In Hungary, whether you’re at the market, at the train station, on the beach or just walking down a commercial street, sooner or later you will smell the bewitching greasy invitation of the lángos, the ubiquitous Hungarian deep-fried flat bread. You might even encounter this fat-soaked snack in neighboring countries like Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Serbia, or Romania.
I’ve previously posted a pepper dolma recipe from Azerbaijan, but today’s dish hails from Uzbekistan and is prepared fairly differently. Shurpa means soup or broth in Uzbek, and the stuffed vegetables here are served in a flavorful broth. My recipe is loosely adapted from Hakim Ganiev‘s Oriental Feast, but I’ve made many changes, such as the use of my beloved pressure cooker.
Georgian Bread, in Brighton Beach, occupies what could be the ultimate niche market. As you probably guessed, it makes Georgian bread. Two kinds to be precise: shoti and khachapuri. And this is pretty much it! Sure, there are a few homemade spreads and salads, grocery items like tkemali, adjika, pickled walnuts, sodas, and Georgian-style cheeses — all things that you can find in Brighton supermarkets with a much wider selection. But the two breads are the only bakery items, and they totally justify the trip.
I’ve been going to Georgian Bread for years, but it looks like I missed the blogging bandwagon. Law & Food, Serious Eats and Fork in the Road all recently published excellent posts about the place. Someone even posted a picture of the oven on Yelp.
Back to the breads:
The shoti is a long, flat yeast-dough bread baked in the toné, the Georgian tandoor. This bread is delicious when you eat it fresh from the oven, and Georgian Bread’s rendition is no exception (you have to get there early, as the bread is done first thing in the morning and partly sold to the few local Georgian restaurants). Unfortunately, its very shape means it goes stale quickly. In a perfect world, it would always be baked to order, but even in Georgia this is rarely the case nowadays.
The khachapuri, a cheese bread I’ve already talked about many times, comes in its most classic form, called Imeretian, with the cheese trapped inside the dough. See how the cheese appears in the center? This gives us an idea of how the man must be assembling the pies: the cheese is placed in the center of a disc of dough, then the dough is folded like a purse, the knot of extra dough in the center is cut off, and maybe the whole thing is flattened a bit to its final shape. This is why you don’t see any sealed edges.
Tasting time! The bread survived the return trip quite well and was still warm when we got home, which is good news as I wouldn’t recommend reheating it or eating it cold. This is certainly the most authentic khachapuri I’ve tasted this side of the Atlantic. Unlike what so many lazy restaurants seem to think, it does pay to make your own dough instead of using crappy store-bought pizza dough — surprise! The oozy cheese mixture, made with a blend of Georgian-style cheeses found at the store, has an unexpectedly light texture and the rich, salty flavor I’m usually looking for, slightly on the mild side. The dough is fairly airy and has a good bread taste.
I’m not going to give Georgian Bread a rating like I do with my regular Restaurant Reviews; it would be unfair to treat it like a sit-down restaurant when it’s really just a counter selling a few items. But needless to say at this point, it has my seal of approval!
To conclude this Georgian Adventure series, here’s a look at the stores and markets of the capital city, Tbilisi.
Soviet mosaics are an endangered species in Tbilisi. Here is a rare specimen from the Lagidze Café on Rustaveli Avenue. Lagidze is a popular brand of sodas and syrups created at the turn of the 20th century, here is an interesting article about them. When I got there in 2008, the café was already closed, and the mosaic must certainly be gone by now.
Bread occupies a very important place in Georgian cuisine, whether it’s a cheese-filled khachapuri or a long flat loaf cooked in the toné, a tandoor-like clay oven. Here is a small booth selling bread in the city center:
In my opinion though, the kind of flat bread displayed in the window above is much better when consumed fresh from the oven. I captured the bread making process in the kitchen of a small bakery, the traditional toné replaced with an electric bread oven:
Below is a storefront on Leselitze Street, the main artery of the old town. You can see breads and pastries of all sizes and shapes, sweet or savory, filled with cheese or meat.
Of course all this bread requires heaps of flour, and this is literally what you’ll find at the central market. There’s a whole room dedicated to flour:
I will spare you the produce department since I’ve already shown you so many road-side vendors in other parts of my trip. Here is the meat section:
As you can see, offals are well-represented:
We’ll leave Georgia with my own recipe for a “Lagidze” chocolate cream soda. My version is low in sugar and high in cacao powder — feel free to adjust the proportions to your liking!
Yields 5 servings
6 oz sugar
5 oz water
1 1/2 oz unsweetened cacao powder
1/4 tsp citric acid
- Place the sugar and water in a saucepan, bring to a boil and cook for another minute, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and mix in the cacao powder and the citric acid. Let cool, transfer to a plastic container and reserve.
Chocolate cream soda
Yields 5 glasses
35 oz seltzer water
10 ice cubes
heavy cream, to taste
- In 12 oz soda glasses, gently stir 4 tbsp chocolate syrup with 7 oz seltzer. Add 2 ice cubes and a dash of heavy cream. Enjoy!