Sharing the Love: Chama Mama is One Woman’s Delicious Ode to Her Georgian Homeland

by Charlottesville29

I am sometimes asked what cuisine Charlottesville’s restaurant scene lacks. The fact that there are too many to name is no knock on Charlottesville. There are nearly 200 countries in the world, each with many cuisines of their own. While food is well represented in Charlottesville for a city of its size, it could never begin to scratch the surface of all the world has to offer.

When I travel, I seek cuisines that Charlottesville lacks. One favorite is Georgian. Before she moved away and became a food media star, Polina Chesnakova taught Charlottesville about the wonder of the food of Georgia, and I’ve been hooked ever since. In Manhattan, another Georgian native Tamara Chubinidze likewise spreads her love of Georgian food. When Chubinidze arrived in New York at age 15 and visited Times Square, it moved her to tears. Amidst dazzling lights, here she was standing in what seemed to her like the brightest spot on earth, and all she could think of were her loved ones back home, in darkness. Inspired by that love of her homeland, in 2019 she opened Chama Mama, with the goal of sharing her culture and cuisine with as many people as possible. Most important to achieving that goal, she says, is love. Love for food, and the people who enjoy it.

At her restaurant, that love is unmistakable. From the welcome, to the hospitality, to the food. Jonjoli, fermented sprouts from a rare bush common in Georgia, is a highlight of an appetite-whetting plate of pickled vegetables.

Tender handmade dumplings, khinkali, come in a choice of lamb, pork and beef, or a popular vegetarian version with mushrooms. The trick to getting the most enjoyment, instead of a plate full of broth, is to grasp one by the button on top, turn it over, nibble an edge, and drink the savory broth inside.

Chakapuli is a traditional stew you’re unlikely to find in the U.S. anywhere but the most faithful Georgian restaurants. Loaded with herbs, it combines tarragon, cilantro, scallions, green plums, and Amber wine, yielding a flavor difficult to compare to anything outside Georgia.

Adding to the cultural immersion are a passionate staff who converse in Georgian, a transporting setting, and distinctive kveri wines, fermented in clay vessels often buried underground. Close your eyes to savor the harmony of chakapuli with a glass of amber kveri and you can imagine sharing something experienced thousands of times over in a historic republic 5,000 miles away.

Thank you, Tamara, for sharing your love.