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Tbilisi Sketches: Strange Fruit

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.

Georgian tomatoes vs. conventional, illustration by Andrew NorthThe 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 Deserterebi 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.

Source: culinarybackstreets.com