In the past when staying in Europe I’ve found that I start to lose weight almost instantly. My experience in Georgia has been a little different. Sure, I am exercising much more often than back at home. Since coming to Georgia, I walk to and from work every day and to the gym every other day, which translates into a good five to eight miles of walking a day. On the weekends, my efforts to explore the hillsides and intentionally get lost in the city add to the healthy gain. However, Georgian cuisine is not conducive to healthy eating. A week ago I decided to stop at a small Georgian restaurant on my way home. The menu was cheap and the beer glasses incredibly tall, though I resolved to stick to water. When I opened the front page of the menu, I smiled. Every dish was exactly the sort of food that I would eat back in the days when I subsisted on a diet of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, spaghetti, and some form of meat and potatoes. Thankfully, my pallet has improved slightly since those days. My bemused smile quickly faded as I turned past page one and saw more of the same. Georgian cuisine can be loosely described as meat and potatoes: a culinary exploration of form through a minimalistic pallet of ingredients. I had never seen so many combinations of comfort food on a single menu. I’d hazard to guess that a football team at a Cracker Barrel would have considered jumping ship to join me if they got a glance at this menu.
My coworkers laughed when I said that I hoped to lose weight in Georgia. Tbilisi is a city made for eating out, at least made for locals. I am able to walk five minutes from the office and get a masterfully prepared house special from an upscale restaurant for twenty lari or about nine bucks. To be honest, on most days I join my coworkers at a local bank’s cafeteria where I can actually eat a heaping plate of home cooked food, including vegetables, for less than three dollars. Most of my coworkers simply eat out: it is cheap and fast. I’d probably do the same if there was any way to find a good review online. I’ve been warned that restaurants here vary wildly from mouthwatering to you won’t be able to keep water down. I’ve learned to play it safe and cook for myself most nights. I am fortunate that small fruit and vegetable stands ring my neighborhood and a rare large grocery store is just a couple city blocks away.
My first encounter with said Georgian grocery store was a bit odd. When I arrived, I found a hoard of employees wandering wistfully through the aisles. Every aisle invariably led to the liquor and beer display that dominated the main drag of the supermarket. At the liquor displays a host of young girls wait to pounce on anyone who casts an errant eye at a label. I’d never thought in my life that I’d ever feel like fleeing from a beautiful woman, but escaping from the pushy smiles and forced flirting in broken English requires being fleet of foot. In the end, my cart full of groceries, including a few mystery items and what I hope was cold medications from Ukraine (no side effects yet), costs me around thirty dollars and feeds me for well over a week. As a poor law student, I must admit I could get used to the cost of living here, if only google translate was a bit more reliable in helping me communicate my grocery list.