"'When God divided the earth among its inhabitants, the Georgians were late because they were too busy eating and drinking. After some negotiations with the God, he ended up giving the Georgians a peace of land that he was saving for himself.' Not sure what the Georgians told God in those negotiations, but for his sake I hope that they let him have a Chibureki or two…" Yonatan Sternberg, Racha, Jerusalem
A few weeks ago, after enjoying an excellent deli sandwich at Hess' legendary delicatessen, I passed by Racha, a new kosher Georgian restaurant situated on Ha'Chavazelet Street. Intrigued by the interesting mix of people by the door and the music playing inside, I decided to walk in and check the place out. One look at the décor and the menu and I knew that it won't be long before I return. 3 weeks and 4 emails to my editor later, I found myself staring at the same menu and trying to decide what to order. I have to admit that I am not an expert on Georgian cuisine. Sure I had my share of Chachapuri and paid a couple of visits to Nanuchka in Tel Aviv, heck my parents even have a traditional Georgian drinking horn hanging from their breakfront, but the visit to Racha was my first real encounter with this rich and diverse culinary culture.
A family run restaurant, Racha's service is just as important as the food that comes out of the kitchen. Every diner is greeted and then later thanked by Israel or Lili (brother and sister) who really do an excellent job in making people feel welcomed and comfortable. Lili noticed that we were having trouble deciding and suggested to keep it traditional and eat as the Georgina's do. We started off with an assortment of colorful home made salads, my favorites being the Ispanakhi – a delicious traditional spinach tapenade like dish with walnuts and white wine vinegar and the Badrijani, composed of layered eggplant, fresh green herbs and again walnuts. Next to arrive were a couple of dishes from the savory pastry section on the menu, the Khinkali and the Chibureki each served with an assigned sauce. The Khinkali is basically the Georgian version of a Tibetan Momo, steamed dumplings filled with meat but the real surprise and one of the best dishes that I had in a while was the Chibureki. As first glance, they may remind you of a Sambusak or a Calzone, but after one bite you realize that this is a different ball game all together. The dough is super thin, crispy and serves as a shell for a delicious meat filling. Don't be tempted to cut with a fork, as you will loose all of the precious aromatic liquids within. Wrap with a napkin, dip in the wonderful green plum chutney (Tkemali) and enjoy.
Smokers who need to take a break during the feast can simply open the door and enter Racha's smoking bar. If you don't feel like going out for a formal dinner, Racha's adjacent bar also provides visitors with the opportunity to grab a quick beer, Chibureki or a shot of ChaCha - Georgian vodka. Keeping it traditional, our main courses for the evening were the Prakilobio – a slow cooked stew with lamb, green beans and tomatoes and the Tolma – a mix of ground beef & lamb wrapped in cabbage and cooked in a tomato and beef broth. Both portions were very generous and tasty, stuffed cabbage is another dish that is prepared in many kitchens and in many styles. The one served at Racha was very flavorful and just as good as any that I have tasted. A pot of tea and Churchkhela (don't ask me to pronounce it) for dessert, and needless to say that I was content.
The next day I called up a Georgian friend and told him about Racha. He replied with a traditional Georgian folk story “When God divided the earth among its inhabitants, the Georgians were late because they were too busy eating and drinking. After some negotiations with the God, he ended up giving the Georgians a peace of land that he was saving for himself.” Not sure what the Georgians told God in those negotiations, but for his sake I hope that they let him have a Chibureki or two.