According to a Georgian legend, King Vakhtang Gorgasali, having gone out to hunt, was tracking a pheasant. The pheasant, wounded by an arrow, fell into warm sulfuric water and boiled. The king commanded that a city should be built right there and named Tbilisi (as “tbili” means “warm” in Georgian).

Tbilisi is today city of gastronomic significance, where many sayings represent its close relationship with food. For example, Georgians might warn “You are not a piece of celery, that comes to this world a second time” (meaning you should be careful, because you only get one life), or may remark “You should not cut onions on my ears” (to mock someone issuing a threat), or “There is ajapsandali in their house” (implying a person’s home is a mess, named after the Georgian stew of numerous ingredients). 

Wine shops have also long been established in the city, lined up in rows, where the splendid dish of Chakhokhbili may be served in a real Tbilisi pomegranate sauce (called narsharab), rather than tomatoes which only started to appear in Georgian cuisine from the 19th century. Further nods to culinary tradition in Tbilisi are Bread Square (puris moedani), Wine Rise (Ghvinis aghmarti), and Valley of Figs (Leghvtakhevi). 

Tbilisi Chakhokhbili

Whatever became of that pheasant being tracked by the king is unknown, but once upon a time the dish of Tbilisi Chakhokhbili was made only with pheasant (Khokhobi). Today, Chakhokhbili is usually made with chicken. There is one special rule when making the dish, which has been codified by well-known chefs. Specifically, the meat for Chakhokhbili must be cut with a sharp knife, very carefully, so that every piece is covered with skin, to keep the juice and fat. The skin therefore serves as a container, retaining the moisture, taste, and structure. 

According to the traditional recipe for Chakhokhbili, not even a drop of water or fat should be added. Indeed, the meat is prepared in such a way that it can be roasted in its own juice and fat over a low heat, and then filled with juice from vegetables, and finally dunked into tomato juice. It is thus recommend that the chicken used for Chakhokhbili be very fatty.

Over time, the recipe for Chakhokhbili has almost entirely changed, with seasoning added, like tarragon, basil, savory, red peppers, and red wine, and then ajika. What has remained unchanged is the main ingredients: meat, tomatoes, onions, garlic, coriander, and pepper, as well as the preparation method. That is what allows this dish to give us a stable mixture of traditional Georgian flavors. 

How to Make Chakhokhbili

You will need the following ingredients to make Chakhokhbili:

1 chicken (1 to 1.5 kg);

4 onions;

700 g tomatoes;

4 cloves of garlic;

1 bunch of coriander;

Green pepper;

Red pepper; and

Salt to taste. 

For those wanting a somewhat newer flavor, add the following:

2 red peppers;

1 small bunch each of basil and parsley; and

1 cup of dry red wine.


Cut a plump, rinsed, cleaned, and fatty chicken, and put it in a heavy-bottomed pot or pan, cover it with a lid, and put it over a very low flame. 

After half an hour, when you see the fat coming out, and once the meat has become tender and changed color, put in the minced onion (and, if you like, the red peppers), then, if the fat seems insufficient, add butter. Fry well.

When the vegetables have turned soft, take off the lid, stir, and fry for five more minutes. Then, add a skinned tomato that has been grated or minced and let it boil. There should be enough juice to completely cover the meat. Add crushed coriander, garlic, pepper, and salt, stir it again, and then, finally, put the finely-chopped basil and parsley on top (and the wine, if you so choose), cover it again, and let it sit over the flame for another 15-20 minutes.

During this, process, an extraordinary smell wafts through the kitchen, thus building up the excitement and anticipation before finally tasting the Chakhokhbili. After conquering this dish once, it is inevitable that you will want to make this storied Tbilisi dish again and again.

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