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The Vera district of Tbilisi is bursting with tempting food options, from traditional Georgian feasts to cinnamon rolls and pizza. But there is nowhere like Tamtaki in the neighborhood – or anywhere else in Tbilisi, for that matter.

Founded by chef Tamta Kikaleishvili and her mother, Katya Gegia, in 2020, the origin of the name comes from the chef’s first name, Tamta, and Ki, the first two letters of her last name, Kikaleishvili. And it’s not just the name of the restaurant. “There is no Georgian synonym for the word sandwich, so we decided to introduce this word,” says Katya. “Because all our dishes, the ‘tamtakis,’ are served atop bread – ingredients, sauces, ‘sides.’”

“All together, it might look more like a wrap or sandwich,” she says. “But we didn’t want to call it a sandwich – we wanted it to be purely Georgian.” For each tamtaki, customers can choose between the smaller “wrapped tamtakis” that arrive neatly rolled, their shape reminiscent of a burrito, or a full plate in which the same ingredients are served on a large, open flatbread. The wrap is for eating with your hands, but the larger tamtakis are best tackled with a knife and fork.

Outside, the bright red door and shutters frame a handwritten chalkboard menu and a glowing neon sign. The restaurant space itself is small and inviting with just two tables and four seats at the bar looking over the kitchen. A computer pings regularly with a steady flow of online orders that Katya helps to pack between greeting customers and chatting with us. Having an open kitchen was a deliberate choice, explains Katya: “This is the concept – you can sit here and all the dishes are prepared fresh in front of you.”

This is thanks to around five hours of work in the morning to prep all of their ingredients so that once they get an order, the assembly is fluid and quick. “Each tamtaki takes about ten to fifteen minutes to prepare. Even the bread only takes about three minutes to cook once our oven is hot.” says Katya.  The bread is made in-house; pre-measured balls of dough are flattened and cooked to order in a glowing oven just across from the bar, making each wrap the stuff of fluffy, carb-filled dreams. Each element of the tamtaki is assiduously chosen: “We only use raw and fresh products directly from the agricultural market,” says Katya. “For the vegetables and greens, I go to the Dezerter Bazaar every day.”

The Georgian sandwich concept is not the only original element of Chef Tamta’s menu – the tamtaki filling is also in a league all its own. “In the Georgian traditional supra [feast] there are a lot of dishes that are served separately, like marinades, jonjoli [pickled bladdernut], and salads,” says Katya. With the tamtaki, “[Tamta] mixed of all of these dishes together, developing them to include flavors of European and Asian cuisines.” The choice of these two influences was deliberate. “Georgia is in the middle of Europe and Asia, so we could say that we owe some of our recipes to Asian cultures and European cultures,” explains Katya. “That’s why we represent ourselves in Georgia as a bridge between Asia and Europe and why it is interesting to combine these three cultures.”

This supra-inspired fusion can be clearly seen in the chicken tamtaki, one of the most popular menu items. Based on a traditional Georgian dish of fried chicken with rachuli, a blackberry sauce, Tamta has also added kimchi and miso sauces. The beef tamtaki, another favorite, has a more European influence. The meat is first smoked, then braised for five or six hours, and finally mixed with cream and caramelized onions. “Together, it looks a little bit like beef stroganoff. But it just resembles it – the flavors are Georgian,” says Katya.

For vegetarians, the gebzhalia tamtaki is inspired by the softened cheese dish from Georgia’s Samegrelo region and comes with tomato, garlic confit, pickled red onions, and lightly spicy green adjika sauce. It is a riot of flavors, each mouthful exploding with a creamy, fresh spiciness. Vegans have the choice of a red bean tamtaki, inspired by lobio, with green tomato salsa, pickled red onions and fresh greens in place of the traditional mchadi cornbread or jonjoli – a delicious new take on a classic dish – or alternatively, a mushroom tamtaki with grilled oyster mushrooms, smoked mozzarella sauce with red pepper oil, pickled red onions, and greens. All of the tamtaki options – mushrooms, lobio, chicken schkmeruli, beef, gebzhalia – make regular appearances on supra tables across the country, but never in this form.

Their unique approach is working: Chef Tamta won the Gault&Millau award for best female chef in Georgia in 2023, and Tamta and Katya are currently planning to open a second location of Tamtaki. “I think this is one of the keys to our success: the recipe can be good but if you don’t use the right products, the recipe can be totally ruined.” says Katya “So the fact that we go ourselves, we choose the products, we care and take care of each and every ingredient…this also makes Tamtaki very special.”

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Published on March 15, 2024

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