Born in the USSR

When Tina Shimselashvili opened Racha with her husband, no chef was as popular as she was in the kitchen.

Tina Shimshelashvili 521 (photo credit: Barry A. Kaplan)
Tina Shimshelashvili 521
(photo credit: Barry A. Kaplan)
On May 6, a new restaurant opened in downtown Jerusalem named Racha, after the area in the Eurasian state of Georgia where most of the owner’s family was born.
According to the owner’s daughter Lily Ben-Shalom, 70 percent of Georgian Jews live in Israel.
Chef Tina Shimshelashvili was born in Georgia and learned to cook from the age of four.
“I grew up learning cooking from my mother until I got married after high school at the age of 17. Then I started to cook like a good bride. Mother taught me everything. She told me, ‘I want you to learn my cooking. I want you to learn the secrets like the spices and the timing with the dough.’” Lily, who does the marketing and publicity for the restaurant, says, “We had two mothers – my real mother and my grandmother. Grandmother was the best baker, and everyone in Racha knew her. She cooked for all the parties and weddings.”
In 1974, when Tina was 21, she and her husband came to Israel with their children Yisrael and Lily. Her husband worked as an engineer, and she became a kindergarten teacher. Three years later, their son Tomer was born.
After the army, Yisrael worked as a contractor in the construction business until three-and-a-half years ago, when he became a partner in Café Café in the German Colony.
Tomer worked as a manager of the well-known downtown restaurant Fink’s, as well as 1868 and restaurants in Brussels and New York.
How it started
At a family meeting a year ago, the brothers talked about going to the US, but Lily suggested that they open an authentic Georgian restaurant, since “Mom was the best cook.” A few days later, they found a place off Jaffa Road.
Then they tested three Georgian-born chefs with restaurant experience.
“We felt that their food was good professionally, but we missed the taste of our mother’s food,” says Lily.
Tina was reluctant to get involved because she had never cooked professionally.
“My cooking was a hobby,” says Tina. “At first, I thought I could work in the kindergarten and in the restaurant, but my children told me, ‘You will be here.’” So she became head chef and supervisor of the kitchen and staff, giving the food her special touch.
Today, Yisrael is the owner of Racha; Tomer is the service manager and manages the bar. Lily’s daughter Shiran has just completed the army and is working in the smoking bar until she starts university.
Racha has three rooms. Two rooms seat 70, and the private dining area in the back seats 15. The first room has dark wood tables and chairs and a carpet on the floor. The second room has tables with upholstered wooden chairs and a bar with 18 padded chairs. Chandeliers glisten above the carpets on the floor. Most of the walls are cream color, but one wall in each room has been left in its original state “because we wanted to connect to the old original building, since many restaurants in Georgia are in old buildings,” Lily explains The bar glasses and chinaware are from Georgia.
There is also a smoking bar with 12 seats and a stairway that leads to a small balcony where customers can drink and mingle.
Georgian food is made with a lot of meat, nuts, pomegranates, peaches and wine. Very little oil is used in cooking, and the liquid comes from the nuts and the meat.
What is the most popular dish on the menu?
That depends on the category, says Lily.
Churchkhela, the most popular in the dessert category, is a combination of figs, plums, quince, wine and hazelnuts cooked, dried and sewn onto a string, then dipped in juice and dried in the shape of a sausage, which is then cut into pieces when served.
Khalia, an entrée favorite, is long-cooked beef with onions, black plums and pomegranates. Chanakhi is lamb with eggplant and potatoes. Chinkali, a blintzlike dough filled with meat, is another favorite.
What is Tina’s favorite item on the menu?
Chiburiaki, a blini with meat.
What is your biggest accomplishment?
“That people leave empty plates and are happy and that the family is together.”
What is the best part of the job?
“That the restaurant is a symbol where we can be together.”
Racha is kosher, Jerusalem Rabbinate; the meat is mehadrin. It is located at Rehov Havatzelet 6. Tel: 537- 6600 or 050-427-7772. The restaurant is open Sunday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to the last customer; Friday from 1 p.m. to one hour before Shabbat; Saturday evening one hour after Shabbat to the last customer.

The restaurant is available mornings for groups and special occasions.
We were given tea and desserts to sample, along with a bureka stuffed with meat and another meat-stuffed dish before trying the mouthwatering Aliah.
500 gr. fresh goulash meat 500 gr. diced onions 4 cloves minced garlic 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds Handful chopped cilantro 1 1/2 tsp. coriander 2 Tbsp. tomato paste 2 bay leaves 1/4 tsp. chili powder Salt and pepper to taste
Place everything but the meat in a bowl. Mix well with your hands. Put in a pot. Add the meat. Cook over a high heat for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to very low and cook 3 to 3 1/2 hours. Serve with shotise puri (Georgian bread) to soak up the juices.
Makes 5-6 servings.