Archives for posts with tag: supra

Now that the high season is upon us, I’ll tell you the things that everyone else has forgotten to mention.


Clockwise from top left: A marshrutka station in Sagarejo, Former roommate S models some Borjomi water while hiking in Borjomi, a zebra crossing (photo from Jim (for another project, but fits here perfectly), my former host sister Ani and I in “church clothes”, some delicious but heavy adjaruli khachapuri.

#1 Don’t cross the street! Of course you have to get to the other side of the street, but don’t just traipse across. If it looks difficult to cross, that’s because it is. The busiest streets will have either underpasses or pedestrian bridges every few blocks. Look for those; it’s worth it. If there isn’t one, the designated crossing place will be painted on the road with zebra stripes, but it’s much, much better to find one at a traffic light, and even then you have to be careful. The ones unattached to traffic lights are mostly decorative in practice, and the one on the Embankment near Dry Bridge is basically nothing (go up the hill to the park and cross the bridge itself to the flea market)

#2 Go easy on the Georgian food the first few days. Georgian food is amazing, and probably part of the reason you chose to come here, but “Tbilisi Tummy” is common and will really put a damper on your travels, so go easy at first. Many of the iconic Georgian dishes (I’m looking at you, khachapuri and khinkali) are greasy and heavy and hard to digest, and not all places will be up to the hygiene standards you may be used to, so let yourself adjust for a few days before you hit the supra hard. There is plenty of good, light fare available (even in a typical Georgian restaurant). If you want to gird your digestive system with fermented foods, Georgian pickles are delicious (especially jonjoli, my favorite!) and Georgian yogurt (matsoni) is cheap, tasty, and easily available.

#3 Pack a scarf and a skirt. A large number of the tourist attractions are churches, and almost all Georgian Orthodox churches require that women wear a skirt and have their hair covered. Some of them provide various wraps at the door and some don’t; some of those provided are clean… You’ll be much more comfortable and likely to see what you came for if you just bring your own. Some churches don’t mind, some are even stricter (I’ve heard stories that Gergeti Sameba in Kazbegi won’t let people wear glasses inside?!?), but scarf and skirt is the norm. For the fellows–no shorts.

#4 Smile? Many Americans’ default facial position is a smile, and that’s not the case in Georgia. If you want to attract the attention of someone across the bar (/metro car), smiling is a good way to do it. If you’d rather be left alone, relaxing your face will reduce (though may not eliminate) unwanted attention.

#5 If you choose to use the marshrutka system, have faith in it. I know the marshrutka system seems like it will never work, but it really does work fairly efficiently. It’s by far the cheapest way to get around, though there will be a certain amount of standing by the road and waiting. Be patient. If you are on the right route (check with some locals if you’re nervous about that, but honestly there aren’t very many roads, so it’s unlikely they took a detour), it will come eventually. If the marshrutka isn’t your style, there’s no shame in that; there are also trains and buses, or you can hire a taxi (or rent a car, or hitchhike, or join an organized excursion). Don’t expect the marshrutka to be something it’s not, and you’ll avert a lot of disappointment.

#6. Stay hydrated. It can get hot here. Even though it may be cool in the mountains, you’re at a higher elevation. You’re probably going to be drinking some wine, and maybe even some chacha. You might be walking/hiking a lot. Bottled water is cheap (starting at 50 tetri/bottle) and sold everywhere, and Georgia is famous for its mineral water. Most towns even have free public drinking fountains, and there are lots of mountain springs (the water is usually OK to drink, but make your own risk assessment based on your health, background, and location). You’ll be a much happier camper if you aren’t thirsty.

Any others with experience travelling here have some advice I missed?

Any questions, class?


I was back in the US for the holiday season, and one evening my Mom and I cooked a full-on Georgian feast (though by Georgian standards the table looks quite empty).

Georgian Dinner in America (January 2014)

Georgian Dinner in America (January 2014)

