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Michelin Machine Shop: Tbilisi



he name “Eliava” used to be more world famous as the most important institute for culturing phages, which are bacteria which eat other bacteria and have all sorts of medical uses being discovered about them. It was and remains in Tbilisi. Now, however, Eliava is locally more known as one of these sprawling markets dotting Tbilisi with increasing rarity, this one largely devoted to car parts, awaiting its turn to be burned to a crisp in a fashionably shocking event (this particular arsonry aided fervently by its oil-soaked ground), video cameras deliciously turned off and guards distracted in advance, then snapped up by the insurance claimants rushing in to fill the vacuum and develop its oh so preciously located land into… more boring but tickle-me-to-the bank high-rises. Whew. The “Eliava=eating” part, however, recently reminded me of itself at a meal for humans. What more unlikely ground on which to find, amidst a sprawling warehouse of Soviet-era machines used to make or repair other machines, a more than acceptably scrumptious Georgian feast,

the supra? I was attending my friend’s attempt to get his gas-powered car through the new annual inspection of all vehicles now required in Georgia. In the course of this, having met me, he handed me off to a mutual friend in said machine shop whom I hadn’t seen for about 17 years. In a grimy back office of the fascinatingly stuffed, rust- and grease-streaked warehouse, he motioned to 1 full and 2 nearly empty glasses of wine. “I made it here, myself, from my own Zestaponi grapes,” he mentioned without much pride as more wine came in a plastic jug. The taste of the golden nectar spoke for itself, more seductively than any need for its creator’s self-praise. There was bread at hand too, fresh baked Shoti loaves, so I thought as Easter approached, we’ve got just enough for Communion. Then, from nowhere that I could discern, appeared: fresh onion and coriander greens; some lovely yellow local cheese; leftover khachapuri or cheese bread; and best of all, a pan of recent pork shish kabob, with onions too, still swimming in its own fat. In short, lunch time in the grease pit. I wasted no time in declaring that no Michelin-starred restaurant reservations were necessary: we had all we would need right here. A pair of drinking horns

were thrust into the event as well, along with some torn-up crossword newspaper sheets for napkins. The only thing which might have improved it now would be an outdoors setting with a fire, but the contrast of all this wonderful food with its setting didn’t hurt either, one must say. It was nice also to be left to my own devices once my host dropped into a snooze. I had the chance to explore the warehouse a bit, see the crane in action moving heavy bits of machinery from place to place and saving the workers’ backs; watch them work too, on utterly incomprehensible parts which my late father, always an engineer, would have appreciated; and take a few more photos to round out the one which appears here and show more of the improbable setting of our repast. Now, I will gladly give up eating the flesh of slaughtered animals when a substitute comes which I can afford and enjoy, and which offers less harm to the environment than farming does. Until then, a day which is coming fast, I remain a carnivore. Despite (or is that because of?) the pork fat now solidifying into drippings in the cool, the meat was perfect. Indeed, everything came together, along with our toasts, into a spur-of themoment but magnificent little occasion which quietly but forcefully poked my instincts as a writer to try to capture it for posterity. THIS, instead of the huge events where plates on plates of bewildering variety obscure the very table supporting them, is a type of the heart of Georgian hospitality which can be found anywhere and at any time. We had each other, and this glorious little spread out of nowhere, by which to remember our friendship. May it always be so. Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with nearly 2000 members, at He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:


Profile for Georgia Today

Issue #1145  

April 26 - 29, 2019

Issue #1145  

April 26 - 29, 2019