Being half Georgian, you’d think I’d be a little more familiar with Georgian food. Sure, we make khatchapuri (a kind of bread and cheese pastry) and katletebi (basically meatballs with onions and spices) all the time at home, but otherwise I was quite unfamiliar with other Georgian foods initially upon arriving in Tbilisi. On one of my first nights here, my cousin and her friends took me out for a local delicacy, khinkali. Khinkali are extremely popular in Georgia, so I did have the knowledge that they are a type of dumpling traditionally made with a meat or potato and cheese filling. I also recalled that the “dumpling” part is raw dough which is specially boiled to yield Khinkali as we know it, and that the “navel” is actually a chunk of very raw dough which you are not technically supposed to eat, although many still do.
Armed with this knowledge, I felt ready to take on the Khinkali with my cousin and her friends. At the restaurant, we ordered 20 Khinkali with meat fillings. After some time, the waiter appeared with a towering tray filled with the steaming dumplings. All eyes were on me as I was urged to try one. Not wanting to disappoint, I grabbed my fork and in one swift motion speared a dumpling to set on my plate. As I lifted the khinkali, shocked cries sprang out across the table. “What are you doing?!” asked my cousin. “Nooooooo!” Exclaimed one of her friends. Confused, I set down the dumpling and looked around. Resounding laughter, sighs at my “American-ness”, and exclamations still echoed across the table. Turns out, I had forgotten perhaps the most important thing about Khinkali. Inside the dumpling, there is liquid, similar to a Chinese soup dumpling. Once this had been explained to me, I looked down at my plate to see that the juice from the dumpling had spilled all over and was in fact still leaking. “Hurry before its all gone!” exclaimed my cousin’s friends. I picked it up again and took a bite, which resulted in the dumpling ripping in half and spilling the rest of its contents onto my plate, causing yet more laughter from around the table. After this incident, I was given a thorough lesson on how to properly eat khinkali. Apparently, you either pick it up with your hands, or if you must use a fork you spear the thick, doughy navel so that you do not break the skin. Once it is on your plate, you use your hands to lift it and take a bite from the side and suck out the liquid. After that, you may eat the rest as you please.
Below is a photo of what these Khinkali look like! I highly recommend giving them a try if you ever have a chance.