It’s with a heavy heart (read: heavy stomach) that I left Georgia this week. What an incredible, colourful country that one is. And I chose this pic because I think it epitomises the way Georgians cook and eat, reuse and repurpose so well. I took it in Tbilisi, the capital, where cooperative shops are a dime a dozen. In these mini-supermarkets you’ll find people selling home-produced stuff – cheeses and herbs, spice mixes and wine, honey and jams – packaged and sold in unlabelled reused jars and containers. Walking into one of these places is like walking into a bazaar of unknowns. The smell of fresh herbs is the first thing to hit you – coriander and Thai basil, dill and tarragon and chives – open sacks of chilli and curry-like spices and strong, briney white cheeses. Huge vats of amber, cherry red and murky white wines, bottles of traffic light colours stacked high.
These bottles here once contained Borjomi mineral water (the Georgians are rather proud of their Borjomi), but now tkemali and ajika have claimed them. Both are condiments and a regular feature on the Georgian table. The former a green sour plum sauce and the latter a spicy red pepper relish. Both delicious with eggs, by the way.
Isn’t it just wonderful that all over the country, materials are reshaped and reused for whatever new purpose befits them. I’ll admit, this does not stretch to plastic bags which are used without discretion. But still, old jars and plastic bottles are salvaged and saved, I’ve seen mattress springs used as fencing, large plastic Coke bottles cut into shovels. Ingenious. I’d happily buy my ketchup in a reused Evian bottle from some old geezer who made it at home. Perhaps a step too far for British health and safety regs… Either way, Georgia is captivating for its everyday appreciation of the homemade. For its no-nonsense approach to preserving and reusing and saving. Ingenuity borne from necessity. But nevertheless, ingenuity it is. Something we could all use a dash of.