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The super Georgian Supra- The New Indian Express

Express News Service

On its platter, there’s a bit of everyone who has ever called Georgia home. Nestled in the cusp of Europe and Asia, this little country’s built heritage sits like a palimpsest over its past—an ancient culture, that flowered in the wake of myriad rulers and visitors passing through the Silk Route.

There were Europeans, Anatolians, Persians, Ottomans, Far Eastern settlers, Arabians and finally, the Russians, who have left vestiges of their cultures behind, of which food is a pivotal part.

About a two-hour drive away from the capital Tbilisi lies the village of Tsinandali, home to the country’s renowned wine named after the village, in the historical and mountainous province of Kakheti to the east. There is no better place to experience Georgia’s culinary landscape than at Tsinandali, where Natella—a Georgian restaurant in the Tsinandali Estate, Radisson Hotel—serves Kakhetian cuisine, and a traditional Georgian supra. Supra, in the local tongue, means ‘table cloth’: the one which covers the large table laid out for the lavish nosh-up with friends and strangers alike.

The carefully orchestrated dance on your tongue begins with cold dishes like mkhaleuli—a spinach and walnut salad—cheese and suckling pig, followed by hot dishes involving a miscellany of meats. “The supra has different purposes, as its table was (historically) laid out for celebrations and mournings, with each one having its own rules,” says Chef Irakli Asatiani of Natella.

Asatiani evokes his people’s history to talk about why the supra has become a cornerstone of their culture, where the feast is emblematic of a nation embracing its best and worst times in a spirit of collective healing and living. “Some scientists think that the meal was created when the country finally lost its independence. Georgian society found a way to express itself at the table. It is, however, a much older phenomenon—a living tradition, which evolved over time. It is the best way to express sympathy and empathy,” he says.

The supra is a medium of culinary storytelling split into three distinct chapters, where following the cold food that whets the palate and eases it into a calm, the big guns are brought out in course two. You name it, and they have it—stewed, roasted, or rolled into dumplings. There’s the beef chashushuli and the veal chakapuli, both meat stews, along with barbecued pork or beef, and fluffy kinkhalis, the typical Georgian dumplings. While the overarching essence of luxurious piquancy in this section of the feast remains largely uniform across the country, regional variations abound. For instance, in the western province of Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti, spicier flavors are common, while Kakheti is big on meat.

Pkhali or minced vegetables.

Unlike its Asian counterparts of momos and gyozas, the kinkhali is larger and designed like 
a gift pouch with a stuffing of pork or beef. It is served with khachapuri on the side—the Georgian cheese bread, which can be taken apart with the slightest prodding of two fingers. It is the non-fussy player on the team, which gladly allows the meaty heavyweights to assume center stage by enhancing their flavors quietly.

Because there is a lot going on with the taste buds, the khachapuri becomes a necessity to ground them, while the several glasses of wine with each course add a sharp twang, fitting in like the missing piece of this gastronomic puzzle.

“The basic rules of drinking wine and saying toasts are very important in the feast. The toast determines the sequence from the beginning, development, and the end of supra,” Asatiani explains. The Georgians toast to the big and small joys and banalities of life, led by a toastmaster or tamara, who steers the story they want to tell with the supra that day. The spirits—which include the homegrown chacha—are often served in traditional bull-horn glasses with silver fittings. “Gaumarjos!”

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