Georgia Looks to Conquer the World's Tables With Its Unique Cuisine

by Trilok Kapur on  March 5, 2010 at 12:04 PM Lifestyle News
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Gia Natsvlishvili, sitting in a restaurant in Georgia's capital Tbilisi, said his country's unique cuisine could easily conquer international markets, since it was largely unknown to the outside world.

"Foreigners who come to Georgia often say our cuisine is one of the best in the world. There are marvelous dishes in Georgia that are almost unknown in other countries," Natsvlishvili said as he tucked into a feast of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, roasted pork and khinkali meat dumplings.

"Georgian food is a great culinary discovery the world has yet to make," the 29-year-old Tbilisi resident said.

That may be about to change, however, as this small, mountainous ex-Soviet republic takes steps to boost the presence of its cuisine and agricultural products -- like succulent Colchis lamb and juicy pink Choporti tomatoes -- on international markets.

Inspired by the European Union's system of labelling and protecting regional foods, which recently awarded a special designation to Neapolitan pizza and guarantees the authenticity of many French cheeses and Champagne, Georgian officials are planning to trademark a wide range of national dishes and products.

"We plan to trademark our appellations according to their geographical origin, first at the national and then at international levels," said Georgia's patent office chief, Irakli Gvaladze.

"Georgia has exceptional agricultural breeds, organic products and distinctive cuisine and we are increasing efforts to tighten their quality control and promote them on international markets," he said.

Gvaladze said the project will get underway as soon as Georgia's parliament endorses a package of required legal amendments.

He said food-quality commissions will be established to ensure that producers observe standards when making, for example, Georgian cheese pie khachipurri, a cousin to Italy's pizza.

Georgia has already taken some steps in this direction with its wine, registering 18 local appellations with international bodies.

Beyond its national dishes, Georgia is also planning to trademark and register basic agricultural products in an attempt to boost exports.

Georgian agriculture ministry spokesman Nodar Kereselidze said Tbilisi and the EU are finalizing an agreement that will see Georgian products trademarked for export to Europe. The measure will complement a Georgia-EU free-trade agreement that is also on the negotiating table.

"Our products will be legally protected and their quality guaranteed by the state when Georgia signs a free-trade agreement with the EU, something we are actively working on with Brussels," Kereselidze said.

Local producers are anxious for the process to be completed, with many hoping Georgia can tap into the growing international appetite for organic food.

Standing amid patches of growing lettuce at his company's farm, David Chachanidze, the director of the Biofood Georgia Company, said Georgia has "huge potential" to succeed on the international organic food market.

"We have advantages including unique traditional breeds with exceptional flavour, a favourable climate, fertile soil and a cheap workforce," he said.

"Trademarking our traditional breeds is of utmost importance for promoting our products on international markets as legally protected and quality-guaranteed," he said.

Observers say Georgia's potential for food exports has already been proven by a recent surge in foreign interest in the country's sheep, exports of which increased more than tenfold last year.

From 25,000 head in 2008, Georgian sheep exports soared to about 267,000 head last year and were worth about 20 million dollars (14.7 million euros), Kereselidze of the agriculture ministry said.

He said the market for Georgian sheep was especially strong in Muslim countries such as Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iran and neighbouring Azerbaijan.

"The main factor is the high quality of our two traditional breeds, Colchis and Tushetian. Making them national trademarks will further stimulate foreign demand," he added.

In the restaurant in Tbilisi, Natsvlishvili said he hoped Georgian food could someday join the cuisines of other nations on the world's tables.

"There are Chinese, Japanese or Lebanese restaurants everywhere in the world. The same could be done with Georgian cuisine."

Source: AFP

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