Not-so-fast food
08 November, 2014
Georgians, regardless of where they live, are fiercely proud of their cuisine, a sentiment shared by foreigners who are introduced to it. Even in Soviet times, the period when all facets of national culture were being stifled and smothered in favor of an internationalist pipedream, Georgian restaurants thrived throughout the entire state. This trend continues to this day, with the boon of khachapuri and khinkali spreading to the farthest reaches of Western Europe.

I will go as far as to
say that credit given to Georgian food is fully deserved: it is delicious, it is filling, it is nutritious, and most importantly, standing just between mundane and exotic. Made with completely common ingredients such as vegetables or cheese, it almost always conceals an unusual mélange of spices, a helping of walnut sauce or some other surprise that instantly conquers foreigners’ taste buds.
Catering to the culinary tastes of our many foreign tourists has never been a problem for us, but what about needs of the native population? I like to joke that there are more restaurants in Georgia than Georgians themselves, but I just can’t help asking myself “Besides restaurants, what else do we have when it comes to food?” It is, of course, very nice to sit down and have a wholesome meal at a traditional Georgian restaurant, but those who only want a quick snack end up excluded from the equation for a simple reason: they cannot afford to sit around and wait for their order. Their only way out is fast food, and this is where the trap lies.

You see, Georgia, with its culture of feasting, doesn’t have much to offer in terms of native fast food – our food simply isn’t designed to be eaten on the move, and this is exactly the reason why our fast food market is dominated by shawerma joints, pita takeaways, burger joints, hot dog stands and other non-native elements, very many of which are of rather dubious quality when it comes to ingredients and hygiene. Khachapuri bakeries are the only exception, due to relative simplicity of its preparation. So what is a person who has a sudden craving of khinkali supposed to do? He wants just three or four of them, not a plateful, and he is in a hurry. If he walks into a restaurant and makes such an order, the waiter will most likely take it as a joke. The only solution is to find a khinkali stand, with a gas heater and a large pot of boiling water, ready to make khinkali at the drop of a hat… Oh wait.

The problem is that our fast food market has been occupied by non-Georgian food for so long that people are completely used to it nowadays. Any newcomer with an original and novel idea of making Georgian food (oh, the irony) will probably get suffocated by competition before the day is out, especially considering the presence of fast food mastodons like McDonalds and Wendy’s in the country. This is also the reason why no investors would even touch this field, despite it carrying a lot of potential profit.

But consider the following: many countries around the world have a culture of feasting, and yet they have absolutely no problem giving their native cuisine a fast food streak. Currywurst and Drei im Weggla are sold nearly everywhere in Germany; the Portuguese have their francesinha sandwich joints; Brits munch away at their fish and chips like no tomorrow; yakitori stands and noodle shops are part of everyday Japanese reality, and you can’t walk down a street in the Middle East without running into a falafel seller. The Chinese and the Mexicans are doing splendidly in the fast food field, too. So let me ask you this: what makes us worse off?

By Zura Amiranashvili

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