Sunday, December 17, 2017

Etiquette

Despite the Georgian love of wine, or perhaps because of it, it is generally considered in very bad taste to get drunk. Women are not required or indeed expected to keep pace with men’s consumption. Men, however, had better have a good head for what they drain; their very manliness-and the judgment of a traveler’s manliness-depends upon it.

While some of the more important toasts require drinking your glass to the bottom as a sign of respect (bolomde in Georgian), the traditions of the Georgian table space the drinking out over the course of the meal. Here are the rules. You cannot drink until the tamada (toastmaster) has made his toast and drunk. Only then, and usually in order around the table, can other revelers echo the toast and drink. Never propose a different toast unless you are given permission: that is an offense to the tamada. If the toast is made to you as a visitor, to America or England, to the President or the Queen, or in any way bears directly upon your presence, you must wait to drink until everyone else has gone before you. Your toast in response should be one of thanks. Occasionally you will hear the tamada say Alaverdi to someone. This means that one guest has been chosen to elaborate upon the tamada’s toast. All others present then drink to this same theme.

Toasting is not taken lightly in Georgia! In addition to the time-honored forms are time-honored subjects. Here, in order, are the subjects to which you will most likely be drinking: to peace (especially in the west of Georgia), to the reason for the gathering, to the hostess, to parents and ancestors, to Georgia as motherland, to friends, to the memory of those who have died (this is usually accompanied by pouring wine onto bread before you drink), to life, to children, to the mandilosani (in honor of women), to each guest present, sometimes individually, sometimes combined. After this the tamada usually allows anyone who so desires to make a toast. A closing toast is made in honor of the tamada, and the very last toast is to a safe journey home and to future meetings. Most Georgian homes have a large ram’s or goat’s horn called a khantsi. This will invariably be brought out at some point during the meal, filled with wine, and handed to an honored guest. Usually you must drink this to the bottom.

You can find the soul of Georgia at the seaside and the riverbanks, in the orchards and the mountains, within the sacred precincts of ancient churches and among the crumbling ruins of fortress walls. But nowhere is it so immediately and joyously felt as at a long Georgian table where, dining with the most hospitable people in the world, you lift your glass and feel powerfully connected to human sentiments that transcend mere bonhomie.

Dining
at the Georgian table!           

GEORGIANS MAKE YOU feel like a valued guest. They can invite you to their homes for dinner or wine to continue a discussion, or just to spend some quality time together. Dining in a home is of course the preferred way of eating, as restaurants in Tbilisi are of poor quality, in spite of flashing signs and modern western looks. Forget about it. Find a friend and get invited to his house! The first thing you notice is the amount of food on the table. It is like the Garden of Eden; full of temptations all piled up. Dishes of meat and khachapuri are buried under yet other dishes of bread, sauces or whatever comes from the kitchen that day. A Georgian meal normally consists of 8-10-12 or more dishes with different food. I won’t even try to explain what everything is. Join the Facebook group ”Khachapuri”!

Excellent food quality.

All basic food is bought fresh from the bazaar, and don't come from some low-price super marked, or in frozen pieces. Most of the meat come from small farms. Industrialized low quality food-production does not exist here. The taste of the food is therefore exquisite, and the way they prepare it brings out a number of different and exiting flavors. Georgian food is something for the gourmet. It’s certainly not for those measuring calories, though.

The Tamada.

Every dinner party must have a Tamada, a toastmaster. Wine is imperative, and the flow of it is controlled by the Tamada. He is the master of the toasting; a very important job. And it is a lot of toasting going on. First for all friends, all their ancestors, (all dead ones too), for Sakartvelo (Georgia in Georgian) and for whatever needs to be toasted for: The GAUMARJOS (cheers). The Gaumarjos is always introduced by a long speech giving the reason for the toast. This goes on for hours. After some Gaomarjo'ing the men usually become significantly more macho, and there might be singing and sentimental speeches. And more wine. Then the women, which doesn’t drink much, decides that their housbands have had enough and must go home.

The Kantsi.

If they bring out the Kantsi you should be aware. The kantsi is a horn from a cow or a bull, able to contain several liters of wine. You are supposed to drink it all without stopping. This is a hazardous game you can't win. Don't even try. The Kantsi in this picture is a miniature urban little thing. The "real mac coy" has a very different size and impact.

The Georgian Table is indeed the most varied and exiting way of eating I have tried. Tasteful and creative use of the best raw materials available. You definately won't be served fishfingers and other industrial processed garbage here.

By Eistein Guldseth, 2006. www.gotocaucasus.com.