Supra!

In an effort to organize a Paschal supra this Friday, I thought it would be helpful to set out some (slightly modified) guidelines on what to expect:

What is a Supra?

It’s a formal Georgian dinner party, known for its structured, nearly constant toasting.

A table set for a supra

A table set for a supra

The basic set-up: Get a table that can accommodate all the guests if possible, lay out a tablecloth on it (the word “supra” originally meant “tablecloth”), and set it for dinner, preferably with two glasses (one alcoholic and one not), and with things that should be served room temperature and wine on the middle.

Roles: The Tamada, or Toastmaster, is responsible for leading the supra and introducing toasts. They can also have a second, who can also offer toasts, or hand off toasts to other people. I believe this person is called alaverde. Or the action of offering a toast when you’re not tamada. I’ve never been entirely clear on that. Then there’s the host, organizing the supra, the regular guests who are part of the host’s family or community, and the guests, who are visiting. There is also the person who handles the duties of waitress and cook; usually this is the wife (or several female relatives), of the host. Amongst English visitors it tends to be hard to find someone who wants this job, and it makes everyone else uncomfortable, so we try to plan hot and cold dishes that either don’t need much supervision, or come out at the beginning of the meal, preferably both.

Food: On this particular occasion we’re doing vegetarian foods because it’s on a Friday. It’s good to make food that can easily be put into smaller dishes and passed around. Depending on the width of the table in relation to the place settings, they might have to be stackable as well. Some popular foods include kiln bread, khajapuri (cheesy bread), tapas sorts of items (sliced cheese, olives, pickles, other pickled items, fresh herbs, eggplant with unknown paste, etc), fish, sliced sausage, fried corn cakes, chicken dishes, shish-kabobs (mts’vadi), khinkali (meat dumplings… most likely not combined with everything else, but eaten as its own meal), tomato-cucumber salad, potato salad, cabbage wraps, fried corn bread, various Pâtés I never quite fathomed the contents of, fresh fruit, and whatever other Mediterranean, Persian, and Slavic themed passable food items end up getting cooked.

Added: Courses (I’m using that term loosely; the italics are for things I’m not very into, and bold is for things that are quite lovely to have)

  • On the table at the beginning:
    • Salad with cucumbers, tomatoes, cilantro, salt, vinegar, and (optional) salty cheese
    • Sliced cheese. Usually something sort of like feta.
    • Potato or pasta salad
    • a platter with raw and pickled veggies (pickles, pickled pearl onions, lemon wedge, pickled peppers, sliced radish, green onion, tarragon, some kind of pickled flower I never identified, etc; I would add potentially bell pepper and avocado in place of the veggies people aren’t likely to eat)
    • Olives
  • Come out hot whenever people are losing interest in the first course and the toasts are still rolling
    • Lots of meat based dishes (on second thought, I probably shouldn’t have chosen a Friday…)
    • Corn cakes or corn cakes with cheese (usually served with mashed beans)
    • Cheesy bread (pizza is both tastier and easier than khatchapuri, and might be more worth doing)
    • Eggplant rolls
    • Something rather like Spanikopita
    • There are other eggplant possibilities, such as stew, but people have probably had more than enough of things like that in Lent
    • Borsht with sour cream (usually not at home supras, as much because it means dealing with bowls and then removing them as anything)
    • green bean stuff that I disliked and don’t consider worth making
    • Something not unlike ratatouille.
  • A bit later:
    • Mushrooms with cheese and butter
    • Shish-kabobs (usually pork, probably not otherwise worth doing)
    • Vodka like stuff (also unnecessary for our purposes, which include driving home)
  • And finally:
    • Chocolates
    • Fresh fruit (oranges, pears, apples, grapes, etc)
    • Cake (sometimes… I’m not committed to baking a cake.)
    • Coffee (the fierce Mediterranean boiled kind… might not be worth doing at 8pm…)

Drink: Traditionally the host makes his own wine, and serves it in pitchers. At some point vodka or a home brewed alchahol that’s a lot like vodka makes an appearance. Generally, wine is used for toasts, and non-alcaholic toasts are seen as ironic, but that’s not a tradition that translates well to this culture, so it tends to be dropped.

How does it work?

Hillside Supra

Hillside Supra

Toasting protocol: The tamada sets up a post on one of the standard themes (see below), elaborates on it some, and then toasts: gaumarjos! (gow-mar-joes: may he, she, or it be victorious!; victory! might do in a pinch, but cheers! isn’t very appropriate). Then other participants can either all send up a chorus of Gaumarjos! is return and drink, or the toast can go around the table, with each person elaborating on the theme and then drinking. Or some people can all drink with the Tamada, and some can wait to reply.

If someone present is being toasted, everyone else directs the exclamation to them (gaugimarjos!), and they wait until everyone is finished, then reply with thanks and then drink. There are some other possible variations, including a hip-hip-hurrah (gaumar – JOES! gaumar – JOES! gaumar- JOES! JOES! JOES!), one where you link arms and drink, one where you send around a single clay bowl and have to drain it in honor of the occasion, and some other uses of various glasses and hand-offs that are somewhat mysterious to me.

A short speech, song, or poem are all appropriate contributions.

It’s the custom not to drink from one’s wine glass other than in a toast.

Picnic supra -- proving that a supra can work without a table.

Picnic supra — proving that a supra can work without a table.

Tamadobit: I believe this to be the  term for “the order in which the toasts should be said,” but am not sure. I’m going to use it that way anyone until someone who knows corrects me. Anyway, there are variations in toasts offered, depending on the occasions, the tamada, who’s present, and so on. For instance, at a supra with a lot of police officers, they offered toasts to all their superiors (and the one for the highest police official involved everyone standing on their chairs and hip-hip-hurrahing). Thanks MG for suggesting that it’s a lot like the order of a great litany. In general it goes something like this (the response if gaumarjos! unless otherwise noted):

  • Glory to God! (Glory to God!)
  • For the occasion (depends; at present it’s probably Christ is risen! if it’s a birthday or for a particular person, then it’s gaugimarjos! and a cup goes around which everyone drains)
  • For those closest to the person in whose honor the supra is being held (I would say guest of honor, except that they’re usually hosting as well) Gaugimarjos!
  • For the host (of that wasn’t in the occasion one)
  • For the guests who aren’t part of the immediate community (the guests would usually respond with kind words to their hosts) Gaugimarjos!
  • For the hierarchy over those present (the bishop, police chief, school leaders, etc, depending on what the people there have in common)
  • Our homeland (and the homelands of our guests; and when Americans are tamada-ing, sometimes the countries our families came from)
  • For peace
  • For those who have died (may their memory be eternal)
  • For children (literally “for the little ones”)
  • For other family (mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters… they can each have a separate toast offered)
  • For those present who haven’t yet been toasted (can be for each one separately, depending on time) Gaugimarjos!
  • For the church, bishops, patriarch, etc)
  • For whatever else people are grateful for
  • For the Theotokos (this is usually the last one, but once they said another afterward for the Trinity. This was unusual enough that the monk who was Tamada first acknowledged that they could have been done, but since the Trinity is greater, we could have another concluding toast)

Please correct me on points wherein I am wrong.

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