Adventures in Food.

Posted on March 28, 2012 by

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It was a chilly February day—the sort where, even when the sun’s shining, the air cuts through layers upon layers of down and wool . . . and no matter how many clothes you have on, you’re still cold. I tromped into my house’s entry after a long day of school (five lessons), shook off my snow-encrusted boots, slipped on my house shoes, and opened the front door. I was met by Deda Nino—my host mother—and our neighbor Rosa, who had been having their daily coffee-and-gossip hour. “Vaaaaaime!” they tsk-ed, surveying my rosy cheeks and slightly drippy nose.

[At this point, I must interrupt my narrative to clarify that I’ve spent my entire life in the upper midwest United States—Minnesota and Iowa, to be precise. Walking for miles in snow and ice is nothing for me. For Georgians, however, it’s unheard of. Hence, the “Vaime!”, which translates, according to the internet, to “Alas, alack, woe is me!”]

Deda Nino led me to the dinner table, still tsk-ing, sat me down, and placed a steaming bowl of . . . well, something . . . in front of me. “This is khashi. It is a Georgian national dish and good for you,” she told me. “And this,” she continued, handing me a full shot glass of cognac and motioning for me to down it, “kills viruses. Drink.” I drank. At least I could identify the burning sensation in my throat and the pleasantly warm feeling that quickly spread through my body. The untouched bowl still sat in front of me, however. I observed the tubes and fluttery honeycomb-shaped patterns on the slimy greyish-white . . . stuff floating in the broth and noticed the whole thing gave off a smell akin to a farmyard. Luckily, growing up in the Midwest U.S. gave me a strong tolerance for any livestock-related odors. Still, having such a scent from something I was about to ingest was unsettling, to say the least.

Deda Nino brought a dish of minced garlic and a bowl of salt (“more antiseptics!”) to the table. She motioned for me to add spoonfuls of each to the bowl, and to throw some chunks of bread in as well. Finally, by this point, I was ready to eat—and I’d developed a pretty good idea of what exactly I was about to put in my mouth. The pieces floating in the broth looked an awful lot like the pictures of parts of bovine organs I’d seen in my mother’s old textbooks from veterinary school, and smelled exactly the way I’d imagine such organs to smell. Still, not wanting to offend anyone, I cleared my mind, cleared my throat, closed my eyes (figuratively), and braced myself. Deda Nino and Rosa shared a smirk as I took my first tentative bite, and as I chewed, slurped, and swallowed my way to the bottom of the bowl, they seemed impressed.

Molodets, Amiko! You like?”

“Um. I… think so…?”

Kaaaaaargi gogo! Good girl!”

Uh. Huh.

Later, torn between insatiable curiosity and fear, I broke down and Googled “khashi.” It was exactly what I had expected it to be: tripe soup. A delicacy in many countries. (Coincidentally, I had just finished a novel set in Turkey wherein the protagonist frequented tripe bars.) You’d think, dear readers, that eating bovine entrails would be utterly disgusting, and that I’d never touch it again. Nope! In fact, I’ve acquired a taste for it—maybe I’ll even learn to make it in the future. So, moral of the story: You’re going to eat unfamiliar foods, if you come to Georgia. Get used to them. (Just, you know, maybe don’t ask what they are until after dinner.)

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Posted in: Food and Drink