I’ve been back in Tbilisi since Friday evening – that’s just about nine days now. Last weekend, I started having a little bit of stomach distress, on Saturday morning, after a big meal at a restaurant in town. Nothing major. Then there followed about three days of what they call “traveler’s diarrhea” – apparently this is a fairly common process of adjusting to the microbes that live in a new place. My roommate has had this problem much worse than I have.
I have two hypotheses as to why this might be. One is that he has been in east asia while I have been in east America. It’s possible that the food adjustment is more severe for him since food here is a general meat/pasta/bread profile that I’m very used to, while food in Korea is more of a seafood/rice/fermented vegetables sort of deal. This would make sense if the stomach distress came from new kinds of food rather than from new kinds of bacteria.
The other is that I have been drinking vodka regularly while he has not. I’m not an alcoholic, now – it’s just that vodka is so cheap here, and it makes sense in my mind that after brushing my teeth with the local tap water I should kill whatever bacteria by drinking some vodka.
The third hypothesis – that I have a stronger immune system – seems to have several weaknesses. One, I have dampened my immune system with alcohol for a week and still been much better off than he has. Two, my immune system has never been particularly strong in the past, and it’s not like I’m at the peak of my health.
So I don’t know. Generally I would say that adding liquor to traveler’s diarrhea would be a terrible, terrible idea – when you’re already dehydrated, drinking something that dehydrates you more is like asking for trouble. On the other hand, I do seem to have successfully warded off illness for the most part, and I’m sleeping well and not stressing about anything and generally doing okay. And apparently medicinal vodka is not unusual in this part of the world.
One thing I have done a lot of since getting to Tbilisi is eat real Georgian food. Not that crap they served us at the hotel and at the orientation in Kutaisi. I’ve eaten Kebabi (basically ground meat cooked as a cyllinder and then wrapped in thin bread, and known in Turkey as gozleme), Khinkali (basically soup dumplings – ground meat and broth sealed in pasta pouches), and Khatchapuri (cheesy bread) to my heart’s content. Not to mention Kartophili – potatoes. Not sure what’s with all the K food…
There’s a ritual aspect to Khinkali here – they’re a typical bar food or dinner accompanyment. One Khinkali is about 50 tetri, or about 27 cents US. I can eat four or five in addition to a regular meal. They’re usually sizable. You eat them by hand. You usually add black pepper – this is the only thing I’ve ever seen Georgians pepper, actually. You hold them by the stem – the place where the dumpling’s edges were squeezed together – and bite the side. You slurp out enough of the soup to take another bite. You continue this process until there is nothing left but the stem, which you then leave on your plate. No one eats Khinkali stem – to do so is considered a sign of great poverty, apparently.
The potatoes here are amazing. French fries in this country are better than any french fries in America. I don’t know what it is – must be something about the kind of oil they fry them in, or something – but the fries are never oily or greasy, never give me that greasy fry feeling, but are at the same time perfectly cooked to a range of soft to crispy that is… well, perfect. They’re also nicely salted, in general. I have to get the recipe to make these things. Kartophili Phris, I think they are called – the “ph” transcription signifies the “soft” p in Georgian, which is used to approximate the foreign “f” sound, so “phris” is a stand-in for “fried.”
I went to a restaurant downtown that had amazing Kebabi. It was called საპოვნელა, or “Sapovnela.” The meat was not greasy at all, and the onions it came wrapped with were crispy and watery and delicious – and I usually don’t like the taste of onions very much, so this was a pleasant surprise. The kebabi also came with copious amounts of cilantro – perhaps my favorite herb. It was pretty pricey for kebabi – seven lari – but worth it. I’d love to go there about once a month and treat myself – plus the amazing gelato store is just up the street.
I’m getting hungry just writing about this…
Anyway, as of today my stomach seems to be completely back to normal, without even any lingering stomach cramps, although I’m sure I’m somehow jinxing myself by saying that.