I dine in an old restaurant with close Georgian friends in the early morning hours. Georgians (the Tbilisi Georgians, not the Atlantans) love khashi, with a hoof in every bowl. It’s a soup for cold-weather early morning gatherings. No one eats it during the warm months.
Boil up squares of tripe, put in a touch of milk, add the hooves, simmer until tender. They’re really ankle bones with the cartilage and some other things attached, not hooves, but why quibble over words?
Our waitress hands me a large bowl of the steaming bland, opaque soup with an ankle bone sticking up in the center, an odd bony island, pieces of tripe bumping its shore. I reach for the chopped garlic and I snatch salt from a communal bowl, adding them to taste. Day-old flat bread is a must. 100 grams of vodka is traditional, or a local beer, no matter how early. A non-drinker, I choose the local sparkling water.
There’s a different early-morning khashi crowd that I didn’t see a few years ago. They arrive from the new casinos. Waiters and dealers and security guards, beautiful hostesses and hookers, the low-level underworld. Twenty-somethings in used BMWs gather with their marks and johns and with ordinary citizens and with ancient Soviet pensioners, and with me. We eat our khashi and no one bothers anyone. Polite as lords, we are. We’re there for the same things: the soup and the shared tradition.
Many of the twenty-somethings came into Tbilisi from outlying villages. Some are refugees; all were thrilled to find work. Khashi is a taste from home, something their moms made every week in season, an affinity all Georgians share. Someone was always butchering in the village. Tripe is cheap and the butcher might throw in some bones for free.
They remember what life was like at home, before whatever it was that brought them here, maybe before the Russians came. They weren’t guards then, or waiters or hookers. They were just kids and they grew up too fast.
They laugh too loud and they drink and smoke and eat khashi. A few stare out the big window, watching the dawn, missing their families. So much has changed for them. They’ll visit their villages again one of these days but how will they ever answer all the questions? The prettiest girl is crying.