Georgian Supra

 Social events referred to as "supras" by the Georgians have been an integral part of Georgian culture as long as the Georgian people have existed.  These events are always presided over by a "Tamada", sort of like a toast master who sets the tone of the supra with his toasts.  His toasts are always concluded with the drinking of wine.  The Tamada will then ask designated participants to make a toast along the same topic has his toast.  Only men make toasts.   The supra tables are always covered with plates of various foods, and copious amount of wine decanters which are always kept full. There are basically four ingredients to a supra: Tamada, setting, wine, and food.  Religion plays a singular part in the supras and is usually reflected in the toasts. The supra always follows the same traditional scenario throughout Georgia from the poorest village to the most fancy restaurant in Tbilisi.
This newly cast bell at an hilltop monastery outside of Tbilisi epitomizes the high respect the Georgian people have for their religion and their vintage of grapes.  Both are integral part of Georgian culture.  On the right is an idyllic Georgian wine pitcher with which no Georgian supra would be without - though most are not as ornate.  I bought this pitcher from an elderly Georgian lady at the Tbilisi suxhoi most (dry bridge) bazaar.   This wine pitcher is decorated with hand painted grape leaves and has the artist's initial on the bottom as well as his trademark.                                      

The role of a Tamada at a Georgian supra would be difficult for an outsider to appreciate without actually attending a supra and understanding his sequence of toasts and the content of the toasts.  The Tamada is always seated at the head of a table in formal supras and stands to make his toast.  The theme of toasts begins with religion, toasts to heroes of the nations, down to wine, friendship, women, etc.   People stand when toasts are made to God, Nation and heros.   The Tamada will give an alaverdy to someone at the table to make a toasts along the theme of the his toast.  The person making a toats always stands up. This toasting continues throughout the supra which may run all night until the next morning.  Women are not permitted, by tradition, to be Tamadas and they do not make toasts nor stand with the men as toasts are made.

A traditional image of a Georgian supra Damada emptying an "grog" or horn filled with wine after making a toast.  Upon completion, the horn would be turned over to show that there was not a drop of wine left.   White homemade wine is usual served, though Red wine was also served at the supra's I attended.    

Timur, without a doubt, the most eloquent and passionate Tamada I have heard.   Timur was a veteran of the Georgian - Abkhazian war of 1992- 93.   He made emotional toasts to the Georgians who suffer in this conflict as well as in WW II.  His animated style of toasting kept everyone's attention.  
The morning following a wedding supra and the Tamada still has the energy to make toasts. The Tamada was the father of the bride, a gracious host and a tireless speaker.   Took me some time to recuperate to.  All the lady guests had departed the previous evening. 
The setting for a supra can be any place where Georgian men gather to drink wine, make toasts and enjoy each others company, from restaurants, in someone's home, in a mountain village, in a forest, or by a river. Below are some of the locations at which I attended Georgian supras.

                                                                                  Restaurant with Friends

The "Three Amigos", Misha, Timur, and Pridon, taking me to a typical Georgian restaurant for a supra.  Pridon making a toast.   I met Pridon in 1996 and we have been friends ever since.  He and his family exemplify the best in a Georgian family.  I thoroughly enjoy their hospitality.  Sadly, Timur, in the middle of the left photo passed away in 2012.  May the Good Lord bless the soul of this fine gentleman. 

Sad photo on the left above.  The last time I drank wine from a clay bowl with Timur.   Right, Timur enjoying himself.  Timur was always laughing and brought boisterous joy to all in his company.

                                                                           With government officials                                                

A formal supra in an exclusive Tbilisi restaurant.  The large pitchers contain wine which are immediately replaced once emptied.   The clear bottles are Borjomi, a famous brand of Georgian mineral water.

                                                                          Small Mountain Villages
Sometimes the supras took place under the balcony of a poor village farm house, or in a cold home along the Azerbijani border as in the right photo.    But, they all followed the same traditional pattern set by the Tamada.

