Eating My Way Round The World: Georgian Tables
Today, I’m returning to my latest series of themed posts. As food has always been one of my favourite subjects, we’re taking a gastronomic trip around the world, looking back on some of the more memorable meals I’ve eaten during my travels. We started by spending Christmas in Jordan, then headed to Russia for a wedding in St Petersburg, before journeying nearly two and a half thousand kilometres south east to Nalchik in Kabardino Balkaria for supper in a cave. But for today’s meal, we’re not going very far at all. We’re travelling just over three hundred kilometres south east, remaining in the Caucus region.
One of the projects I was able to share with my husband, Michael, was the first visit we made to Georgia. It was back in 2003 and one of the local companies had decided to hold a GMP conference, the first ever in that county. GMP stands for Good Manufacturing Practice and is essentially the rule book by which drugs are made safely. I’d met the General Manager and his Deputy when they attended one of my training courses in Russia; and they invited us to come and speak at the conference. We were happy to accept and headed eastwards via Frankfurt, as there was no direct flight from the UK to Tbilisi.
The conference was a great success; we made our presentations effectively, despite having to work with simultaneous translators, which is never easy. Then after the work, came the feasting. And, of course, it all started with a banquet in a local nightclub.
Having worked with, and shared many meals with, Russians over the years, we were both used to the concept of toasts and how they take up a major part of a meal. But we were used to each person around the table making a toast in turn. We’d even started preparing our own in our heads. But that’s not how they do it in Georgia.
There’s a central person, the Tamada, who takes on the role of Master of Ceremonies, proposes the toasts and generally directs proceedings. In our case, the role was taken by the GM’s Deputy. Both men had been christened George; unsurprisingly this is a popular name in Georgia. So to distinguish between them, the deputy was known as Gorgito or Little George, although he was in fact by far the larger of the pair. I loved the name so much that it found its way into my writing as the name of the main character in my first novel.
That banquet was memorable not only for the toasts, but also for the wonderful array of food. Of all the places I visited in the Former Soviet Union region, Georgia was definitely my favourite gastronomically. We started with tiny rolls of thinly sliced aubergine, stuffed with walnut pate; moved on to khachapuri or Georgian cheese bread, so unctuous it makes the richest of pizza seem dry and uninteresting; and finished with smoky grilled meats accompanied with bunches of dill and other herbs eaten a salad. And throughout it all, our Tamada, Gorgito, kept up a lively commentary punctuated with toasts.