I have lived in four countries now and I have never seen a group of people so consistently outdo themselves in feasting before this teaching experience in Georgia. The traditional Georgian banquet is called a “supra” and it is a sight to behold. Even more impressive is how nonchalantly they go about it. Two hundred and forty some people sat down to eat today together for a funeral supra commemorating the death of my host great uncle. They filed orderly into the room and started into their repast. Every last one proceeded to eat just a little uncomfortably too much, and there was at least another 2 servings worth left on the table when they finished. Wine was all topped off and serving trays were being reloaded as we left. Supra-ing is an absurdly extravagant, delightful, event that I’ve seen only approached in pale comparison.
A clearer picture of the supra would include the variety of forms in which they come. There are birthday supras, holiday supras, wedding supras, funeral supras, meeting supras and all the various mini-supras that arise from people stopping over, visiting places like caves ( I participated in a cave supra, no joke) and other minor occurrences. While they differ in form and placement they are almost all of them united by three simple rules:
1.) All guests must leave a supra uncomfortably full. If a guest seems to have eaten only the normal amount they must be cajoled into eating too much by the word “tchame!” (eat!), repeated over and over until the guest gives in.
2) There must be at least two times more food than your guests could possibly eat in a sitting. A supra without heaping plates of uneaten food-which inevitably give you pangs with regards to starving children in various sections of the world- is no kind of supra.
3) There must be at least THREE times as much wine as all your guests could possibly drink in a sitting. It would be the worst kind of form to ever run out of wine and I have never seen that social crime even approach being committed. This isn’t said lightly either since Georgian’s are serious drinkers, deserving their place among the great countries of drinkers like Ireland and South Africa. They drink a glass of wine or two for dinner, lunch AND breakfast. A guest of my family once had 5 shots of vodka for breakfast before heading on his way back home. Not a single eyebrow was raised.
Supras don’t generally include a lot of fanfare. There isn’t a blessing at the beginning, nor an order to who eats and drinks. Usually it’s just folks eating from heaping plates of food set out on a nicely laid table. The only exception to the informality is the Georgian toasts. At formal gatherings there is a person called “tamada” who leads the toasting – in informal supras anyone can do the toasting. Whenever the tamada gives a toast all the men, stand up and cheers the toast, while the women sit and do the same. If it’s a particularly heartfelt toast you are expected to drain your glass in empathy, and if you aren’t concerned with it you needn’t worry. The tamada however must drain their glass to the first toast and every one they make – resulting predictably in some very drunk tamadas by the end of the evening. Georgians outdo themselves in making toasts; they can last for ten minutes sometimes, so the hangover that can result from being Tamada should not be underestimated.
In the end I find it all to be incredibly charming. Especially in this Easter season it seems so fitting to celebrate the way that this amiable country celebrates. Georgian supras are a unique and wonderful aspect of their culture, and a tradition every country I visit in the future will have a hard time living up to.