This supra took place on a mountain side near Adjara with a river flowing by.  The occasion was very festive because the supra was entertained by two fellows as shown in the left picture.

An enjoyable supras I attended took place in a forest.  The smoke in the photo is from an open fire upon which the Georgians roasted their shashlik.   The white-shirted elderly gentelman in the right photo is a veteran of the Red Army during WW II.  He was a T-34 tank driver and lost three fingers of his left hand when his tank was hit by a German anti-tank shell.


When it became dark, one of the men brought out his accordion and everybody began to sing and dance.  I asked the accordion player if he knew any American tunes, and he began to play Dixie.

There never would have been a supra if Georgia had not had a 5,000 yr old tradition of vineyards and wine making. Homemade wine is the God of drinks at any Georgian supra.  Wine and Georgians are inseparable.  Without wine the Georgians would not be the hospitable people they are today.   Fermenting grapes in large clay vats buried in the ground is a Georgian specialty.  Finished wine is brought to supras in large glass vats.                                                                            
Toasting is always done initially with small glasses of wine. Then as the supra continues, the wine is drunk from assortment of larger vessels.  Often wine is drunk from clay bowls which are passed around to those who wish to make a toast.  One time I was at a supra where the participant were past the clay bowl stage and had brought out a large hollowed out ram's horn.  The men along the long table took turns drinking from it and making the mandatory toasts.  Then I heard someone say in Russian "give the horn to the foreigner".  Being the only foreigner at the supra, I knew exactly to whom the horn would be passed. I initially declined, but then the men said that if I drink from the horn, I can have it.  So, they filled up the horn and I gave it a try.  There must have been about three-quarters of a bottle wine in it. The horn is now on the shelf in my downstairs bar.

The picture above shows the large glass vats in which the wine was brought to a village supra I attended.   The fellow is draining wine out of a vat and into a serving pitcher which is placed the entire length of a supra table.   The photo on the right shows a filled clay bowl which is emptied after a toast, and then passed around to a man who will make the next toast. 
                       I was invited to a supra given for a young Georgian soldier heading for Afghanistan.   The event started off as usually supras do with small glasses of wine.  After a while when the guys got up a full head of steam, they started toasting from ram horns as in the photos above.                  


A Georgian supra table is probably a sight not seen anywhere else in the world.  Myriads of Georgian traditional foods are brought out and put on the table.  There is so much food that serving dishes are often set upon each other.  As soon as a serving is empty, it is immediately replaced with another, or two.   I will try to adequately describe some of the dishes which were served at the supras where I was present.

                 Two ever present dishes at a supra cuisine are "khachapuri" on the top left, and "khinkali" on the right above. Khachapuri means cheese bread in Georgian and is a form of soft double crusted cheese pizza.  Khinkali is a large dumpling which is filled with seasoned ground meat.  Since the khinkali also contains the juices of the meat mixture within, it requires a special skill to eat it without having the juices dribble down one's chin.  The left picture also shows a plate of fried Georgian corn bread.   To the left of the khachapuri is a plates of shaslik (pork shish kabob) All three dishes are served hot.      
The left photo shows a large bowl of steaming boiled pork being laid on top of a plate of khachapuri.  The Georgians get quite clever in the way they present their cuisine at the supras.  The right photo shows a red bell pepper within which glows a small candle sitting on top of a hot stone bowl containing broiled mushrooms.  
         Broiled mushrooms in a clay pot.                                            Hot Hajapuri (cheese bread) right out of the oven.

Roasted young suckling pig with roasted potatoes.  As one server takes empty plates away, another one bring a plate load of shashlik with onions.  So it is with Georgian supras.   I consider my time in Georgia as one of God's blessings in my life.  I have never met such gracious hosts in any other country as the Georgians.                        

                                                                      CONCLUSIONS TO A SUPRA                                      
Two conclusions to a Georgian supra.  One (L) dignified where the Tamada presented a roasted pig's head to an honored guest and making sure that the guest was safe.  The other (R) shows where the quest gets silly with Georgians at a seaside supra in Poti.             

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