Archive for the ‘FRESH Around the World’ Category

Posted on April 14, 2011 - by

Good Food Around the World: Georgian Kiln Bread

Were it not for the tantalizing aroma wafting down the narrow, puddle-soaked street, I would never have noticed the bakery on the corner. It is tiny—not much bigger than a storage closet. There are only two things on the menu here: a cheese-stuffed pie known as khachapuri, and kiln bread, or tonis puri. These diamond-shaped loaves are baked on the inner walls of an earthen oven and enjoyed at nearly every Georgian feast. Drawn in by my nose, I stopped to watch the baker at work and learn all I could about how they are made.

Temur Jikhadze has been baking for 35 years and has no plans of stopping anytime soon. He picked up the craft on the job as a young man and now, he says, “I can make anything out of dough.” I don’t doubt it. His calm and practiced movements between the table where he forms the loaves and the kiln where he bakes them put me at ease. My questions and clarifications seem not to faze him in the slightest.

Every morning, he mixes a basic dough of flour, yeast, water, and salt, letting it rise in a plastic tub while the kiln heats up. I had imagined him standing in the flour-dusted dawn light, stoking up a roaring fire, but in fact he just plugs the oven into an industrial-size outlet.

After punching down the dough and letting it rise once more in evenly shaped mounds atop his table, Jikhadze stretches each loaf individually across an oblong form–a wooden board on the bottom piled with a hillock of foam and covered with cotton cloth. He pokes a hole in the center of the dough with his finger and sticks his thumb into a small opening at the side of the form to grasp it tightly. He then removes the kiln’s metal cover, places a folded towel on its rim to shield his skin from the intense heat, and smacks the form onto the inner wall of the oven. The dough is left clinging to the bricks, where it will puff, blister, and brown in 6-8 minutes, depending on how close he places it to the source of the heat.

The salt, he says, is a key element. Too much and the bread won’t taste good; too little and the dough won’t stick to the wall of the oven while it bakes. To place loaves deep inside, short-statured Jikhadze must launch himself bodily into the kiln, using his hips as a lever and letting his feet float up off the ground. He smiles wide when I show him the photo I’ve captured of him in this precarious position.

The baker must keep mental track of how long each loaf has been baking and remove them at just the right time. He wields two long wooden sticks, one with a metal hook at the end to poke through the hole in the center of the bread, the other with a metal scraper to pry it gently from the bricks. Using the hook, he transports each loaf onto slatted wooden shelves in the corner to cool. Meanwhile, he distributes loaves for 70 tetri (about 40 cents) each to customers waiting at the open door. He makes change from a flour-dusted matchbox sitting in front of his dough scale.

Most Georgian families don’t buy these loaves for their everyday bread, reserving them instead for special meals or those with some kind of ritual meaning. Jikhadze sends me home with a steaming loaf of my own, which I nevertheless can’t help but devour straight out of its plastic bag as I make my way along crowded, exhaust-choked Chavchavadze Avenue. Usually I hate traversing this stretch of the city, but it’s a testament to the quality of Jikhadze’s work that today, I hardly even notice the crush.

If you visit:

Follow your nose to the tiny tonis puri bakery at Giorgiashvili St. 6 in Batumi, Georgia, not far from the Black Sea port.

E-mail me at


Posted on March 7, 2011 - by

Good Food Around the World: Bosnia

This week, FRESH will be screened at the EKO OKO Environmental Film Festival in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Let’s take a peek at food culture there. Idemo!

Bosnia sits in the intersection of Eastern and Western food cultures, and draws inspiration from the cuisines of the Mediterranean, Middle East, and after many years of Austrian rule, Central Europe. Thus, you can find everything from Bečka Šnicla (wiener schnitzel) to dolma (grape leaves stuffed with rice) to pistachio-studded halva.

Meat dishes usually involve beef, lamb and veal, often from local farms. However, pork is more difficult to find. A large portion of the population is Muslim, and the rest of the country is comprised of Serbian Christians and Croatian Catholics. Although Muslims do not make up a majority, the influence of their dietary habits is far-reaching. That means you may also have a hard time finding beer and other alcoholic beverages.

One local specialty is ćevapi, considered a national dish in Bosnia. Minced beef or lamb is seasoned with Hungarian paprika, shaped into small sausages, grilled and served with pita bread and onions. Other popular dishes include burek (flaky pastry dough filled with cheese, meat or vegetables) and sarma (stuffed cabbage rolls).

If you are visiting over the summer, don’t forget to pick up fresh figs! Locals and tourists alike dig into these pink-fleshed gems of honeyed nuttiness. And if you give in to gluttony, there is no need to hide your shame with a fig leaf.

Sarajevo, capital city of Bosnia and victim of the longest siege in modern warfare, has blossomed in the intervening years. The city has always been known for its plentiful water fountains, which quench thirst and supply safe, clean water for free. Visitors are invariably drawn to Baščaršija, nicknamed “Pigeon Square” for the semi-permanent avian presence, where a Moorish fountain stands out from the surrounding buildings, with its elegant teal dome and latticed sides.

Turned off by the piles of pigeon poop at Baščaršija? Dodge the trams, cross the street and head towards the taxi stand to the other fountain, which is outfitted with benches and is blessedly feather-free. Take a few minutes to sit down and chat with a local, as you wash your figs from the tap and soak in the sun.


Posted on February 25, 2011 - by

Good Food Around the World: Switzerland

This weekend, FRESH will be screened at the Festival du Film Vert in Geneva, Switzerland. For the occasion, we’ll take a look at the state of sustainable food systems in Switzerland. Allons-y!

When it comes to things the Swiss excel at, people automatically think of trains, chocolates and efficiency. However, there is another area that Switzerland is a leader in: sustainably-produced food.

More than ever before, the Swiss have become socially-conscious consumers, and actively seek out products with organic, fair trade and sustainable labeling. The country is the world-leader in per capita consumption of fair-trade goods, at 35 ChF per person, and there is a strong sense of awareness that high-quality food cannot be bought for cut-rate prices (Swiss Info).

Even the large-scale supermarkets are in on the act. Both Migros and Coop, the two largest grocery retailers in the country, carry several lines of organic products. Their weekly flyers are sent to households, touting the benefits of local, organic and seasonal food to one in every three people (Swiss Info).

Coop alone accounts for half of all organic food sales in the country. By 2013, the company hopes that at least 20% of food sales will be through the Coop Naturaplan organic line. In addition, Coop has jumped into the green energy market by selling vouchers for a quantity of electricity that is generated in an eco-friendly manner before being added to the national grid (Food & Drink Europe).

And it doesn’t stop there. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation is committed to strengthening food security internationally, with initiatives to eradicate hunger in far-flung locales, from East Africa to Peru. For instance, in North Korea, the agency has supported biological pest control measures, increasing cabbage yields by 40%. The organization hopes to halt the degradation of natural resources, improve land governance, and strengthen family farming in developing nations (SDC).

Is this what it looks like when sustainable products go mainstream? Can large retailers find a happy coexistence with small-scale producers? Will Walmart lead the charge in the US for greener retailing?

Drop me a line at