Perhaps not surprisingly, it didn't take long for the the European Union's decision to grant Georgia the exclusive right to market its wine bottles with the slogan "Georgia - The Cradle of Wine" to create some controversy in the Caucasus.
As the Hvino News website, which covers the Georgian wine scene, reports, the Union of Winemakers of Armenia is looking into how it might appeal Brussels' decision. From Hvino's report:
As noted by the Chairman of Union Mr. Avag Harutyunyan, not only Georgia can claim the status of "the cradle of wine", but also other countries in the region, primarily Armenia.
Armenian archeologists agree that in Georgia there are facts which prove the antiquity of the local wine. But for the moment the wine-making complex in Areni is considered the world's oldest, discovered during excavations "Areni-1" in 2011. According to the Director of Academic Institute of Archeology and Ethnography Mr. Pavel Avetisyan, both Georgia and Armenia can be considered the cradle of wine, as well as Iran, and even part of Azerbaijan, in view of the fact that the relevant archaeological materials have been found in all these countries.
This would not be the first time wine is dragged into the region's rivalries. In late June, Azeri hackers took over the website of an Armenian wine company in order to score some political points. More on that in this previous post.
In a previous post, Kebabistan reported on how in order to protest rising food prices in Iran (the result of the western-led sanctions against the country), shoppers recently participated in a "spontaneous" three-day boycott of grocery stores and bakeries.
The issue of the cost of food has clearly caught the attention of the Iranian authorities, particularly, it appears, regarding chicken, a staple of Persian cuisine whose price has skyrocketed in recent months, making it unaffordable for many average Iranians. The solution being offered by one official? Not to make more chickens available, but to make them invisible. Reports RFE/RL's Golnaz Esfandiari:
Chickens and their rising cost could soon join the list of censored topics in Iran.
Over the weekend, police chief Esmail Ahmadi Moghadam criticized state-controlled television for broadcasting images of people eating chicken. He suggested such footage could spur the underprivileged to revolt against affluent Iranians.
“Films are now the vitrine of the society, and some individuals witnessing this class gap might say, ‘We will take knives and take our rights from the rich,'” Ahmadi Moghadam warned during a July 14 press conference by law-enforcement officials.
In Iran, the government fixes the price of chicken at a point lower than the market rate, which has risen by some 60 percent since last year, presumably as a result of inflation and unprecedented tough Western sanctions imposed on Tehran for its controversial nuclear program. Nowadays Iranians pay as much as $5 for a kilogram of chicken. Pre-sanctions prices hovered around $2.
Georgia’s ongoing flirtation with Iran may be raising eyebrows in Washington, but there are signs Tbilisi and Tehran are taking their courtship to the next level: culinary affairs.
Iranian restaurants are popping up in Tbilisi’s popular dining districts, with eateries ranging from the height of touristy kitsch to night clubs. While there are just four in the central district so far, they appear to be taking root.
On Akhvlediani Street, a café-filled side street that runs parallel to the capital’s main boulevard, Farsi ads and Iranian flags are the newest addition to an eclectic mix of ethnic restaurants.
A large Iranian flag stakes out a swath of prime clubbing space for New Mask, an Iranian restaurant/night club. While the ambiance is thin – generic carnival masks make up the bulk of the décor – Iranian pop music sets a certain mood. Plus, at an average of 18 lari ($10.84) an entrée, sampling Iranian comfort food like zereshk polow ba morgh (roasted chicken with a sweet tomato sauce served with rice and barberries) is an affordably exotic treat.
The baby step from tourism to restaurants seems like a safe move in the diplomatic minefield of fostering relations with Iran. Georgia, long considered Washington’s main ally in the region - and recipient of $1billion in aid money over the past four years – has been understandably circumspect about forming close ties with Tehran.
In 2010, Tbilisi lifted visa requirements for Iranians – a move that has helped bolster tourism between the two countries and led to a small, but noticeable, increase in bilateral trade.
