Updated: Feb 22, 2022
How China Spiced Up My Black Sea Holiday.
Part 1: Bean Clams
Kaprovani is a community of beach rentals snuggled in a seaside pine forest not far from the Kolkheti wetlands. There are no tacky high-rises, tourist trap bungalow dives blasting boom-boom-boom music, and no beach combing hawkers offering you corn on the cob from a bucket or inflatable plastic donuts. When we showed up last month, there was just silence, cool end of summer humidity, and an intoxicating, salty, pine-scented air you find nowhere else in the country. As far as I’m concerned, this is the only place for a Black Sea holiday.
Unlike the rest of the stony coastline, the beach here is all sand; a black magnetic and therapeutic sand people say is good for your bones. The beach is also rubber gloves, leather shoes, metal beer caps and plastic everything else: syringes, bags, bottles and colorful bits delivered from our rivers or washed up from further Black Sea shores. This may be a little Black Sea paradise, but it is Georgia, too.
After a stormy pair of days, the sun shone and the water calmed to barely a ripple and we planted ourselves in the sticky black sand and were joined by a couple beach bum dogs. The water was so shallow, you could walk out fifty meters and it was still waist-deep. One guy was out doing laps, a couple floated around on a paddle board, the kids were clowning, and one man was walking through the water, straining to pull a long rope as if there was a treasure chest on the other end. Curious, one of our crew went out to find out what the man was doing.
“He’s Chinese, doesn’t speak English, only Georgian,” our friend reported. “And he’s dragging a sack, dredging for clams, for his family.”
Clams? The only edible Black Sea mollusks I had ever seen were mussels.
When the Chinese gentleman returned to shore with his clam sack over his shoulder, we asked if we could see them. He didn’t stop, just threw a couple little clams at us as if we were begging dogs and walked on. Little bean clams. I went for a swim and sat down, neck deep, around where the guy had been clamming. I dug my fingers into the sand and sifted out a few smooth, almond-sized clams to show my kid. Then she joined me. Soon the rest of the kids were were out there for an hour or more competing to find the most clams. “This is funner than computer games!” they exclaimed and spent the better part of an hour digging for clams with their hands. They must have harvested a kilo or more.
Later that night I sautéed a fistful of garlic in a couple tablespoons of butter, added a couple glasses of tsolikauri, fresh lemon juice and tossed in the clams. We garnished them with a refrigerator surprise of fresh herbs: celery, parsley and cilantro, and dug in. They were addictive, like sunflower seeds. The moment called for a toast to the Chinese man and how it took him, a foreigner, to show us how much more bountiful and delicious the Black Sea is. Later, looking down at the piles of empty shells on our plates I wondered if shellfish were supposed to be eaten only in months with or without Rs, but I said nothing to no one. When we woke up in the morning we were still alive.