Two large printouts of recipes sitting on wooden easels. The closest one is titled "Rice Shakharlama."

Causing a Stir in Georgia .

What if traditional family recipes could help catalyze broad-based economic growth and resilience?

In Georgia, a new cookbook is causing a stir. More than just recipes, this cookbook is part of a larger effort to jumpstart the Georgian economy through tourism. Using a holistic approach to promote and develop culinary tourism, Georgia is attracting international visitors looking to experience a destination — rather than simply visit one.

After decades of armed conflict and civil unrest, Georgia faced a period of sharp economic decline. Many communities, especially those in regions bordering neighboring countries, were subject to economic shocks and low productivity. To help improve livelihoods in these areas, USAID’s Georgia Zrda Activity works to promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth. The project partners with local organizations, such as the Georgian National Tourism Administration, as well as regional public and private sector stakeholders, to establish destination management organizations (DMOs) in two targeted regions. As part of Georgia’s national tourism development strategy, the DMOs bring management and stewardship of local tourism development back to the regional level, ensuring that local communities benefit the most from these efforts. This multi-sectoral approach to local economic development creates local ownership of tourism development and helps position these regions to become premier tourism destinations in Georgia.

In the Samtskhe-Javakheti region, the Zrda Activity partnered with the Georgian Culinary Academy and the regional tourism working group to develop a cookbook with traditional Meskhetian recipes. In addition to serving as a souvenir for visiting tourists, the book Meskhuri Tabla promotes local gastronomy and raises awareness of the region among domestic and international travelers.

“Meskhuri Tabla is a result of the joint effort by the USAID Zrda Activity in Georgia, the Georgian Culinary Academy, NGO Georgian House, and a group of dedicated stakeholders from Samtskhe-Javakheti who have poured their passion into this project,” explains Brian King, chief of party of the Zrda Activity.

Every recipe was edited, tested, and translated into English and Georgian by chefs from the academy. The culinary academy also organized a cooking and tasting session to verify the recipes and generate excitement for the cookbook. Alongside appetizing professional culinary photos, the cookbook features photos of main attractions and factoids about the region, which aim to spark curiosity about the region and encourage more travelers to visit the area.

"One of the things I loved about this project, about the Meskhuri Tabla cookbook, was that it merges local traditions [and] old Georgian culinary traditions with an objective to stimulate economic growth in this region."

Marina Nariashvili, member of the Samtskhe-Javakheti Tourism Working Group

The book is currently sold through local retail chains and in souvenir shops at local guesthouses and hotels. Since its launch in July 2018, 219 copies have been sold, raising more than $1,000 in revenue for the nascent Samtskhe-Javakheti DMO. Proceeds from the book’s sale will continue to support sustainable tourism development in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region, ensuring that local communities are leading and benefitting from development over the long term.

“One of the things I loved about this project, about the Meskhuri Tabla cookbook, was that it merges local traditions [and] old Georgian culinary traditions with an objective to stimulate economic growth in this region,” says Marina Nariashvili, member of the Samtskhe-Javakheti Tourism Working Group.

With this cookbook, the Zrda Activity is showcasing traditional Meskhetian cuisine, supporting sustainable tourism development in the region, and contributing to the ongoing celebration of Georgia’s gastronomic heritage both in Georgia and abroad by focusing on previously unexplored regional culinary traditions.

The Zrda Activity has already begun working on another cookbook with the Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti regional DMO, focusing on Megrelian and Abkhazian cuisines. This cookbook will celebrate the region’s gastronomy and generate income for the DMO while highlighting the relationship and joint culinary history of Samegrelo and the currently occupied territory of Abkhazia. It will be released in the first half of 2019.

Zrda, which means “growth” in the Georgian language, is a five-year program designed to increase productivity of rural households; improve micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprise (MSME) growth; facilitate market linkages between producers and buyers; and promote local economic development by establishing and strengthening networks. As a result, Zrda creates jobs and increases sales for MSMEs and bolsters incomes, resilience, and livelihoods for households in target communities, including communities with ethnic minority populations.