Georgians tend to invite their guests to elaborate meals, where they generously serve Georgian wine (and brandy). A Georgian meal can last for hours. Dishes are put on the table in seemingly random order. If one is finished, new food is supplied. Some key foods on the Georgian table are bread (including the delicious khachapuri or cheese bread) and dishes with rich, mildly spicy sauces. Common flavors in Georgian cuisine include coriander, fenugreek and walnuts, but many more herbs and spices are used.
The meaning of Georgian toasting
Although Georgian cuisine is tasty and interesting, it is not complete without Georgian wine. Be aware that wine drinking in Georgia is certainly not about getting drunk. Georgians take the whole process of wine production and consumption very seriously. Toasting is a very important ritual at a Georgian table. Georgian toasts are like speeches or stories, in which the speaker says something personal about an important, emotional theme. While this is serious business, there is also a lot of humor and warmth in this tradition. There is singing and dancing during the feast. Those of you who have already visited Georgia, will understand the feeling.
The Georgian view on drinking wine
In the Georgian language, “to propose a toast” is “dalotsva”: “to say a prayer”. By drinking wine – from an animal horn for the most important toasts – Georgians feel as if the spiritual and physical come together. For that reason, the glass (or horn!) has to be drunk ad fundum. There is honor in drinking all the toasts while appearing to remain sober. A Georgian only has a drinking problem when his glass is empty… Fortunately, foreign guests are not seriously expected to do this. Georgians who cannot drink at a table either mention a medical condition or get themselves mercifully appointed as “merikibe”: the one filling empty glasses.
The toastmaster and the toasts
At every Georgian dining feast, one person is appointed “tamada”: the toastmaster. The toastmaster creates the rights atmosphere and initiates toasting rounds. He makes sure that everyone at the table, especially the guests, are feeling well. Usually, the tamada will start a toasting round by making a specific toast himself. Then each person takes his or her turn in making this toast, but with a personal touch or something added to it. Many take their time to explain what is on their mind and in their heart. If there is a long table with many participants, a toasting round requires some patience. But it is amazing how each person gives his or her own interpretation of a toast, finding new elements to add. This is a very natural thing to Georgian people.
Ten basic Georgian toasts you should know
If you are not used to the Georgian way of dining, drinking and toasting, you may have trouble finding something appropriate to say. That’s why we will now give you some Georgian toasts that are commonly made. You’ll have to fill them in according to the specific situation you and the people at the table are in.
1. To our meeting
This can be an opening toast, celebrating the fact that the party has come together. It is a convenient way to start after people have found their seats at the table.
2. To our parents
Thank them for bringing us into the world and raising us. If parents are old, wish them health and a long life.
3. To those who have passed away
The deceased are important in Georgia. They are remembered as the ancestors, their good qualities are mentioned and their souls are wished peace in Heaven. During this toast, everyone dips a piece of bread into their wine and then puts bread on the on the edge of their plates.
4. To the children
This toast usually follows the one for the deceased, because children are the opposite, the future of families and the country.
5. To Georgia
Georgians are extremely proud of their country and are happy to toast to it. Usually, the toast is also made for the country of foreign guests at the table and to the friendship between Georgia and this country.
6. To women
Particular thanks is given to the women who have prepared the food on the table. With them in mind, the toast is usually for women in general, as special creatures to be admired and respected.
7. To peace
Do not underestimate this toast, peace is very important in Georgia. The country has a long and difficult history of wars and occupation by foreign powers. There have also been glorious victories against these powers by medieval Georgian royals, followed by periods of peace and prosperity.
8. To someone celebrating a birthday, graduation or other occasion
This toast is common in other countries as well. Wish the person health and good fortune.
9. To those who could not be at the table, but are present in everyone’s thoughts
If there are specific people that could not be present because they are ill, had to work or for some other reason, they are remembered and toasted to. Sometimes this toast is said in general.
10. To the host family
This toast is usually made by a guest who wants to leave the table. It is a hint that the feast is coming to an end.
Gaumarjos - to your success!
The ten basic toasts should give you a start. In fact there are about 150 "basic" toasts in Georgia...The most important Georgian word to know is "gaumarjos": "the toast is to".
Remember that original thoughts in toasts are highly appreciated. Do it in style, avoid ridiculing anyone or anything. It is also good to have some knowledge of your own country’s history and culture, because you may be asked for your favorite poem, hero or song!