The most essential food & wine cultural experience in Georgia is the Georgian Supra (feast) hosted by an engaging Tamada (toastmaster).
Georgian people are in the habit of inviting their guests to enjoy meals, where they generously serve copious amounts of Georgian wine and pile dishes one on top of the other.
A Georgian feast (Supra) can last for many hours (sometimes 12 hours or more). Different types of dishes are put on the table in a seemingly random order. If one is finished, new food is supplied by the hostess immediately (a lack of food is considered to be shameful at a Supra).
There will be many dishes served, more than your group could ever eat. You can read our comprehensive guide to Georgian cuisine to learn more about the sorts of dishes you are likely to encounter. But the most essential food that must be at every supra is bread – including one of Georgia’s national dishes, khachapuri, cheese stuffed bread.
The final element that must be present at Supra is song. Your hosts will lead you in traditional songs, possibly including Georgia’s most traditional style polyphonic singing.
So those 4 essential elements of an authentic Georgian Supra:
- Toasts (Led by a Tamada)
- Wine (In huge quantities)
- Bread (But there will be plenty of other food)
In the rest of this article we’ll discuss these elements as well as options for getting invited to a supra yourself.
Toasts & The Tamada (Toastmaster)
On of the most unique parts of the Georgian supra is the very specific toasting traditions. The Georgian Supra is unimaginable without a Tamada. Each feast has a toastmaster who introduces each toast. The chosen one should be intelligent, thought provoking and have a good sense of humor.
Toasts couldn’t happen though, without also having something to toast with – and in Georgia, the birthplace of winemaking, wine is the only beverage that can make for a true supra experience.
Be aware that wine drinking in Georgia is certainly not about getting drunk. Georgians take the whole process of wine production and drinking very seriously. Toasting is a very important ritual at a Georgian table. Georgian toasts are like speeches or stories, in which the speaker says something personal about an important, emotional theme. While this is serious business, there is also a lot of humor and warmth in this tradition. Between toasts spontaneous singing and dancing of guests is common.
Although drunken behavior would be considered shameful, being able to drink huge amounts of wine, especially for male attendees of the supra, is a necessary talent. There will be many, many toasts over hours of toasting and feasting. Foreigners may find it hard to keep up! But that should not put you off trying to get invited to a real Georgian Supra when you visit Georgia. It’s a unique cultural event and an honor to be invited.
To be a good Tamada and lead the table properly means having several skills, including being ingenious and thoughtful with words, speaking clearly and openly and most importantly, to deliver each toast with originality and humor.
A good Tamada should also be sensitive enough to feel the mood of the table, he needs to feel the atmosphere and try to maintain positive mood. Most of the toasts are given at the early stages of the meal, and then they slow down as the night goes on. Throughout the dinner the Tamada is expected to finish each glass of wine on each toast, but it is shameful for a Tamada to act drunk. So, that is quite a tricky balance to find. Small wine glasses and servings for each toast is one solution, but still it is common at a full length, all day supra for a Tamada to drink more than 3 litres of wine.
The process of choosing a Tamada
If the Supra is small with only a few visitors, the head of the household is the Tamada. However, massive events like weddings, birthdays, christenings etc. the family chooses a Tamada in advance.
At friends’ gatherings, people at the table decide a Tamada right on the spot.
The choice depends on a variety of factors, but someone who enjoys the role and is good at it, is typically chosen.
During massive festivities, the head of the family, who chose the Tamada, stands and introduces the “man of the evening”, by raising the glass and proposing the toast. Each member of the feast must follow him and toast the Tamada.
How To Be A Perfect Tamada in Georgia – Important Toasts
There are so many toasts. Below are some of the essential ones, and some of the more common ones, but also a Tamada can be very creative and make new and original toasts, often using long stories to arrive at a specific point that will be toasted. Those who fill this role often, may even carry a notebook where they collect their ideas ready for future supras.
Toast to God
Georgia is a religious nation (Christian Georgian Orthodox), so it’s not a surprise that the very first toast is often in the name of God. The Tamada is free to lead the table as he wishes – in prayer, or perhaps a small analytical introduction to the role of religion in society and life.
Toast to Georgia (Sakartvelo)
Georgians are proud of their country and what they have accomplished over the centuries. Praise the country and emphasize how beautiful Georgia is. The local name for Georgia is Sakartvelo, and a typical toast to Georgia that will rouse the whole table to stand and sometimes get quite excited is “Sakartvelos Gaumarjos” – Victory to Georgia! or also translated as here’s to Georgia!
Toast to peace
In Georgia, our word for hello is “gamarjoba” – a word that’s is also etymologically connected to the term for victory. Georgia has a bloody history, full of war and struggle. As such, every little pleasure of everyday life is a victory, and peace is a valuable treasure. The toast for peace is as long as possible.
