Shopping in the Caucasus: great souvenirs from Armenia and Georgia
Your guide to shopping in the Caucasus is here! I am finally beginning to catch up during this period of not travelling very much. I mean, I could go, but due to the nature of my work, I am still somewhat more needed here in my native Germany right now. So most of my days are spent working and my evenings writing to relax. I am going to lump these two very distinct countries together here. A lot of their products are similar and many visitors visit more than one Caucasus country. Shopping in the Caucasus is not a fabulous shopping trip you might experience in European cities or in Turkey, for example, but there are some worthwhile and unique souvenirs to bring home.
Also, if you have read my shopping posts before, I am going to leave out the mass-produced souvenirs save for a little kitsch fridge magnet here and there, and concentrate on things of actual use, and sometimes beauty. If you just want a souvenir, you won’t need to go far, especially in Georgia, where you can find souvenir shops in all major tourist destinations, especially around the Meidani and Erekle II Street in Tbilisi and in Mtshketa.
So, off we go, on a shopping trip to Armenia and Georgia!
Food shopping in the Caucasus
The first and foremost souvenir, one I brought home heaps of. In both Armenia and Georgia, the climate allows for cultivation of fruit, especially grapes, peaches, apricots and nuts. They are preserved by drying or turning them into “churchkhela” (Georgia) and “Sujuk” (Armenia) and ” t’tu lavash” confectioneries. Churchkhela is widely produced in Eastern Turkey, Georgia and Armenia and consists of nuts, usually walnuts, dipped in thickened grape juice, then dried. Lavash is a traditional Armenia flatbread, but the fruit variation is a relatively healthy if rather odd-looking sweet, resembling a sheet of leather and is basically a dried and cooked additive-free fruit puree.
In Armenia, you will find it anywhere near tourist sites, where enterprising locals sell their concoctions. I bought some lavash at Geghard and it was excellent.
A great place to buy local dried fruit and confectionery in Yerevan is the Gum Market just to the South of the city centre. This is a traditional local market for groceries, with the central section given over to edible souvenirs – and they are definitely used to tourists! As soon as you enter, tidbits of dried fruit are literally put in you rmouth from all sides… whether you want it or not.
The outer section has bread, cheese, pickles, fresh vegetables – and there even is a section with very cheap clothes and bric-a-brac.
Here is a selection of Georgian churchkhela at the Deserters Bazaar in Tbilisi. Along with pulses and nuts – the Deserters Bazaar is definitely pretty un-touristy.
If you are more into nuts, you will find them in both Armenia and Georgia too, usually in excellent quality.
A lot of the produce is locally grown – except coffee! Armenians love coffee, and it is even grown in small patches in Armenia, but most beans for the Armenian coffee come from South America or Africa.
These are the dried peaches we bought. They were the best dried peaches I have eaten! We were in Armenia at the beginning of our trip, so did not want to lug a few kilograms of dried fruit around for ten days, but now I wish I had!
We bought a lot of excellent quality bagged dried peaches and apricots at the excellent Yerevan City Supermarket in the old Central Market, opposite the Blue Mosque. I only wish I had bought more. This is the most central really good supermarket in Yerevan. Another great one, and not really known to tourists, is the SAS Supermarket on Arshyakunyats Avenue just outside the city centre. Several bus routes go along there, including Trolleybus No.1 which you can pick up all along Mashtots Avenue. The best about the SAS Supermarket is its food court though, with some live lavash baking, huge choice of food and low, low prices.
If you visit Georgia, tea is another excellent souvenir. The Georgian, or Grusinian Tea, was once an export hit all over the Eastern bloc. The climate is great, with short winters killing off mosts pests. Tea growers entered hard times when the market was flooded with cheaper teas, but given the great tea-growing climate, has somewhat recovered.
I did not seek out any specialist tea shops but bought this good quality green tea and mint tea from the Prince Gurieli brand in the Carrefour near Brartashvili Bridge (a great place for last minute foodie souvenirs and wine). It is a relatively new brand which sources its tea from several Georgian producers. They are not certified organic but pride themselves in producing superior quality tea in an environmentally friendly way.
Last not least, a few bags of spices almost always find their way into my bag. PLenty of chili and wild thyme in Yerevan’s markets.
Or ready packaged spices for typical Georgian cuisine. Including some Kharcho mixture (coriander, mint, chili, fenugreek, dill) , spice for bean stew, the famous Svaneti salt, and some natural colouring for Easter eggs. They are really cheap – and good!
Wine Shopping in the Caucasus
Both Armenia and Georgia produce quality wine, with Georgia by far the largest and more traditional producer with its “qvevri” claypot-fermented distinctive wines. Most wine production in Armenia seems a cottage indstry, with wine being sold from recycled class bottles at road sides, but there are some commercial producers as well.
Armenia also produces a fine cognac – the distillery is in the middle if Yerevan and can be visited.
The best way would be to visit a winery or two. Kakheti region in Eastern Georgia is the prime wine-growing region of the Caucasus. Or try your way through various types of wines – there are enough restaurants and wine bars in Tbilisi that specialise in Georgian wine and offer hundreds of choices along with small but good menus.
I bought a few bottles at Shumi Winery and then stocked up on what I thought I could fill my extra suitcase with at Carrefour in Tbilisi.
Kitchen Things and small bits and pieces
Another favourite souvenir, provided I can find good use for them! Here is a little spice mill and jar I picked up at Vernissage Market in Yerevan, but you can find them all over the country – as well as in Turkey. UNdoubtedly mass produced, but the grinder works well. I use it for spices I use less often. The little metal jar can be stood on its lid and used as an incense burner.