We made lobio (ლობიო beans), using the recipe from “Please to the Table” which is fantastic (though they erroneously call it lobiani).  I quickly threw together some mchadi (მჭადი corn bread) using regular American cornmeal–just add water, squeeze into fritters, and fry.  It wasn’t too noticeably different from real Georgian mchadi, and I really like having it with my lobio.  We roasted some red bell peppers, and stuffed them with Georgian walnut paste for a vegetable side, a preparation that can be done with pretty much any vegetable (I do love the eggplant version).  These were particularly tasty, though.  The most important part of the meal were the khinkali (ხინკალი Georgian dumplings) that I taught my Mom to make using my host mother’s technique (and a little help from Darra Goldstein for the proportions of the dough).  They turned out really well, but these are not an easy thing to make–they’re very labor-intensive. Using high-quality American meat really boosted the flavor of the filling, though, and they tasted wonderful, despite that fact that I didn’t add enough water to the filling to make them properly brothy.  Dessert was a repeat of the very well-received gozinaki (გოზინაყი honey-nut candy) that I had also made the previous week.  We were also able to wash our dinner down with a very nice Georgian wine– Marani’s Saperavi-Cabernet blend, that a friend gave my family as a holiday gift.  Even though the table wasn’t groaning under the weight of the food, we all ate more than our fill and had plenty of leftovers ready.  (Pro tip–refry leftover khinkali for the next morning’s breakfast).


Georgian dinner in America. I’m getting better at this!

Part of my prolonged absence this summer was due to a three-week vacation back home in America (thanks, bosses!).  When I’m back in the US, there are a few things I always must do: go to the public library and read all the books, go to the dollar store and be amazed by consumer culture and get some teaching materials, and go to the department store where I used to work and game their sales so I look less disheveled when I return to Georgia.  There are also always a few things I must eat: a few family favorites (pasta salad nicoise in summer, and pork, black bean, and sweet potato stew in winter), Mexican food, hummus, avocadoes, and Starbucks chai tea lattes.  Despite my glee at returning to American cuisine, I also start missing Georgian food.  Fortunately, my parents are also fans of Georgian cuisine, and my Mom has excellent kitchen skills and is often capable of turning my “Well, I watched my host mom make this by throwing X.Y, and Z together” observations into a cohesive dish.  Usually, we collaborate on one Georgian meal while I’m at home.  This year, our cooking efforts were improved by some functional souvenirs from Georgia.  I got my Mom a traditional Georgian tablecloth (სუფრა supra) as a Mother’s Day gift, and my Dad received mtsvadi (მწვადი Georgian meat on a stick) skewers for Father’s Day.  We made khachapuri (following G’s method and using a basic pizza dough recipe for proportions–it worked great!), beet pkhali (ფხალი vegetables pureed with nuts and spices) and a tomato-cucumber salad, and had pomegranate seeds as a garnish.  We also made meat on a stick, but since it isn’t possible to get proper mtsvadi meat in the US, we marinated it in pomegranate juice as suggested in “The Georgian Feast“.  We cracked open a souvenir bottle of tkemali, and enjoyed our Georgian meal served American style.

I am not a spontaneous person by nature.  I like to plan.  I usually am armed with a Plan A and a Plan B.  Georgia has made me a bit more flexible–as a mental survival mechanism, I usually have Plans A, B, C, and D in my head, and I try not to get my heart set on Plan A too, too much.  Georgia, on the other hand, is a country that embraces spontaneity.  Ask any foreigner living here about the frustrations of planning an event, or even meeting up with a friend.  It can drive you crazy.  As my mother and my roommate often remind me, learning to let go of my plans builds character and flexibility.  And though it’s hard for me, I am learning (and I’m going to have SO MUCH character soon).  Last weekend, I had a major breakthrough in my spontaneity, and my totally spontaneous weekend was awesome.

I had been invited to visit a friend’s village that weekend for a village festival, but I honestly wasn’t very interested in going to what I thought would be a very large supra where I would be force-fed a lot of khachapuri and treated as a novelty, so when I woke up to horrible allergies in the city, I decided that a trip to the village (with all the possible allergens there) was just not my cup of tea that day.  Besides, I’m taking an online class, and I had homework.  Right after my friends departed to the village, I received an exciting instant message–Cat was being spontaneous, and would be passing through town that evening: was I around?
I was very glad I’d decided to stay home, and spent the day getting work done so I’d have some flexibility once Cat arrived.

Cat came to town, and we got some dinner and ice cream, and we went to the welcome party for a friend’s new flatmate, while trying to figure out what to do the next day.  Cat had planned to go skiing, but wasn’t sure which resort to go to.  In the meantime, roomie S, who was already in the village, sent me a text message about the festival–our friend’s brother was designing his mask for the festivities, and there were horses–this festival seemed a bit more exciting than a regular supra; did Cat and I want to come and join?  It looked like there would be rain in Gudauri, so we decided: why not?