But Georgia has also been careful to seek a balance between closer commercial ties with Iran and its diplomatic responsibility with the West: during an interview with CNN on July 9, Economy Minister Vera Kobalia sidestepped a question about Georgia’s increasing ties with Iran.
Perhaps following the Latin proverb "in vino veritas," a group of Azeri hackers decided to recently use the website of a major Armenian wine producer to spread their version of the "truth." Reports Armenia's News.am:
Azerbaijani hackers cracked the website of Armenia-based “Armenia Wine” factory on the night of June 25.
A group of hackers calling themselves “Anti-Armenia team” posted an article about alleged Armenia’s “aggression” towards Azerbaijan, photos, videos about Azerbaijani leader and armed forces.
In response, the Armenia Wine company said the hack was not fueled by the political tensions that exist between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but rather by Azeri sour grapes over the recent growth of the Armenian wine industry. Again, from News.am's article:
In its statement the company said Azerbaijanis are angered by Armenia’s ability to develop production and enter international market even being under the blockade. The company representatives assured that promotion of Armenian wines in the international market will continue regardless of any attempts.
Indeed, as previously reported on this blog, the Armenian wine industry has been making strides lately, with the creation of a handful of new wineries that are working to bottle world-class wines and with several older wineries also revamping their production to boost the quality of their product.
The international sanctions against Iran were designed to punish the country for the continuing efforts to develop its controversial nuclear program. But it appears the sanctions are also starting to impact the daily life -- and eating habits -- of average Iranians. As the Wall Street Journal reports, rising food prices have led to a spontaneous three-day boycott of grocery stores and bakeries that a surprising number of Iranians appear to have joined. From the WSJ's report:
Iranians protesting soaring food prices launched a spontaneous three-day boycott of milk and bread purchases, in a sign that growing economic hardship could lead to more civil disobedience.
The grass-roots campaign, which ran from Saturday through Monday, wasn't affiliated with any opposition group. Dozens of Iranians said in interviews and on social-networking sites and blogs that they had participated in the boycott, and a number of bakeries and grocery stores across Tehran, the capital, reported declines in milk and bread sales of as much as 90%.
Iran's economy has been deteriorating amid domestic mismanagement, corruption and international sanctions that have made it difficult for manufacturers to import raw material and to conduct banking transactions. A European Union embargo on Iranian oil is set to start July 1.
Prices of basic goods rise almost daily. Independent economists estimate annual inflation is hovering between 50% and 60%. In the past two weeks, the price of bread has increased 33%, chicken 28.5% and milk prices are climbing daily, according to Iranian newspapers and semiofficial news websites.
As Eurasianet's Justin Vela recently pointed out, the dispute over who has the right to explore for oil and gas in the waters off the divided island of Cyprus has all the ingredients for a major geopolitical confrontation. But oil and gas are not the only natural resources that are fueling the Cyprus conflict. Turns out cheese is also one of the island's disputed commodities.
As anyone who has visited Cyprus knows, the island essentially runs on one kind of cheese, the rubbery, briny white kind known as "halloumi" in the Greek-speaking south and "hellim" in the Turkish north. As one Greek Cypriot website puts it, the cheese is "the flagship of Cyprus’s authentic cuisine." On both sides, the cheese -- made from a combination of goat, sheep and cow's milk -- is often fried or grilled in chunky strips.
The cheese of either side of Cyprus's dividing Green Line might taste the same, but the issue of who gets to claim halloumi/hellim as their own is pitting the two parts of the island against each other. Greek Cyprus, which is a member of the European Union, has asked Brussels to give halloumi Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status, which would mean that only Cypriot cheese could be given that name. Similar protection is offered to Stilton cheese from England and other European cheeses and food products.
Perhaps aware of Hillary Clinton's fondness for cutting loose with a bottle of brew in hand, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili hosted the visiting American Secretary of State at a wine-filled dinner at restaurant in the Black Sea resort town of Batumi. Reports the, ahem, Daily Mail (in a photo-filled dispatch):
Hillary Clinton made sure to have a little fun on her latest official trip by taking some time out to taste the best wine that Georgia had to offer.
