy cuisine.
The preparation of churchkhela is labor-intensive, requiring constant stirring of the grape juice to prevent premature setting. This thickening process takes place in large vats, demanding both patience and physical stamina. For many tourists visiting Georgia, especially those exploring Tbilisi, the capital, churchkhela presents an intriguing and initially unfamiliar taste experience. Priced affordably, these brownish-purple candy sticks are a popular and convenient snack, although they may require an acquired taste for some visitors, as recounted by Fabrizio from Argentina.
Despite its initial peculiarity to some foreign palates, churchkhela is a beloved treat among Georgians. It holds a special place in celebrations and is a popular gift for children and adults alike. Gvantsa Ghedashvili, a local resident, shares her fondness for the delicacy, often buying it for New Year celebrations or as a special treat for her nephew.
Churchkhela, more than just a snack, symbolizes the enduring traditions of Georgian culture. It encapsulates the essence of the nation’s culinary history, a history that continues to charm and fascinate both locals and visitors alike.