Sunday morning we made our way to the marshrutka station, from whence we made our way to the village, not far from my old home in Kakheti (incidentally, my friend’s mom attended the school I used to teach at in a town nearby–small country!).  Our friends were standing alongside the road to flag us down, and not long after we alighted from the marshrutka we saw the spectacle of the village festival:  the young men of the village were wearing masks and had adorned their clothes in strips of brightly colored rags.  They were menacing passers-by with whips and extorting money out of passing cars.  We asked our friend to explain this odd phenomenon.  The explanation seemed a bit incomplete, but here it is:  The festival is called Kvelieri (ყველიერი) which comes from the Georgian word for cheese. But there is no cheese involved in the festival.  It might be related to cows.  The guys in masks are called berikos (ბერიკო), which I have since learned means “little friar”.  The festival happens in the village of Patara Chailuri every year in February or March.

So, there we were, being chased by guys with whips and possibly celebrating cheese.  We weren’t really sure, but it was fun!  After not too long, we were ushered to our friend’s house to meet his family and have some lunch.  His mother is a very good cook, and the menu included a special type of kada (ქადა, Georgian sweet bread) made just for this festival which interestingly incorporated both onions and vanilla (and was really good.)

After our mini-supra, we went to the village square where the main celebrations were taking place.  There was a song-and-dance show put on by the local kids, a wrestling competition, and a very cool (and probably not very safe) gigantic swing fashioned from a tree trunk.  (The swing is recommended pre-supra)

After sampling the festivities, we returned to the house for more food and some rest.  Before we began our journey back to Tbilisi, we learned from an inside source that the berikos had made themselves nearly 500 lari over the course of the day!  Kvelieri was unlike anything else I’ve seen in Georgia–this place still has some surprises up its sleeve!

(Apologies for the lack of pictures: I hope to remedy my camera situation in the near future. If you’re a real-life friend, you should be able to see some tagged by the others on Facebook)

So…I went to Prom on Tuesday night.  Actually, I didn’t know that I was going to Prom until I was there (besting my “spur-of-the-moment” decision to attend my Junior Prom in high school because I found a pretty dress for only $7 the weekend before).  Thankfully, it had been a hot day and I happened to be wearing a sundress.  This stroke of luck kept me from being TOO under-dressed.  My first inkling that perhaps the “banquet” (ბანკეტი bank’et’i) I was attending was a bit more of an event than an end-of-the-year awards ceremony was seeing my colleagues, who were all wearing cocktail dresses and had their hair in formal up-dos. Our school director was looking very elegant in a floor-length evening dress.   Clearly something was up.  While the teachers were waiting for the (now former) students to arrive, I chatted with one of the teachers who speaks English well.  She let the cat out of the bag that I was, in fact, attending a Georgian prom, and she and I had an interesting discussion of graduation and the surrounding events  (such as prom and banket’i) in Georgia and America.

In order for me to compare and contrast Georgian bank’et’i and American prom, come take a stroll down memory lane with me to my high-school days of the early 2000s.  I attended a stereotypically All-American high school in a small town in the Midwest.  (The first few episodes of Glee will give you an idea of what my high school was like, but then they strayed further into fiction).  Our town had just one high school, and most peoples’ parents had attended it together years ago (albeit in a different building).  Football was a big deal, although our team wasn’t particularly good—we were quite strong in Speech and Debate, Cross-Country, Swimming, and Volleyball, though.  The high school housed grades 9-12, and there were roughly 1200 students.  As I recall, at graduation my class had a bit less than 300 students.  Prom was held in the esteem that it is in teen movies.  The Junior and Senior classes had one big dance together—the Junior student council did the planning, and the seniors got to enjoy their hard work.  (It turns out that this isn’t the norm, though it seems like a perfectly sensible arrangement to me).  “Grand March,” the promenade portion of prom, was held in the school’s theater to often sold-out crowds, and was broadcast on local television.  The dance itself was held in the cafeteria, which the student council had decorated: as I recall, my Junior Prom was titled “Beneath the Milky Twilight” and Senior Prom was “Cruise-In to Paradise”.  At the dance itself, the DJ played mostly pop songs with a few older songs “from our childhood” and some “party dances” like Cotton-Eyed Joe and the Macarena thrown in.  The dancers were overwhelmingly girls, jumping up and down in a loose circle, while the guys lingered around the snacks and the punch bowl, and occasionally joined the dancing (generally when dragged by the girls).  Alcohol was, of course, strictly forbidden, and there were police officers with breathalyzers at the doors to enforce this law.  Teachers attended as chaperones, making sure that a certain level of propriety was maintained.  Although my description doesn’t sound like much fun I remember enjoying myself both years, though I was under no illusions that Prom would live up to the hype of “The Most Important Night of My Life”.