The Secretary of State seemed to be in high spirits as she chatted with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and surveyed a variety of wine at the Adjarian Wine House in Batumi, a beach town decidedly off the beaten path of high-level political conferences.
She was pictured trying at least three different variations of the restaurant’s vintages, and laughing with the President and First Lady over champagne when they first sat down to dinner.
Anyone who's ever eaten in a school cafeteria has been exposed to mystery meat, the strange substance used to make hamburgers and other dishes that are staples of the classic school lunch. Turkish officials, though, may have just added a new item to the school lunch repertoire: mystery milk.
According to reports in the Turkish press, a newly-launched government effort to distribute free milk to Turkey's 7.2 million schoolchildren started off on a disastrous note, with more than 1,000 kids going to the hospital on the program's first day after complaining of food poisoning-like symptoms. The reason? According to some doctors who treated the kids, it was a case of drinking spoiled milk. A member of the main opposition party, the Republican People's Party (CHP), went even further and suggested government-affiliated "partisan" milk firms were to blame.
In Turkey, the victim often gets blamed when something goes wrong, even if that victim is a child. Not surprisingly, government officials quickly dismissed the possibility that the children drank tainted milk, saying instead that many of them simply were not used to drinking the liquid or were allergic to it. Turkey's Education Minister even told reporters that perhaps some of the sickened students simply drank their milk too fast. Either way, samples of the supposedly long-lasting ultra pasteurized milk, which was distributed in individual cartons, were taken to a lab and results are expected on Friday.
Has the White House inadvertently stepped into one of the Mediterranean's oldest unresolved conflicts, namely: which country in the region gets to claim itself as the inventor of baklava?
The issue has been heating up over the last few years. In 2006, for example, Turkish makers of the flaky dessert were outraged when European Union tourism posters featured baklava as a, gasp, Cypriot invention. But the baklava battle has opened up a new front after a March 22 White House dinner in honor of Greek Independence Day. Although it was a closed affair, Maria Loi, a New York-based Greek chef who prepared the evening's dinner, told a Greek-American publication that President Barack Obama "loved baklava." Picked up by the Turkish press, the story became one of the President saying how much he loved "Greek baklava," leading to angry denunciations from columnists who suggested Obama brush up on his Balkan culinary history and that Loi's entire menu for the affair -- moussaka, stuffed grape leaves, Greek salad and the offending baklava -- was comprised of nothing more than Turkish dishes dressed up as Greek ones.
Worried about the Greeks claiming other cross-border staples as their own, some Turkish foodmakers are now taking preemptive action. Reports Turkey's Cihan news agency:
The İstanbul Simit Tradesmen Chamber has launched a process to get an international patent for the number one Turkish street food, the simit, a ring of chewy bread coated with toasted sesame seeds.
As anyone who has visited Turkey knows, the fruits and vegetables there taste, well, simply more like what fruits and vegetables should taste like. To anyone used to the mealy, flavorless tomatoes sold in American supermarkets, their first taste of a vine-ripened Turkish tomato is likely a revelation.
But a new report by Greenpeace's German branch could make that tomato and other Turkish fruits and vegetables a little less appetizing. From the Green Prophet blog:
Of 76 different fruits and vegetables recently evaluated, Turkish peppers contained the most excessive and dangerous amounts of pesticide chemicals, according to Food Without Pesticides, a new 26-page guide to European food released this week by Greenpeace Germany.
Turkish peppers topped the list of “most contaminated” produce in the guide, with an average of 24 chemical substances found in the specimens analyzed. In second place, with an average of 10 chemical substances, were Turkish pears. Nine chemical substances were found in Turkish pears, on average, putting them at third place.
Eleven different Turkish crops were rated, using 582 samples. The guide used a green/yellow/red light system to show its ratings, with a red light meaning that more than one-third of the samples had dangerous levels of chemicals in them.