So here at Vernissage Market in Yerevan, you see the whole lot of typical kitchen implements that might suit as a souvenir: Spice grinders, trivets, incense burners and a huge selection of coffee brewing pots, called jazzve in Armenian.
Here is mine – also bought at Vernissage Market.
And going off to Georgia, a earthenware pot for cooking ans serving a traditional bean stew called lobio. The pot is indestructible and cost less than 2 Euro in a small shop in Tbilisi, somewhere in a pedestrian passage in central Tbilisi. They have these really great small shops with a wide range of goods – mostly mobile phone accessories, clothes, cookware, flowers.
Antiques, Kitsch and Soviet Memorabilia
Vintage and Kitsch is something I love but must be careful not to fill my house with… so I try to stick to small items of the same kind, usually fridge magnets,and if that fails, key rings.
Vernissage Market in Yerevan is a really pleasant every-day kind of craft and souvenir market, clearly aimed at tourists. Most of the goods on sale are new goods.
In Tbilisi, the Dry Bridge Market is the place to be. Open every day, it attracts both locals and visitors, and it about 70% bric-a-brac and 30% crafts.
If you were looking for that old samovar, here is where you will find one. I also remember the enamel bowls, they were all the rage in mid-1980s Eastern Germany. I once trailed all over Moscow, including some outskirts, looking for a vase or a bowl for my mum… well… they are not so fashionable now but I do like their muted rich colours and intricate patterns, but resisted from buying one… given my once-Pyrex addiction, I have too many vintage bowl already in use.
And speaking of glass… coloured crystal glass is still very much a thing in Russia and the Caucasus. My grandmother had enough to last the entire family a life time, but if you are in need of crystal… these are real vintage Soviet goods, seen in the Gum Market in Yerevan (on the top floor, near the clothes section)
And here is my aforementioned fridge magnet collection. Also useful to carry on the car dashboard for extra protection from reckless German drivers. I have St. Nino, patron saint of Georgia, St. George and Jesus Christ. All were bought in Georgia, where the religious tchotchke industry seems to be ging strong, thanks to many Russian torists.
Carpets and other textiles
And now… then piece de resistance, the one where you can spend a monthly salary or five on if you are serious. Carpets! Caucasian carpets are a force to be reckoned with. Not that they will enable you to sit and fly away, but all three Caucasus countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia have a long-standing carpet-making tradition. Add to that that Iran, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, all with a tradition and reputation in carpetmaking, aren’t far either, you are spoilt for choice for unique carpets in Armenia and Georgia.
My husband loves warmth and if it were after him, our home would be fully clad in carpets. So, we were quite open to buying a nice carpet for a souvenir, provided we would be able to carry it on the plane.
First, we encountered a small carpet shop round the corner form our hotel, then got to look at the offerings at Vernissage Market for an idea of prices and what’s on offer. Here, I fell lin love with a vintage Turkmen carpet. At 600 US Dollars, it was a luxurious dark red vintage camel wool carpet of 3×2 metres – a bit large to carry!
A little unsure about what constitutes a traditional Armenian carpet, we set off to the Megherian Carpet Showroom and Museum a little out of Yerevan. Here, we were given the private tour of the museum and workshops. The carpets here were finely detailed workd of great quality, with prices to match. The choice was almost infinite.
Last not least, we returned to the small carpet shop in the first floor of a small building in central Yerevan where we first encountered Armenian carpets. It is called Postoyan Carpets, and I highly recommend it for its choice of genuine quality carpets and the friendly service. The choice – almost as limitless, but prices were a lot lower than at Megherian as most of the carpets are vintage 40-50 year old carpets from Armenia and Artsakh. About 100 Euro will buy you a decent size rug or carpet here.
We finally bought an Artsakh sumac (rug carpet) each, made from naturally dyed sheep’s wool with traditional patterns. They packed easily even into our hand luggage backpacks and came on a Georgia round trip before coming home with us. We have had them on the floor for a little over three years now, and they still look like new.
I have written a separate post on buying Caucasian carpets if you are interested.
Gold is popular, probably a bit more so in Armenia, where it is partially used as an investment, but the styles were not distinctive or amazing enough, prices were the same as in Europe so I passed. I am more into silver jewellery, especially vintage silver.
So I was very glad to pick up this sweet St. Nino cross in traditional silver and enamel in Georgia.
Clothes and Accessories
If you need a new wardrobe, you can find inexpensive and often well-made clothes in both Armenia and Georgia – probably more so in Georgia thanks to many Turkish imports. Tbilisi also has the usual high streets brnads at prices similar to Europe.
I could not resist these cute socks, picked up in a small pedestrian passage shop in central Tbilisi. You might recognise some traditional Georgian fare, khinkali and khatchapuri as well as a bit of modernist art – and who can resist some glitter socks? I wear an all-whit ework uniform, so I like to add a bit of colour with fun, comfy inexpensive socks.
Next door, a shop was selling these wonderful Russian folk shawls. They originate from the small town of Pavlovo Posad near Moscow, but are common all over Russia and neighbouring countries. A good wool one will cost upwards of 60 Euros, and these inexpensive viscose ones cost as little as 8Euros
For practical advice on travel in Armenia and Georgia, I have several post on these two Caucasian countries. I travelled there independently in 2018, flying into Tbilisi on Baltic Airlines and travelling to Yerevan by public minivan and back on a tour.
If you shop, cash is king in both these countries but it does not necessitate having the local currency especially for pricier items. Often, vendors will accept Euros or US Dollars.
If you have any questions, let me know in the comments or feel free to email me!