I am definitely older and probably wiser now, and attended my Georgian school’s bank’et’i as a teacher/observer, so some of the differences I note are clearly because I experienced the festivities from a different point of view, but others show a difference in the way Georgians and Americans celebrate major events and the way teenagers are treated.

Bank’et’i started off stereotypically Georgian—though it was allegedly supposed to begin at 8, nothing happened until 9:30.  The party kicked off with the students and their head teacher processing into the room to the dulcet (?) tones of “Party Rock Anthem”.  Although I knew that the graduating class wasn’t particularly large, I didn’t realize exactly how small a group they were until it only took 30 seconds for them all to make their dramatic entrance.  There were only 15-20 of them—mostly boys.  The hall was arranged with three tables: one next to each wall, with a wide open space for dancing at the front and in the center.  One table was for the graduates, one for their mothers (there were no fathers present), and one for the teachers.  The mothers had prepared a full-fledged supra for the evening.  And no supra is complete without wine.  I know that teenagers are allowed to drink in Georgia, but it still surprised me how non-chalant everyone was about students and teachers drinking together at an official school event.  When the students hit the dance floor, it was the boys who were most eager to cut a rug—and since they outnumbered the girls, they came to the teachers’ table looking for dance partners.  The teachers gladly joined in, particularly on old pop favorites and traditional Georgian dances (they were less enthusiastic about some contemporary pop music—their faces revealed that “Sexy and I Know It” is unlikely to become a smash hit with the older generation of Georgians).  Kids, parents, and teachers danced, drank, and celebrated together.  I was surprised at the level of social interaction between teachers and students and the lack of social distance between them–used as I am to the  division between work and fun, and the taboo against adults and children dancing or drinking together, I was initially uncomfortable being asked to dance by teenaged students from my school.  Clearly, though, this is perfectly acceptable in Georgia, and it does make a nice endpoint to their school experience–spending time with the people they have relied on for the last twelve years: their classmates, their parents, and their teachers.  Though I felt strange and awkward attending my Georgian school’s bank’et’i, I also felt strange and awkward at my own Prom (I was, after all, a teenager at the time),  In the end, my Georgian school’s “Prom” was a fun, fond farewell to the graduates…and the addition of khachapuri didn’t hurt, either!

(Sorry for the lack of awkward prom photos.  I hope I hadn’t gotten your hopes up too much.  I forgot my camera on Tuesday night, and the pictures of me from my prom have disappeared…and it doesn’t seem quite fair to post photos of my prom and potentially embarrass my friends if I’m not there, too).

Eastern Orthodox Easter this year fell on April 15, so I have been relaxing and enjoying a long weekend.  My host family does celebrate Easter, but not as robustly as some Georgian families.  Traditionally, Easter marks the end of the fast for Lent, and so the Easter supra is quite a big one.  We did have a supra, but it wasn’t the biggest one that my host family has had while I’ve been here—the Ninoba supra was far more of an event.  From my understanding, it wasn’t determined if we would be hosting the supra or attending another one until mid-afternoon on Easter Sunday.  This meant that my host mother had quite a bit of cooking that needed to be done, and not a lot of time to do it in.  My host sister was out of the house for part of the afternoon visiting other family members.  In short, this meant that I got to help cook!  I wasn’t in charge of anything critical—chopping the onions, frosting the cakes, and plating the side dishes, but I got to see some real Georgian cooking.  I helped with the lamb and the cakes, so here are some recipes/techniques for them:

Lest you think my host mom isn’t a good hostess–these are just the side dishes!

Georgian Easter Lamb (chakapuli ჩაქაფული):

Lamb, cubed (we used bone-in)
Preserved sour plums (like the ones used to make tkemali)

First, begin stewing the lamb in the water.  When it is mostly cooked through, add in the onions, tarragon, cilantro, and plums.  Allow to stew until ready to serve.  Make sure there’s bread to mop up the juices!

This recipe is really quite simple and delicious– is tastes like spring–but the key ingredient is preserved sour plums—not sure where you can get such a thing in the US.

Georgian cake frosting:

Although my host mother does bake homemade cakes from scratch on occasion, since she was in a hurry for Easter she bought pre-baked sheet cakes and we added our own frosting.  These cakes are far drier than those I’m used to in America, and got moister when we added the frosting.  We made two three-layer cakes: one with a carmelly frosting, and one with a plainer frosting topped with chocolate.  The technique for making both of our frostings was the same. For the plainer frosting, we mixed a can of (sweetened) condensed milk (сгущёнка–sgushchyonka, yes, that is a Russian word, not a Georgian one) with butter.  When the texture didn’t seem quite what she wanted, my host mom added a bit of flour in a paste with hot water to thicken it a tad.  For the carmelly frosting, we did the same thing with a can of “boiled concentrated milk” or what I would call dulce de leche (confused my host family telling them the “English” name of that one)

I put that food on those plates!

