One of my dearest friends living in Spain hails from the Republic of Georgia – that small, oblong, post-Soviet country, which nudges up against the Black Sea. The democracy, which regained its independence in 1991, continues to transition from oppression to a nation bursting at the seams to share its pride. So, when my amiga invited me to come get to know her country, I feverishly started planning how to make it happen (maybe a little more like: I begged and convinced Jacobo, and then he booked everything. But let’s not get caught up in the minutiae).
To say that the country blew me away would be an understatement. But rather than bore you with the details of my innermost ponderings (i.e. how do the cows, pigs, sheep and dogs that wander freely on the roads not constantly get hit by cars???), here is a brief run down of the Georgian quirks that surprised me most:
Yep, your basic watermelon is a superstar in the country sandwiched between Europe and Asia. Roadside vendors overflow stands with the seeded fruits like they’re going out of style – which they aren’t. Attend a Georgian dinner, and don’t be surprised to be served a plateful of the watery delicacy for dessert (at which point, I reach into my bag for my emergency stash of chocolate because seriously, fruit isn’t and never will be a dessert in my book). Why so popular? I’m still contemplating this, but the general explanation is that the southeastern province of Georgia grows an abundance of the melons, therefore making them an easy go-to sweet (if that’s what you want to call it).
No Georgian dinner is complete without toasts. Not just A toast, though, but many toasts – many, many toasts, followed by many more. At almost all meals of more than just a couple people, a designated toaster, the tamada, is chosen – typically a man with a talent for eloquence. This tamada is responsible for maintaining a rhythm of toasts throughout the meal, ranging from world peace, to family, and the future. Meanwhile, others at the table should be prepared to add on to the main speech, contributing and building on each individual toast.
It’s green. Really green.
There’s a legend that Georgians will tell you, and it goes a little something like this: God called a meeting in which he planned to distribute all the lands in the world. Georgia was late (naturally) as result of a party from the night before involving too much drinking (also naturally). When they finally arrived to the meeting, all of the lands had already been handed out. Georgia explained away their tardiness by telling God that it was the result of toasting to him the night before. Impressed, God then gave Georgia the land that he had reserved for himself. Whether the legend is true or not, I can’t argue with the fact that the often-overlooked country claims some of the most hypnotizing landscapes I’ve come across – mountain ranges that cap out at nearly 10,000 feet high, deserts that sprawl into Azerbaijan, and inescapable numbers of rivers and waterfalls.
I think it’s fair to say that I’ve never gone to a restaurant and ordered my water by brand name. Until Georgia, that is. The brand of water you wish to imbibe during your meal will be the question hanging on every waiter’s tongue. This is because with rain, rivers and H2O coming out their ears, they’ve smartly converted their ample water supply into a booming bottled-water business. And not just any bottled water – it’s special bottled water. Have a hangover? There’s a water for you. Tummy problems? Not to worry. Seriously, who knew?
Living in a country like Spain, I thought that a passion for wine could not run any deeper than it does in the blood of Spaniards. WRONG. Grapes are to Georgia like chocolate is to me (and cheese, and maybe bread, and now baklava). So much so that the majority of Georgian homes have their own grapevine (not even close to joking). Don’t be surprised to see grape symbols lingering in the stone carvings of 10th century buildings as a representation of their importance to the culture. And go to a Georgian’s house and you will surely be greeted with a glass of their homemade wine (along with a full spread of food you couldn’t possibly ever consume in one sitting – more on that later).
Have I gotten you all curious about Georgia yet? Stay tuned for my next blog about Georgian cuisine (obviously). No peaches involved.