Georgian Food and the Turkish Sparkers

Last weekend I was in Chicago because I was giving a talk at the Chicago Linguistic Society’s conference (I had an awfully good time the last time I went to CLS two years ago). Shortly before I left, my advisor sent me a magazine article about a Georgian restaurant (the only Georgian restaurant?) in Chicago. The conference ended on Saturday, but I didn’t fly out until the following evening, so on Sunday I decided to seek out this restaurant.

Chicago Diplomat Café is a deep, high-ceilinged restaurant with leather-backed armchairs and black tablecloths and an aquarium with goldfish. When I arrived shortly before noon, there was only one other party, a couple, dining. I was seated at a little table not far from them. I can’t remember if I’ve ever eaten alone in a sit-down restaurant before, but it wasn’t too awkward. With my suitcase in tow, I fancied I looked like a worldly traveler.

The magazine article had mentioned all sorts of scrumptious dishes, and my one regret in coming alone was that I doubted I’d be able to try more than one dish (no supra for me). There were three kinds of khachapuri, but if I ordered one I didn’t think I’d be able to eat anything else. I decided I wanted the khinkali, Georgian soup dumplings. But when I asked the waiter if I could have them, he said no. I was a bit flummoxed and said something about them not having khinkali today. The waiter didn’t exactly confirm this, but I switched my order to the mtsvadi. I also ordered a Georgian lemonade, pear flavor (the other option was tarragon). If the waiter approved of my Georgian pronunciation, he gave no sign of it.

Georgian lemonade

The Georgian lemonade turned out to be a bottled soda that didn’t taste at all like lemonade. It was a little too sweet for my taste; it gave me the impression of carbonated apple juice (the kind of apple juice preschoolers drink). The mtsvadi was tasty, though it wasn’t quite what I’d expected from the menu. The seasoned chunks of chicken had been cooked on a skewer, and the Georgian fried potatoes were…basically French fries (though quite good ones). The red sauce on the side was sour (in a good way). The menu had called mtsvadi the dish of kings. According to the magazine article, the chicken was marinated in pomegranate juice, and the sauce was tkemali, a sour plum sauce.

Mtsvadi

While I was eating, a larger party with a reservation came in. One young woman was explaining the dishes to her friends, and I later heard her tell the waiter she’d been a Peace Corps volunteer in Georgia. She and the waiter discussed the fact that Georgian lemonade is in fact flavored soda, not lemonade (wish I’d heard that sooner). The group discussed ordering khinkali, and I thought to myself that they would be disappointed as I’d been. But then when the Peace Corps volunteer asked for two orders of the dumplings, the waiter accepted the order! There was some brief exchange I didn’t catch (perhaps khinkali take a while to prepare?), but the Peace Corps volunteer said one of her friends had his heart set on khinkali, and it seemed clear they were being allowed to order them. I was miffed. Someday I will eat khinkali!

In other news from roughly the same part of the world…the Turkish edition of Sparkers appears to be coming out tomorrow, June 1st! The Turkish title is Kıvılcımlar, which Google Translate tells me means “sparks,” and it was translated by Canan Vaner. The publisher is Kırmızı Kedi (Red Cat!), and their page for the book is here (it seems to be on lots of Turkish bookselling sites, but I can’t really read any of them, so I’ll just link to the publisher). If you or anyone you know reads Turkish, consider buying the first foreign edition of Sparkers!

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