…as illustrated on the Georgian late-night comedy show “თქვენი შოუ” (tqveni shou=Your Show).  The video is, of course, in Georgian, but I think even non-Georgian speakers will be able to find it quite funny.  A group of friends are celebrating their friend’s wedding to his long-distance Skype girlfriend.  This was one of the first things I saw on Georgian TV when I arrived, and it both made me laugh hysterically and feel better about my language skills.

I have now officially had some in-Georgia supra experience!  For Ninoba, we had a full supra, with a day-before preparatory supra.  We’ve also had a birthday supra for my host mother’s birthday.  As supras go, I think my family is fairly mild.  The Ninoba supra seemed to me more or less like a big family Sunday feast or a Thanksgiving dinner.  Supras are notorious for many, many toasts and free-flowing wine, but in my experience at the formal supra, it was far easier to avoid over-eating than it is at a regular meal because there were many more people and it was possible to slip under the radar, the same goes for drinking.  At the pre-supra supra there were separate men’s and women’s tables.  This made not drinking much easier, but it made avoiding over-eating much harder, because all the Georgian women were in one place urging me to “Chame! Chame!”.

Though I had initially feared my first supra experience, all of my supras have been very enjoyable!

Ninotsminda Church in Kakheti

Gilotsav Ninobas!  Yesterday (Friday, January 27) was the feast of St. Nino, and since my host mother is from the village of Ninotsminda (St. Nino) it was a major celebration in the family.  In case you don’t know, St. Nino is one of the most important (if not THE most important) saint in Georgia because she converted the Georgians to Christianity.

My host mother spent most of the day Thursday with her family preparing for Friday’s feast, and the rest of my family joined in the evening for a visit and pre-supra supra.  My host siblings and some cousins (I think…relatives of some sort about our age, at least, who were all very nice and fun) took me to the Ninotsminda Church that evening so I could see it and they could pay their respects.  The building is beautiful, as you can see from the photo, and many people were there to pay their respects.  Though the church is certainly revered, the atmosphere was anything but somber.  My host brother kept ambushing our group with snowballs, and we were laughing and giggling most of the visit.

Friday we returned to Ninotsminda in the early afternoon, and went to the church again.  There were even more people and the atmosphere was even more festive–it seemed as if all of Kakheti was there, and my host siblings kept running into friends.  There were vendors there selling cotton candy, lollipops (shaped like guns…?), and trinkets, and people were lighting candles to St. Nino.  Again, there were lots of snowballs and giggling in our group.

We returned to my host mother’s family home and had a big supra with the extended family and friends.  The food was fantastic, but I do not have the stamina for a seemingly endless feast.  Fortunately neither did my host siblings, so we hung out in the other room part of the time, playing games, practicing English, chatting with their great aunt, listening to music on the computer and my host brother’s guitar.  Due to a minor language-barrier related mistranslation, I wound up being a bit of a stick in the mud and going home after only 7 hours of feasting.  Ultimately I had a very fun Ninoba, and even managed to catch up on some sleep.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never been to a real supra. Since I’m leaving soon, my parents and I had some friends over and cooked Georgian food. Since it was a Georgian party, I’m just going to call it a supra–or perhaps, amerikeli supra.

Here was our menu: (I’ve posted before on Georgian recipe sources)
Lobio (from the Please to the Table recipe, where it is, erroneously I believe, called Lobiani)
Irma’s Eggplant Mush
Beets in Cherry Sauce (from The Georgian Feast)
Khachapuri (adapted from Nigella’s recipe in Feast, my version forthcoming)
Pork and Lamb Shashlik (The Georgian Feast)
Herb Plate (but I couldn’t find tarragon! ::gasp::)
Satsebeli (purchased)
Tkemali (purchased)
Cilantro Sauce/ “Georgian Pesto” (The Georgian Feast)
Churchkhela–Georgian walnut candy (The Georgian Feast. I believe in Georgia red grape juice is usually used, but this recipe called for white–I assume because Concord Grape isn’t the same flavor. If I were to make it again in the States, I would add a bit of food coloring to the juice–beige just looked awkward)
Nigella’s Georgian-Inspired Walnut Crescent Cookies (Feast)
Sushki (Russian pretzels) (purchased)

Georgian wines procured at a Russian grocery while visiting my grandmother.

(Once again, I forgot photos.  Sorry)

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