Bringing Georgian Cuisine to the Streets: the Street Food Festival at Mtatsminda Park

Interview

Young Georgian Entrepreneur Tamta Ricci, recently organized the first Tbilisi Street Food Festival. Held at Mtatsminda Park last Saturday, it brought together Georgian and foreign restaurants and wineries in an attempt to create a festive food and wine tasting experience, something she says she always wanted to do in Georgia, “to make the street food festival concept, which is popular worldwide, more familiar to the locals”.

Melt Grill and BBQ, Paul, Schuchmann Wine Bar, Radio Café, Corner House, Tsiskvili restaurant, Grono, Petit Appetite, Sakhatchapure N1 were among the many restaurants represented at the weekend’s festival.

“I’ve attended almost all the street food festivals in Europe and in the US as I lived outside Georgia for quite a while, and I wanted to make it happen here in Tbilisi.

The culinary theme was always very interesting and important for me and I wanted to do something for my city and country,” Ricci tells GEORGIA TODAY.

“Street food festivals are the perfect opportunity for restaurants to introduce their products and menus to the wider public, and that’s a very important part of it,” she tells us. “It’s always hard when you start a project like this one; it was rather difficult to convince many of the restaurants in Tbilisi to participate. Some of them now regret not participating, some of them refused at the very last moment, some of them agreed instantly, as soon as they got our offer to be featured at the event. It was easier with the wine companies, as they are more used to being regularly showcased at wine fairs, contrary to the culinary sphere, which as I see is underdeveloped at present”.

“Following the idea of the Street Food Festival concept, all the restaurants tailored their products very successfully for the day. We had Georgian, Ukrainian, German, Japanese, and American cuisine represented. All the products were fresh and the National Food Agency, one of our partners together with the Tbilisi Municipality Administration Office and the Ministry of Agriculture, pointed out that none of the restaurants participating have been sanctioned for food quality or sanitary conditions,” Ricci notes, underlining the careful selection made while choosing who would participate in her event.

Despite the Street Food Festival notion being relatively new, Ricci says the event received a lot of very positive feedback. People were genuinely interested in the food-making process which they could see on site, such as the making of churchkhelas, and in tasting wine and a variety of dishes.

“Our aim was to promote Georgian national cuisine. It is well-known in our neighboring countries but it has to be promoted and popularized more outside the country and region. We are now working on a new project which will focus on introducing the Georgian restaurants and Georgian culinary traditions abroad, and we hope this will be interesting for the state sector as an initiative. I’ve been in contact with Street Food Festival organizers in France and Germany, and I think with support from state organizations, we can take Georgian cuisine outside Georgia. We wanted to break the stereotype of street food being unhealthy and not tasty, something that is still deeply rooted in our society. We wanted to show that Georgian food can be showcased and packed in such a way that anyone could eat it in the street,” Ricci says, adding that she is sure the 2018 Street Food Festival event will gain even more popularity.

Ricci is an avid traveler, having spent almost nine years traveling and getting acquainted with different cuisines and traditions in Europe, US and Asia.

“Thanks to its geographical location, Georgia can take something from Europe or Asia and create true culinary masterpieces,” she says. “When introducing Georgian traditional cuisine to the outside world, we have to consider their tastes and preferences, offer less spicy and lighter versions. Of course, our dishes are authentic and tasty, but I’m not against adjusting them to European flavor just a tiny bit,” she says of Georgian fusion.

She says she enjoys the challenge of organizing and managing of the Tbilisi Street Food Festival, “You have enormous responsibility before the companies that participate, that trust you and that join you in the adventure”.

Following the success of the Street Food Festival at Mtatsminda Park, Ricci now plans to organize another in October, bringing together food from different regions of Georgia, and, as “October is best in Kakheti,” so the wine region is the destination for her next Street Food Festival.

Nino Gugunishvili

06 July 2017 19:09
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