Ex-soldier makes Abkhazian spice his business

Rauf Djikirba from Abkhazia survived conflict with Georgia to find a new life in a very different field. Now he is known as the ‘Adzhika King’ for becoming a successful exporter of the traditional hot sauce.

During the Georgia-Abkhazian war between 1992 and 1993 Rauf commanded the battalion which defended the capital Sukhumi. In 13 months of fighting his division lost half of its men.

But his life went on. Unlike many of his compatriots who simply fled Abkhazia, Rauf found his place in the post-war peace. Now 14 years later he's known as the ‘Adzhika King’ in Abkhazia.

Adzhika, the original Abkhazian hot sauce and a big hit of Caucasian cuisine, is  made in every house. But Rauf was the first to export it. No feast in Abkhazia goes without adzhika. And Rauf believes one day it will be a common sight in Russia as well.

Sorting peppers makes your palms burn
Sorting peppers makes your palms burn

The sauce is made with red hot Abkhazian pepper and a whole series of spices: coriander, saffron, basil, dill. But the most important components, Rauf says, are not on the label: “Pepper needs good air to dry correctly. Look – 500 meters from here is the sea where the sea wind is coming from, and here to my left are the mountains – the mountain wind blows from there. They meet right here where we're standing now and constantly argue – that's exactly what we need!”

When the pepper is dry enough after three or four months hanging under the roof of a warehouse, they take it down. A handful of crimson pepper pods are needed to prepare 100 grams of adzhika. Rauf gathers tons of it all across Abkhazia where 20% of fields are covered with peppers.

I always taste all the eleven adzhika ingredients. They should be of premium class as if we're making adzhika for our own use. If I don't like any of them – we just throw it away. Together, they should be a perfect ensemble.

Rauf Djikirba,
Abkhazian ‘Adzhika King’

The pepper is unusual as well, Rauf says: “We are using peppers which in fact don't differ from the one Columbus brought in. We start collecting it on September 1 and unlike anywhere else continue until December 15. It's an usual practice to collect the entire yield at once. But we let the pepper grow naturally.”

No feast in Abkhazia goes without Adzhika. And Rauf believes one day it will be a common sight in Russia as well. Rauf has just sent a huge consignment of his Adzhika to Moscow promising to provide every single Muscovite with a jar of hot Abkhazian sauce by the New Year.

Rauf's adzhika is called ‘Amtsa’ which means ‘fire’ in Abkhazian. But you will never feel this fire without tasting adzhika. You can take it with meat, with traditional Abkhazian corn porridge, or even with melon. It all depends on your imagination.