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  • Фото автораПасмур Рачуйко

Surviving Lockdown in Tbilisi

Обновлено: 16 июл. 2020 г.

I started Feral Forage as a performative practice while trying to survive the economic crisis of 2014 in Russia. This was my response to the unsettling changes and the sense of vulnerability within the system. Since then I have been exploring edible flora of each city I lived in. The experience of survival on the brink of a complete collapse of the system gave me an opportunity to create new narratives—not only the ones related to food itself, its edibility and sources, but also to our relationship with food.

In 2020, COVID-19 introduced changes to the normality of the whole world—many people lost their sources of income and had to live in conditions of a lockdown for many months in a row. In such circumstances, Feral Forage became especially relevant. I spent the quarantine times in Tbilisi and explored what local urban flora had to offer. I chose to focus on urban flora, because I noticed that it provides wider choice of edible plants then wild natural sights. The times of lockdown coincided with the beginning of the growing season—the best time to gather wild edible plants. This was great luck since herbs are best when they are young and fresh.

I believe that experience of surviving hard times is not only about personal and collective anxiety but also about new discoveries and senses. Here is what I found in Tbilisi.

Nettle in Vake park

Nettle is one of the plants that are very familiar to many. It can be used in a wide range of dishes: salads, soups, pies and sauces. Nettle stays good for food for the whole growing season—from may to october. Only its leaves are edible as stems are pretty rough.

Dead-Nettle in Mziuri park

Dead-nettle is very similar to nettle. Its taste, texture and properties are similar to the ordinary nettle, but it is even easier to pick since it does not have its relative’s stinging hairs

Burdock on Abashidze street

Another well-known plant is burdock. Unfortunately, it is edible only for a short period in Spring, while it is young. Later it becomes rough and fibrous. The edible part of this plant is a stem—I usually pickle them. One can also use its roots to make a coffee-like hot drink.

Chickweed on Abashidze street

Wood sorrel on Abashidze street

Clover on Barnovi street

There are some smaller grasses that grow across Tbilisi streets in plenty: chickweed, wood sorrel and clover. All of them are edible. I recommend eating them fresh to cook salads, soups, or pkhali.

Russian dock somewhere in Vake

Occasionally on Tbilisi streets you can find Russian dock. Armenians call it aveluk, and it is widely used in their national cuisine. I pick aveluk before the plant acquires a central stem with seeds. I like to stew it in a pan with eggs. In Armenia they preserve it by drying, and then soak it in water to cook a traditional salad.

Sorrel on Mtatsminda

Sorrel can be easily found on mountains in Mtatsminda area and near the Turtle lake. It can be used to cook soups, salads and pies. Vegetative season of sorrel ends by July.

Rocket salad on Machavariani street

Bittercress on Tamarashvili street

Rocket salad and bittercress are also quite widespread in Tbilisi. Bittercress is a bit rough and old in the middle of Summer, but it is still good for soups and sauces. Rocket salad stays the same for the whole growing season. It is usually eaten fresh and used in salads.

Orache on Chavchavadze street

Another plant you will easily find everywhere in Tbilisi is orache. It has a very neutral taste, so it works well for for soups, main dishes and as a filling for pies.

Thyme on Mtatsminda

Houseleek on Mtatsminda

Cinquefoil on Mtatsminda

There are some edible plants on mountains which I have not seen much on the streets. They are thyme, cinquefoil and houseleek. Thyme is usually used as a spice or for hot herbal drinks. Houseleek has juicy leaves with nice sour taste. They can be used for salads and main dishes. Cinquefoil has a neutral taste and is also good as a filling for pies.

Garlic mustard in Mziuri park

You can find garlic mustard on mountains in plenty. This plant is considered one of the most ancient spices in the European region and it is known since neolithic times. If you squeeze it in fingers, you will sense a distinct garlic smell. When the plant is young, its leaves are good for salads.

Purslane on Paliashvili street

Now (in July) the season of purslane has just begun. This plant grows in Tbilisi in plenty and is used widely for cooking national dishes throughout the Caucasus region. Marinated purslane is by far the best pickle of the season!

Apricot in Mziuri park

False acacia in Vorontsovi

There are a lot of trees on Tbilisi streets. Besides fruit trees, most widespread being mulberry and apricot, there are others you can use for food. Most parts of a false acacia tree are toxic, but flowers are not. They can be used as a filling for pies or to cook nice jams.

In partnership with Untitled Gallery we held a Feral Forage event on Sunday evening of the 5th of July. It was, unfortunately, impossible to do it in the gallery due to the regulations preventing the spread of COVID-19. Irakli Giorgadze hosted our event in his Cafe-Atelier 35mm in Vake park. We discussed most widespread edible plants in Tbilisi and tasted some of them. For the event I cooked two kinds of pies: one stuffed with orache and eggs filing, another—with houseleek and potatoes. I also treated our guests with wild rocket salad and cheese, marinated purslane and a distillate with sage and thyme.

Many thanks to Ana Kacheishvili for great photos of our event!

Our event together with the map we did with an artist and co-founder of Untitled Gallery Giorgi Rodionov have become a project called “Kitting Tbilisi” participated in Tbilisi Online Bienniale. As well as edible plants Giorgi have noted some places where one can do different activities for free.

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