An Excerpt From:
The Silk Road Gourmet
A Journey through the Cuisines of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka
By Laura Kelley
Available on Amazon.com here.
Republic of Georgia
Main spices and flavors: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sweet basil, bay leaves, caraway seeds, dill, fennel, tarragon, mint, fenugreek, savory, sour cherries, sour plums, marigold, saffron, savory, turmeric, coriander, cilantro, cumin, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg
Souring agents: pomegranates, white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, lemons, oranges
The modern life history of Georgia begins with two early Georgian kingdoms of late antiquity, known to ancient Greeks as Iberia in the east and Colchis in the west, around the shores of the Black Sea. It was to the wealthy kingdom of Colchis that Jason is said to have sailed the Argo in search of the Golden Fleece, which at that time lay at the reaches of the known Western World. Rome extended its reach east to include Georgia, Armenia, and several central Asian states by 66 CE, but before this time, eastern Georgia was strongly influenced by the Persians and western Georgia by the Greeks. Georgia remained a client state of Rome for several hundred years until the empire’s ability to maintain its eastern territories disintegrated.
Sassanid Persians ruled Georgia and Armenia after Rome, and their rule was characterized by cosmopolitanism and tolerance. Georgian culture and Christian religious practice were allowed to flourish, as were the cultures in the rest of their empire, which ranged from North Africa to southern Russia and into parts of central Asia.
Persia and all of its holdings fell to the Islamic conquest in the seventh century as Islam slowly spread. Arab rule during the hundred years of the Umayyad dynasty brought many elements of Arab culture to Georgia and Armenia, which were incorporated either by choice or by force. By the mid-eighth century, the mixed Persian-Arab Abbasids reasserted Persian control over the empire, and cultural tolerance was again extended to conquered territories. The Georgians quickly resumed most of their indigenous cultural practices, but many foreign practices and cultural elements—including some foods and dishes—that had been introduced were incorporated by choice. By the mid-tenth century, the Georgians had rebelled against the Persians and gained autonomous rule, creating the Georgian Kingdom, which one hundred years later was ruled by the Armenian Bagrationi dynasty.
By the mid-twelfth century, the Mongols swept through the region, destabilizing and subjugating it and causing Bagrationi central authority to wane and a period of local despotic rule to ensue. By the mid-fifteenth century, the Georgian Kingdom had completely dissolved, and the country was ruled by the Persians in the east and the Ottomans in the west. Seeking liberation from the Persians, the Georgians made an allegiance with Russia and by the mid-eighteenth century were drawn into the Russian sphere of influence. Formal incorporation of Georgia into the Russian empire took place in 1801 but was not fully accepted by the Georgians until ten years later.