Eat with Pleasure

Stories and Recipes by Jenny Holm

As we continue to feast, toast, and drink, the musical entertainment begins. Five young men have been hired to regale us with Georgian folk songs and the occasional Russian or Georgian bubble gum pop tune for the duration of the evening. Folk music is extremely popular here, even among teenagers, and it’s easy to understand why: the men’s voices ring with strength and pride in their country’s culture and history, and the driving beat of the drums behind them set even the most lethargic feet to tapping. {Pardon the poor quality of the attached video clip.)

Bussers continuously circulate, collecting sauce-smeared plates and replacing them with clean ones, taking away gnawed chicken bones, and piling fresh dishes atop the platters already covering the table. I fill my plate with achma (brined suluguni cheese melted between layers of lasagna-like noodles), khashlama (tender chunks of fatty beef stewed with garlic, black pepper, and bay leaves), tkemali (sour plum sauce spiked with herbs), and mchadi (dense fried corn cakes, perfect for soaking up extra sauce). In between bites, I cut myself slices of cool tomato and cucumber from the whole ones peeking out from underneath a nearby platter.

Soon Shushana whisks me away to the family’s seats where I’ll have a better view of the bride and groom, sitting together at a raised table facing everyone else, and of the tamada, who continues to intone extended toasts to parents, children, the deceased, women, and other broad categories of society. My American sense of decorum finds it odd that no one seems to be listening to these toasts: conversation continues at full volume through each of them, and few heads turn towards the front. Nobody else seems to mind, though, so I figure the man is used to this and won’t be offended.

I’m given a fresh plate and poured another glass of wine. There are different dishes close to me in this new seat: ostri (beef and potatoes in a spicy, tomato-based sauce), satsivi (bone-in chicken served in a cool, creamy walnut sauce), borano (chunks of salty cheese floating in melted butter), and, of course, the ubiquitous khachapuri. Square slices of homemade layer cakes squat among the array of savory dishes. The groom’s mother and a small army of her friends made 25 cakes, I’m told, each one composed of three layers separated by sweetened cream. The platter closest to me is piled with chocolate, cherry, honey, and “Snickers” versions.

I’m ready to burst by the time the dancing begins, so I’m only too glad to get out on the floor and jumpstart digestion through clumsy albeit well-meaning attempts at Ajaran folk dancing. My friend Khatuna shows me how it’s done:

With the music in full swing, the men at some tables take over from the tamada and pronounce their own toasts, becoming increasingly rambunctious as the evening descends into night. Getting into the spirit, I propose a toast to sisterhood with Khatuna, linking our elbows and drinking while intertwined as I’ve seen others do when they drink to “bruderschaft.” What I did not realize was that this particular toast requires one to drink the whole glass in one go. Oops! Sorry, Khatuna. By the time the bride and groom make their exit around 10:30 p.m., I’m ready to crash into bed.

The event continues the following afternoon back at the banquet hall, though today only the closer family and friends are expected to come (That is, 200 people instead of 500.) The same dishes are arrayed on the table, the same music is played, and the same tamada is back for more action. I still feel full from yesterday, but I can’t resist a taste of a dish featuring chopped heart and liver of an animal I can’t recall, fried eggplant slices wrapped around garlic-walnut paste, and a steaming hunk of roast beef (one of the only dishes served hot today). The “official” wedding cake is served today, but I opt for the baklava instead, another requisite wedding dessert here in the Ajara region.

The party winds down around 6:30 p.m., and all of us, I think, are ready to relax. I’m glad to have experienced the whole shebang, but am now thoroughly convinced that one day will be plenty for my own wedding!

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2 Responses to “The Feast for Love: A Georgian Wedding, Part 2”

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