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Café “Suhumi”: How Georgian emigrants managed to recreate their tiny piece of homeland in Hague, Netherlands

Exactly 21 years ago. After being persecuted from motherland, due to civil war in Abkhazia, Georgia, Izolda Kvitsiani, came to Netherlands with her family – having no choice but to start a new life in a foreign country. After several years of working illegally, in 2007 family finally acquired citizenship of Netherlands. In 2009 they opened Café, the place that later on would become the site of cultural gathering and their second home in Den Haag

As I walk in the streets of Hague, searching for Café ‘Sukhumi’, thinking about possible questions to ask, I can’t help but feel nervous for some reason… As I enter café I see large group of people sitting by the bar, having friendly chat and suddenly, I have no idea what to say: Should I greet them in Georgian? English? Dutch? Luckily they do that for me: as they notice my super-confused expression. “Gamardjoba!” – I hear greeting in familiar language. Georgians can always sense the presence of another Georgian, even just by looking at each other. I find that quite scary at times!10841561_847792331939333_800080122_n

Atmosphere is very chilled! My friend and I sit at the table and wait for the owner of the Café. While we are sipping delicious red, Georgian, half-sweet wine “Kindzmarauli”, that we were offered by people sitting by the bar, we become so busy with examining the interior of café that we do not even notice blond woman with white apron approaching our table. She greets us with friendly smile and gives each of us a hug.

As we talk, we get several times interrupted by the customers who greet Ms. Izolda as they enter café. “You seem to have lots of loyal customers …” – I can’t help but notice. “Oh yes, they come here very often. I try my best for everyone to feel at home.  As it is vivid even by looking at our menu: “Georgian homemade food”- you see? “– She laughs as she points on the title. However, very often it has been extremely difficult for Abkhazian Emigrants to feel at home in Netherlands. Izolda still feels she does not belong here.“ It is very strange” – she sighs. “In 2007 when I got my citizenship I decided to visit Georgia and I could not, Because of the war [August, 2008 Georgian-Russian war] and then when I finally managed to visit my Country after 15 years, I felt Really strange. It is very difficult, as you do not belong there anymore and you do not belong here. I’ve heard similar stories from Turkish emigrants who had been living here [in Netherlands] for 20, some of them even 45 years. They feel exactly the same way.”10846677_847792315272668_930337304_n

To my surprise, there are only Russian songs being played in a café: probably aiming to address larger segment of customers, that is people from post-soviet countries, rather than specifically from Georgia. That seems also kind of symbolic: in 1990s Abkhazia, Russian pop-culture was more popular than in the rest-of- Georgia, Thus in this café it feels like Sukhumi (Abkhazian city) is recreated exactly the way it was before the civil war.However, as Izolda says, they often sing in Georgian and play Georgian songs as well. The bar is open until 3 and they play various music. Kitchen closes at 11, which is extremely unusual for a café in Netherlands and I can’t help but wonder, how many people work at the kitchen. “OH, it’s just me and I have this Ukrainian girl, that helps me – like, with cutting vegetables etc. “ – she says nonchalantly. To my surprise she works 7 days a week and has only had one week of vocation for a whole year. “ It’s not that I would not like to have another cook, of course I would, but Georgian cuisine is very specific – you need to understand it. I have not found anyone I would trust and I do not wish to lower the quality.” – Izolda says this and I can see that she has this mother – child – like attitude towards her café. Our interview becomes impossible to continue, since lots of customers arrive and she needs to rush back to the kitchen. I notice that none of them are Georgians. There are some Dutch couples and very large group of Polish people. There are not that many spots in this café, but as it becomes late, more and more people arrive. Very soon no places are left.10859790_847792325272667_106591377_n

Our food arrives surprisingly soon (considering the fact, that only one woman works in the kitchen). I have to point out, that I am not much of a cuisine enthusiast. Frankly, I do not care about food as such: I simply eat because I need it in order to survive. But I have to tell you this: I have never tasted anything that tasty in Netherlands. My friend ordered “Harco”. Even by the smell I could tell it would be delicious. As for me, I ordered “Khinkali” and “Acharuli” both Of them incredibly tasty. However, both of the dishes tasted very different from what I have tried in Georgia. Maybe it was Due to the fact that, for example, for “Acharuli “, as Izolda says she does not use Georgian cheese, but combination of different Dutch cheese instead. She had to experiment a lot in order to reach the desired taste and I can tell you that the quality is absolutely amazing! As for “khinkali”, judging by the appearance of dough, at first I was quite skeptical about its taste, however my expectations were not met at all: It was delicious!

We decide to leave the place because it is getting quite late, but Ms. Izolda insists on us having one more glass of red wine. She makes this offer completely free-of-charge of course and we have no choice, but to stay and finish another glass of very delicious-yet-quite alcoholic wine (very Georgian way to end your visit). As I leave this place I look around and think: there is no better way of retaining your cultural bonds to your motherland, than this. “I am so happy whenever I see happy face of a customer. To see that they like my food, they are having good time is what I like the most about my job!”– Says Izolda. Probably this café is the reason why she does not feel that nostalgic about her county, since she already has her tiny piece of motherland with her. You can simply sense that in the atmosphere here. And it makes you think that, homeland is not geographical position, it is the state of your mind, you give meaning to that concept, and thus there always is a way to carry your home with you!

I would strongly recommend this place not only to Georgian people or to people that are from Post-Soviet countries, but to anyone, who is interested in different exotic cuisines or simply is willing to spend the evening in a pleasant domestic environment.

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