Imeretians form it in a circle, Ossetians add potatoes, the Svaneti add greens. But Adjarian Khachapuri is as it should be: a song of salt, of milk, of yeast, of yolk.
Pity the Adjarians. In Soviet times, at least, they had their own autonomous republic along the coast, a territory shaped much like this dugout of dough, and were able to live on their own, as not-quite Georgians, part-Muslim, part-Christian, uniquely Adjarian. Then came the fall: wars of the early ’90s and the rise of a spectacular shithead, Aslan Abashidze, who murdered his comrades, plundered the commonwealth and bartered chunks of the capital Batumi to the equally venal mayor of Moscow, Yury Luzhkov.
Abashidze could not resist the Rose Revolution, though. Mikheil Saakashvili may have failed to bring in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but he succeeded in Adjaria. Abashidze fled, the central Georgian government took over. Now Batumi has become Saakashvegas, Georgia’s gleaming, bleeping neon crown-jewel. The president’s pride: twice I met Saakashvili in Batumi, twice while flying above the city with him on the butter-leather bench seats of his executive helicopter, he got the pilot on the intercom and ordered him to make low, deep sweeps over the blittering coastline to show me the carnival below. I am appalled, impressed, amused. I can say this: Batumi entertains, which is what Saakashvili promised.
Do not pity the Adjarians. They live on a naturally blessed curve of Black Sea coast, and with the drapes drawn, they are untroubled even by the neon lights outside and they can close their eyes and dream of doughy shores ringing a dairy sea. Just a little north of Batumi, one of Saakashvili’s deputies told me once that the water was like boiled milk. But it is not just that. Adjarian Khachapuri is shaped like a boat from bow to stern. The ship is taking on water, but it is not boiled milk, it is a mix of salty suluguni cheese, that melting block of butter, an egg cooked only by the heat of the fresh-baked bread/boat.
Every race of Georgians has its own version of Khachapuri. Imeretians form it in a circle, Ossetians add potatoes, even the savage Svaneti—true warriors of the Caucasus—add gracenotes of herbs and greens. But Adjarian Khachapuri, eaten after a long day of keeping pace with the manic president of a half-united Georgia, is the dish as it should be: a song of salt, of milk, of yeast, of yolk. It’s a reminder that the heifer, the hen, the warlord, the president, and the reporter all came from the sea, and that we live now with saltwater running through us, and we will return there soon enough, when our minute in khachapuriland is done.