by Mike Sula
The Republic of, that is.
Recently, the tireless Cathy Lambrecht over at LTH initiated a swell of love for the Niles Georgian bakery/soup shack with the decidedly twee name of Bread 'n' Bowl Company. I've since become a fan too, and even with the bakery's relatively limited offerings I seem to discover something new each time I visit, one of which is Borjomi mineral water.
This is a lightly carbonated, strongly flavored, slightly salty water, beloved in the former Soviet Union. The waters that spring from the ground in the Borjomi Gorge in the Caucasus Mountains where it's collected have been touted for their therapeutic qualities since the early 19th century. I can't vouch for them, but Mineral Waters of World rates Borjomi 13th among hundreds of rated waters for bicarbonate levels, which means it's good for indigestion and hangovers, and likely the reason it has bit of Alka-Seltzer bitterness on the back end. It seems strange to say, but this water has body, substantial, but still refreshing. It isn't something I'd guzzle every day, but it might be just the thing after powering down a pound of Bread 'n' Bowl's buttery pelmeni, or after a schvitz.
The brand has an interesting recent political history. Mineral water, along with scrap metal and wine, is one of Georgia's chief exports. Up until 2006 Borjomi was the top-selling mineral water in Russia, but that same year the Russian government embargoed imports as part of what Georgians viewed as a campaign of economic warfare against the Republic (and then of course, things got really bad). When I brought it up to B'n'B owner Arkady Kats, a native of Ukraine, he smirked and said, "So what they boycott it? People want it, so they get it."
I can't say how well it does on the Russian black market, but the boycott led the company to diversify its exports--which may be why you can now find it so easily in Chicago. I picked up a six-pack of one liters at Farmer's Best Market, 8526 W. Golf in Niles. In the city I've spotted it at City Fresh Market, 3201 W. Devon, and a friend of the Food Chain reports that he gets his at Rich's Delicatessan, 875 N. Western.