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Surviving Your First Georgian Supra: A Practical Guide

Cherish Broker

Tbilisi, Georgia

One of the most famous sights in Tbilisi is the Kartlis Deda sculpture standing on Sololaki Hill, overlooking the city. In her right hand she carries a sword to ward off enemies, but her left hand holds a bowl of wine to share with those who come as friends. This symbolizes the Georgian love and defense of freedom, as well as the hospitality which Georgians hold sacred. An old Georgian saying calls a guest “A gift from God.” The Georgian supra is one of the best ways Georgians show their hospitality.

Kartlis Deda statue (Mother of Georgia), Tbilisi, Georgia

It is at the heart of Georgian culture. It’s where they come together to connect and to share their food and wine with their friends. It’s also one of the best experiences a traveler can have if you’re really looking to get to know this incredible country and its people. Although each supra is different, they often include music, dancing, and always a lot of drinking.

If you’re lucky enough to get invited to one, here’s your guide to getting out in one (very tipsy) piece.

Step One: Make friends.

If you find yourself getting along with a local and they like you, they may invite you to be a guest in their home. This is not an idle invitation. They want to see you at their house in the next few days and, though they may not say it, this is going to be a Georgian supra. Georgians are rightfully proud of their culture and want to share it with you. They want you to try their food and try their wine. Say yes!

Pro Tip: Bring a small gift for your hosts when you arrive, especially if you’ve never been to their home before. It can be something as simple as some cookies or sweets. Your hosts will really appreciate the gesture.

Step Two: Eat. Eat to save yourself.

A Georgian supra table is a foodie’s dream, a tablecloth covered in literal stacks of dishes full of Georgia’s unique local cuisine. Your host will want you to try all of it. Eating is what is going to get you through your supra, but the key here is to pace yourself. I’ve been at supras that lasted anywhere between two and six hours. You want to be eating, at least a little bit throughout. That food will soak up some of the wine you’re about to spend that entire time drinking.

Georgian Supra: Traditional Georgian table, Georgia.
Traditional Georgian table, Georgia.

Pro Tip: Keep something on your plate at all times. An empty plate is a no go – your hosts will always try to fill it up. Even if you’re 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.

Step Three: Respect the Tamada.

This is the most important thing to know about your Georgian supra adventure and one of the things that makes it such a uniquely Georgian experience. Every supra has a Tamada, the toastmaster, who will make (a lot) of toasts throughout the evening. Traditionally, you only drink after toasts. Generally at a supra you will drink either homemade white wine or chacha, Georgia’s special, incredibly boozy liquor (more about chacha later). And you’ll drink a lot of it.

Georgian Supra: Georgian Supra
Georgian Supra, Photo by Josh Son.

The order of the toasts is a ritualized aspect of the supra and your Tamada will guide you through it. They follow a set order all over Georgia. The first toast is always to God, then peace, then Georgia. The toasts tell a story about the country and what its people hold dear. It’s actually really cool to listen to what they say and the stories they tell based on what they’re toasting to.

There’s a whole series of toasts that must be gone through before the Tamada can freestyle. After each toast that he makes, the guests around the table will add their own. This means you too! Your toast has to be about whatever the Tamada has said. After toasting, you drink. It sounds complicated, but don’t worry, your hosts will help you. Your keyword here is “gaumarjos,” which means cheers. You’ll hear it so many times that you’ll never forget it!

Pro Tip: Get yourself a bottle of Nabeghlavi for the next morning. There are lots of different kinds of Georgian carbonated mineral water (and each region is rightfully proud of its own – I’m a Kokotauri girl myself), but Nabeghlavi is the best for curing your hangover the next day.

Step Four: Compliment the wine.

Georgia can trace its winemaking tradition back 8000 years and some pottery fragments found in 2017 contain the oldest evidence of humans making wine, so they’re understandably proud of the wine they make. It’s common for families to grow their own grapes. Even in the cities you can see grape vines growing up apartment buildings or on terraces.

No matter where your Georgian supra is taking place, there’s a 98% chance that either your host or one of the other guests at the supra made the wine you’re drinking. If you’re drinking chacha, same thing. Be sure to compliment your hosts on it. Even if it’s not the best wine you’ve ever had, even if you hate it, try to give genuine compliments. Never insult someone’s wine!

Step Five: Know your limits.

The Georgian men will finish their glasses on a lot of the toasts and they’ll pressure you to as well. You can, of course, but you don’t have to. Georgian wine is stronger than a lot of American wines and, no joke, I’ve seen people use chacha to start fires and clean metal. It’s strong as hell. 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!

Pro Tip: 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.