I raised my glass of wine like a besieged boxer who had just been proclaimed the winner after 12 rounds of fighting. Around me, 10 other people also raised their glasses while the man at the head of the table toasted. And then, as expected, we slammed the amber wine and I inspected a long stacked table of food. It wasn’t the first toast of the day. It wasn’t even the second. Sixteenth? Twenty-fifth? I had lost count.
It’s when you didn’t mean to eat so much but you accidentally did
Welcome to a supra, a traditional Georgian festival. In the Republic of Georgia, these epic meals are prepared for special occasions or, in this case, no real reason at all. I was in the mountainous region of Racha in the northwestern part of the country, and in front of me was an abundance of Georgian dishes: whole trout sprinkled with walnut sauce; a rich bean stew sprinkled with pork called lobio; baked cheese bread called khachapuri; chicken covered with blackberries; Lamb stew; chicken with a creamy garlic sauce called shkmeruli; and, in typical Georgian fashion, three different kinds of bread – in what turned out to be a five-hour extravaganza to eat and drink at a friend of a friend’s house.
There was not enough room for the large amounts of food on the long rectangular table, so the women of the house started stacking dishes loaded with food on top of each other, sometimes four plates high. It is not rare that during these festivals the tables are deformed thanks to the weight imposed on them; a striking metaphor if there ever was one.
It wasn’t just the wine that made me dizzy and confused. I was in a severe food coma. Or, more precisely, I lived shemomechama, an untranslatable Georgian word. Mako Kavtaradze, founder of the Tbilisi Museum of Recipes, told me, “For Georgians, shemomechama means that when you are full but keep eating, you overdose on food.” But more specifically, as Meri Gubeladze, famous chef and owner of Tbilisi’s always-crowded restaurant Shavi Lomi, said: “It’s when you didn’t intend to eat so much but you did. accidentally made. Usually it’s when something was so good that you couldn’t resist. You blame the food – not the eater – for tasting so good.
And it happens a lot more than you might think. “I love that word,” said Tekuna Gachechiladze, chef and owner of Tbilisi’s highly regarded Culinarium Khasheria restaurant. “I don’t remember the first time I heard this word, but the experience of shemomechama occurs frequently. This usually happens during a late night dining experience, when, after a long day of work in the kitchen, I suddenly find myself at a super late or traditional party. And although I may not be hungry at all, I eat and eat, and the experience mixes with Georgian singing, laughing, drinking wine and then voila! Shemomechama arrives. “
Gubeladze added: “You know how much food Georgians put on the table when there is a supra … So most of the time you are quite often full, but then you keep eating because the tasty dishes appear. to infinity.”
The word shemomechama and its meaning are inexorably linked with the supra – after all, attaining shemomechama in a supra is inevitable, for there is such an abundance of edible delicacies that you wonder how the whole population doesn’t have gout.
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There is a certain ‘come here’ quality in Georgian food that makes it irresistible
This is perhaps a major reason why this word has developed in and around a food culture like that of Georgia. “There is a certain ‘come here’ quality in Georgian food that makes it irresistible, and in the context of a feast, when so many different dishes are on the table, it’s always tempting to eat a little more than that. that you need because meals always seem to be a party there, ”said Darra Goldstein, author of The Georgian Feast. “Physically, it’s the feeling of having eaten enough (sometimes more than enough) but not being able to resist one last small bite, so that the flavors linger on the tongue. But the key to understanding shemomechama is that the word signals a lack of intention – it’s really like something is forcing you to eat a little more, even if you don’t really mean to. It sort of happens.
Carla Capalba, author of Tasting Georgia, says: “One of the main ‘rules’ of the above is that serving platters must be constantly replenished and the guest leaves a table as full as they sat. , so as to ‘accidentally’ eating everything is quite a challenge. ‘
Food and drink are often tied to a nation’s identity, especially to distinguish itself from others – often a foreign occupying power. In Georgia, there is a strong link between food and national awareness. Especially with regard to the long history of Russian domination in the region, which began when the Czarist-led empire invaded Georgia in 1801 and continued during the Soviet era until 1991.
“Since the Russians, unlike the former invaders, shared the same religion as the Georgians, religion was no longer a factor of distinction between ‘us’ (the Georgians) and ‘them’ (the Russians),” writes the anthropologist Florian Mühlfried in Sharing the Same Blood – Culture and Cuisine in the Republic of Georgia, published in the journal Anthropology of Food. “The self-alteration of the Georgian nation had to be based on something else: popular culture. The supra quickly became a symbol of this cultural otherness, a manifestation of “Georgian” hospitality based on a distinct way of eating, drinking and feasting. It remained a leading cultural marker of national identity well into Soviet times, embodying resistance to becoming a Societas Sovietica. For post-Soviet Georgians, the supra seems to offer a permanent counter-assurance of cultural authenticity in the face of globalization at all levels.
Kevin Tuite, an anthropologist at the University of Montreal, who has studied culture in the Caucasus extensively, breaks down the semantics of the word: “In a sense, the verb ‘to eat'” – or “chama ‘ – “becomes passive, and the subject a sort of indirect object:” he was eaten, and I was somehow involved “, more or less. Georgian has a number of indirect implication verbs, such as shemoexarjeba (I burned my money without realizing it) and shemoesriseba (he [some object in my hand] accidentally overwritten).
It was eaten, and I was kind of involved
Mülfried, via email, added: “The thrill of the word is that it attributes an action to the object rather than the subject. It is an expression of transcendence, similar to the way Georgians express love: I am the object, the other is the subject. Someone, something upset me. It can also be a feeling, being overwhelmed by hatred that could turn into violence. Something has come upon me, and it makes me a victim; in the case of the shemomechama, victim of tasty food beyond resistance. ”
But how did such a word come about from this culinary culture? “The only conclusion I can come to is that Georgians don’t like to take responsibility for their own actions,” said Gubeladze. We often blame it on 70 years of Soviet occupation, where the state made all the decisions for you. But also, it’s easier to blame shemomechama than to admit you’re a pig!
I really felt like a pig by the time the supra was over. My friends and I walked back to our guesthouse in silence, as the shemomechama had been installed for a long time. When we arrived the owner of the guest house insisted that we had to be fed. We begged her not to be able to eat, but she was adamant. After all, in Georgia it is said that a “guest is a gift from God”.
And so, with that, we sat down at a table in the yard and started a new feast again; the shemomechama would stay a few more hours.
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