Toast to the deceased
During this toast, the Tamada prays for their wellbeing and peace in the afterlife. We remember with love those that cannot physically be with us on the table. We are inviting their memory to celebrate with us.
Toast to life and children
Drink to a new life. After remembering those who have died, the tamada should propose a toast to a new life, new chance, new opportunity, to the children. The person with the youngest child is given the first toast, this could also be directed to someone who is pregnant.
Toast to parents
Hospitality and the supra all are reflections of deep respect towards the family. The Tamada honors the efforts of parents and grandparents for bringing us to this world and making us the men and women we are today.
Toast to women
Particular thanks is given to the women who have prepared the food on the table. With them in mind, the toast is usually for women in general, as persons to be admired and respected.
Toast to the guests
A guest is considered a blessing from God – as any guest is welcome, compared to the many enemies that have traversed Georgia in the past. So, we always do everything in order to make them feel comfortable and welcomed. While the speech depends on the Tamada’s creativity, it always expresses gratefulness to the guests for their arrival. Likewise, it highlights the bonds between the people involved and wishes them well in the future.
Toast to the event (Our reason for coming together)
Identify the reason for gathering. If it’s a birthday celebration, congratulate the person; wish them luck, prosperity and wellbeing. If It’s a wedding, toast to the bright future of the newlyweds. If it’s a christening, toast to the newborn.
Toast to the late guest
Don’t be surprised if you see one of the guests arrive after the tamada has given the first toast, so it’s custom to poke fun at them by making a toast in their name. It’s usually tongue-in-cheek and humorous.
After fulfilling expectations and making the obligatory toasts, the tamada is free to raise his glass for any particular topic he wishes. Common topics involve love, happiness, friendship, historical figures. It is also common for the tamada to nominate (the term used is alaverdi) other guests to make toasts. Guests can also formally request the tamada to nominate them to toas.
It’s not just about the toasts though
Between each toast, there is huge amounts of food to be shared. The table will never be empty, as the hosts will keep replacing plate after plate with all sorts of delicacies from the best of Georgian cuisine. New plates may even stack upon old plates that are still unfinished as you find yourself surrounded by food.
Music is necessary to every supra, and sometimes the attendees will engage in traditional Georgian polyphonic singing.
Tips for etiquette Georgian table
When you are sitting at Georgian supra you MUST eat! An empty plate is a no go – your hosts will always make an effort to fill it with food. Even if you are taking a break from eating keep some food on there and pick at it a little bit so it seems like you’re still eating.
Compliment the wine – in Georgia it’s common for families to grow their own grapes. No matter where the Georgian supra is taking place, if it is a private event the family quite likely made the wine themselves. Be sure to praise and compliment your hosts on it. Never insult someone’s wine. I’m pretty sure you could get deported for such a thing!
Georgian men will finish their whole glass on many toasts (Fortunately it is traditional to drink from small glasses, maybe 75ml per serving) and they may pressure you to finish the glass as well if you are a male guest. You can, of course, but you don’t have to. You can just sip a little, but expect the glass to be filled again, even if you didn’t finish it.
Knowing your limits is important. Remember that you can say no, or just drink a little bit. You want to enjoy (and remember) your supra!
If you don’t like drinking or can’t for some reason, it’s important to go into this with a strategy. On occasions where I didn’t want to drink, I found a lot of success saying I’d taken medication that I couldn’t combine with alcohol. If you’re polite but firm, your host will be disappointed but they will understand.
The most important thing is to have fun with the people around you. They’re sharing a big part of their culture, and of themselves, with you. Do the same. If you’re traveling through Georgia, you’ll never forget the Georgian supra you went to and your hosts will never forget your visit.
Holding your liquor is essential to survive a Georgian supra, as is keeping your stomach full and mind clear. If you are lucky enough to attend this feast be aware of your limitations, and don’t be afraid to decline as politely as you can. Or just pretend to sip your wine with each toast.
And don’t forget – cheers in Georgian is “gaumarjos” – გაუმარჯოს!
Remember that original thoughts in toasts are highly appreciated. Do it in style, avoid ridiculing anyone or anything. It is also good to have some knowledge of your own country’s history and culture, because you may be asked for your favorite poem, hero or song!
Not Sure How To Get Invited To A Supra?
Most Supras are spontaneous local events, organised by local people. Though it may be your good fortune to get invited to one, it’s certainly not a guarantee.
The best way to make sure you don’t miss out on being hosted by a Tamada, is to book a wine tour to the countryside with a tour company that specifically visits small, independent, family vineyards. Unlike the big vineyards, which often feature large restaurants for groups of tourists, the small vineyards are typically excited to host groups of foreigners and create a supra for them.
Eat This! Food & Wine Tours can take you on a bespoke trip to very small family wineries where you can enjoy the supra with local families.
If you can’t make it to wine country. Eat This! Tours also offers organised Supras in Tbilisi with a Georgian host who will help you celebrate your trip and learn all about Georgian culture.