Khatchapouri, the star pancake of Georgian gastronomy

UA strange creature had just appeared on my radar, completely by chance. That evening, I had gone out to dinner with an empty stomach and full of hope; and she had appeared behind me at the next table, when I had just sat down on the terrace of a Parisian restaurant. In its wake, it had carried a familiar and heady smell: that of toast covered in melting butter. I had taken a moment to observe it and lose myself in the relief of its slender curves. I amused myself by counting the brown spots that ran over the surface of her skin, itself perfectly golden. Its belly was shaped like a large oval lake, except that the fresh water had been replaced by a sea of ​​cheese. A simple raw egg yolk, placed in its center, acted as a navel. Without further ado, I asked the waiter to make the introductions.

Information taken, the culinary specialty comes from Georgia and responds to the sweet name of khatchapouri. The dish could not be more typical; I learned that, in the language of this small country in the Caucasus – wedged between the Russian Federation and Turkey, on the east coast of the Black Sea –, khacho means “cheese curd” and pure means “bread”. And that the sum of the two is a national culinary emblem. You can’t say it resembles an Italian pizza, or even an Indian naan – although the shape suggests it.

In this case, khachapuri consists of a leavened bread dough that is very generously topped with cheese, then flattened before baking it in the oven – but there are a large number of variations. The version I had seen was a variation from Adjara, a region located in southwestern Georgia. There, traditionally, the dough is rolled out in a circle and then stretched by the corners so that it takes on the appearance of the hull of a boat. It is then garnished with a mixture of two local cheeses: soulgouni (a cow’s milk cheese with spun paste, a cousin of mozzarella) and imrouli (with a salty and slightly rancid taste). When the dough comes out of the oven and is still smoking, it is decorated with an egg yolk and one or more pieces of butter.

Art of the Georgian feast

In recent years, in Paris, Georgian cuisine has been gaining momentum and popularity. Many restaurants strive to promote the gastronomy of this country, where feasting is an art registered in the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Unesco. On the map of Colchis (Paris 18e), from Chez Magda (Paris 19e) or Supra (Paris 20e), the khachapuris occupy a prominent place. They are eaten as a starter, to whet the appetite, or as an accompaniment to a good glass of Georgian wine – another great local specialty.

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