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The snack that shows the state of the Georgian economy
The story of khachapuri
Hello, Snackers. Today on Snack Stack:
Khacha means “cheese curds” and puri means “bread” in the Georgian language. There are many variations (add an egg, add potato, make it in several layers), including specific regional specialties, but at its core, this is another example of that classic combo of bread and cheese.
Mostly Georgia but also Armenia.
It’s interesting to consider what fast food defines a place. It’s not just about what people like to eat but what they like to eat on the go and what can be prepared at scale and at relatively low cost, the better to get it into customers’ hands quickly. It’s also about what specific foods are beloved, and why. Sometimes it’s simply what one entrepreneur marketed in the right way at just the right time—hamburgers were popular in the USA before Ray Kroc, but I think it’s fair to say that his particular efforts were instrumental in making burgers the dominant part of the fast-food industry in this country, with double the sales of any other category.
Head to Tblisi, the capital of Georgia, and you’ll see a different fast food with a different story, one rooted in tradition. Here, the quick meal of choice is khachapuri, which is available at every single one of those red pins (for reference, this is much higher saturation than Dunkin’ in Boston, which is saying something). As one Georgian writer put it a couple of years ago, “Georgian gastronomy is unimaginable without Khachapuri, which is both a dish for celebration and part of our everyday life.”
The origins of khachapuri aren’t known, but it’s clearly been around for centuries, long enough to have evolved into several different regional varieties.
Adjaruli is the kind in the photo at the top of this post, striking in its shape and ingredients—it looks like an eye with a yolk for a pupil, and the best way to eat the whole thing is to tear off a hunk of the crust and dip it in the eggy-cheesy-buttery center. (Did I mention there’s butter in there, too? There is. This is not light fare.)
Imeruli, from Imereti, is round with cheese on top, like a pizza bianca:
Or here’s lobiani, from the mountains of Racha, with a filling of red beans:
One thing you will find in every in all of these guides is the intriguing fact that the International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University in Tbilisi tracks the country’s economy by measuring what it calls the Khachapuri Index, which measures the costs of the products used to make the iconic dish. Friend of Snack Stack Naomi Tomky wrote a good primer for Fortune last year, but you can also go straight to the source and check out the regularly updated numbers from the school itself.
Bottom line: those high food prices that have been in the headlines in the USA and elsewhere are they’re affecting the cost of the khachapuri, too, with the index hitting an all-time high in October.
Taking a more detailed look at prices, all the ingredients contributed to the YoY inflation in October: eggs (+29.9%), flour (+27.2%), butter (+19.1%), yeast (+15.9%), cheese (+12.4%), and milk (+10.8%).
International food price movements are transmitted to the domestic markets with a certain time lag, and as international prices have been on the rise since the beginning of 2021, they are therefore now being reflected locally. Moreover, rising oil prices also push the price of food up. If these trends persevere, we might expect even higher food prices in the coming months.
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Here’s the Google Map in the screenshot above, with many different options in Tbilisi. As with many foods, there are the old-school purveyors but also the more upscale, modern versions; Puri Guliani is one of the most famous of the latter.
Notes and stray thoughts
Sources here include “A Field Guide to Khachapuri, the Indomitable Cheese Bread of Georgia,” by Benjamin Kemper for Saveur; “Georgia’s staple cheesy bread is more than Instagram bait. It’s an economic indicator” by Naomi Tomky for Fortune; “A Regional Guide to Georgian Khachapuri,” by Baia Dzagnidze for Culture Trip; and “Khachapuri, Ancient Stuffed Crust Pizza, Is One Of LA's Hottest Dishes,” by Claire Downs for LAist.
Khachapuri made regular appearances in American newspapers in the 1970s and ’80s, usually as an example of something seemingly familiar that American visitors found during their travels in the Soviet Union. Here’s a typical headline: