Mornings in Svaneti, high up in the Georgian mountains, follow a slow rhythm. It’s a purposeful rhythm, but unhurried, methodical, each person with their job to do. Chabu chops wood, old Nora stokes the fire, Zaza brings in the eggs and a bucket of potatoes, the cows are milked, coffee made, the ducks and piglets fed. A little later the unending supply of homemade yoghurt – matsoni – will emerge with thick honey dripping from its comb.
Breakfast here is prepared slowly, between feeding the animals and watching the news and heating the milk. There are no work surfaces to speak of in this kitchen-cum-living space, so food is chopped and diced and mixed wherever there is room; on the coffee table or at a bench in the corner. The traditional wood-fired oven – called a pechi – doubles as both stove and heat-source. The hearth at the centre of the house, where cooking and living is inextricably intertwined. It has made me realise how special it is to have a home with no central heating and to rely solely on the stove for warmth – this is where the house buzzes, in a single room where cooking and eating and living and talking and drinking all happen together.
It’s cold outside and our short time with this family has been spent predominantly in this one room (including the pig-gutting incident which I spoke about here). I’m sat on the worn sofa with a cup of muddy Turkish coffee while Chabu sits next to me peeling potatoes over a plastic bowl. Meanwhile, Nora strains the freshly squeezed milk through a muslin cloth. She’s making cheese – briney, fresh sulguni – a regular feature on the Svan table.
Svaneti is pretty special. Difficult to get to from the rest of Georgia (bad roads, high mountains), Svaneti feels more Georgian than Georgia. We stayed in one of its villages, Mazeri – high in the Caucasus, nestled down in the Becho valley, flanked by steep autumn-coloured mountains and the shock of white peaks in the distance. Here you’re far from any wifi connection, shops or tourists.
This is a farming village, where traditions and ways of life are firmly rooted in the past, where people live off the land and produce everything – including meat and dairy – from scratch. Imports from the rest of Georgia have to come up with the daily marshutka (public minibus), packed alongside backpacks and suitcases – it’s not something to rely on.
Nora comes to sit by the coffee table with a bowl of fresh cheese, cornmeal and a good spoonful of yoghurt. She mixes it well with her hands, shapes the mixture into patties, then fries them in oil, stoking the fire for a high heat and turning the fritters until golden and crispy.
Breakfast is served. Gooey and cheesy, eaten at the coffee table in front of some badly acted TV drama. Coffee is refilled, a square of chocolate follows, the day continues.