Sign up with email


Already a member? Log in.

Trouble logging in?

Not a member? Sign up!

Deserter’s Bazaar Tbilisi tomatoes

This is a piece that celebrates the odd, the misshapen and the sometimes grotesque – in other words, what to look for to find a really tasty tomato.

Just to be clear, we are talking about tomatoes from Sakartvelo here.

Sakartvelo? You might know it better as Georgia, but Sakartvelo – literally, the dwelling place of the Kartvelian, or Georgian, people – is what natives call their country. And some Georgians say Sakartvelo should be the official name for everyone else too, to avoid confusion with a certain U.S. state that wasn’t even a colonialist’s dream when Georgia the country was already 1,200 years old, but which now irritatingly hogs all the Google limelight.

The trouble of course is that no one outside Georgia can pronounce “Sakartvelo,” so a lot of Georgian news and weather always seems to be happening in Atlanta.

We need to know which Georgia we’re talking about because the truth is that until you’ve tasted the tomatoes from this country, you haven’t really tasted tomatoes.

The best of them don’t look like any one else’s tomatoes either. Rather they resemble the aftermath of a shotgun marriage between a cabbage and a tomato, spattered with warts and scars. Stacked next to the more regular tomato shapes that have become standard around the world, you can’t be sure they’re even in the same family. Often big enough to fill two hands, they wouldn’t make it to a supermarket-sorting depot in the West, let alone the store shelves.

But come down to Nona’s stall in that honey pot for food traditionalists in Tbilisi, the Deserter’s Bazaar, and all tomato life is there. I counted seven different kinds for sale recently, including several stacks of the more conventional variety, as well as two kinds of plum tomato – all grown in Georgia.

“The tastiest?” I asked her. She reached to a tray behind and carefully picked up a beast of a tomato with two fleshy ears spiking out from its portly pink bulges. And it’s “look, don’t touch” unless and until we buy. Because not only is it ugly, this tomato can barely hold itself together. Unlike so many bulletproof American or European varieties, bred from years of laboratory experiments, the skins of these Georgian tomatoes are so delicate that one push of the finger is sometimes enough to rupture them and send a stream of juice all over your hands. And that’s another reason why you have to come here to try them – they don’t travel well!

But they taste so good they are almost addictive. The high never lasts though – and that is a good thing. As with most other locally grown fruit and vegetables, Georgian tomatoes have a season – from summer to early fall.

“I’m going to miss this,” said a friend recently, shaking his head meaningfully as we had dinner at his house. He laughed when I asked where he’s going. “No – the tomatoes. The season’s almost over.”

This article was originally published on September 26, 2016.

  • Cerasella: Italian DelightsOctober 25, 2022 Cerasella: Italian Delights (0)
    In Italy, “we would call this a bar,” Caterina Pepe tells us. We're chatting inside […] Posted in Queens
  • Best Bites 2017December 18, 2017 Best Bites 2017 (0)
    Shanghai’s dining scene still contains its share of neighborhood dumpling and noodle […] Posted in Shanghai
  • AratacaFebruary 22, 2016 Arataca (0)
    Arataca boasts a title so extraordinary that, were it more widely known, we would expect […] Posted in Rio
Andrew North

Published on September 14, 2019

Related stories

October 25, 2022

Cerasella: Italian Delights

Queens | By Dave Cook
QueensIn Italy, “we would call this a bar,” Caterina Pepe tells us. We're chatting inside Cerasella (pronounced “Chair-ah-Sell-ah”), the small pasticceria e caffetteria she owns with her husband, Luca Schiano, not far from their home in Long Island City. In New York, of course, a bar is typically adults-only, and rarely known for its food.…
December 18, 2017

Best Bites 2017: Shanghai

Shanghai | By Jamie Barys and Kyle Long
ShanghaiShanghai’s dining scene still contains its share of neighborhood dumpling and noodle shops, but the overall trend is marching towards mall dining and chain stores in the ever-changing downtown, historic and suburban areas. A silver lining: At least a handful of our favorite street stalls have also taken the plunge into new digs, with the…
February 22, 2016

Arataca: Amazon Prime

Rio | By Taylor Barnes
RioArataca boasts a title so extraordinary that, were it more widely known, we would expect the modest Copacabana snack bar to be covered with colorful Nossa Senhora do Bonfim blessing ribbons so that generations of pilgrims could light white, tapered candles and lay baskets of offerings at its sidewalk entrance. That designation is: First Açaí…
Select your currency
USD United States (US) dollar
EUR Euro