He who is without sin throw the first stone. Who has never benefited from relationships born at the table? When it’s not about eating, it’s about drinking. You forge your alliances and the next day, somebody will remember you dancing naked on a table showing all his respect to you, though you might not remember.
This may come unexpectedly or not. I was once sitting in a train to Odessa and a young army officer comes timidly and asks ‘I am sorry to bother you, would you mind drinking with me? My mother gave me some good kon’yak (brandy) but I feel stupid drinking alone…’
That night we became brothers, the next morning we parted never to see each other again. He was leaving to Iraq in a month to earn money for his wife and daughter and shared things he would never have shared with a stranger otherwise.
In Georgia you can claim this was unexpected, but it is common ground that by simply looking like a foreigner you will be invited to every possible household or even ‘kidnapped’. Hitch-hikers in Georgia have an easy life being on the road towards the sunset is enough to be dragged to somebody’s home to have dinner and then spend the night there…you know, it’s late and you cannot travel at this time. Continue tomorrow!
This hospitality may become overwhelming friendly to the point that you will refer to it as ‘hellspitality’ for you will be expected to eat whatever is laid before your eyes. But it will be nonetheless genuine, and, like in other times, your host will be satisfied only when you’re laying drunk under the table with such a belly that you’re likely to roll back home.
Rules of behaviour
The home is sacred. Once you open the door to let somebody in, this person will be welcome, be your friend or enemy. You will have to feed him and make sure he is at ease, whatever this means for you. He may become again your enemy only after leaving your home.
‘Have you eaten?’ Would come as a first question, knowing that, regardless of the answer, the guest has to be fed. If he is very polite, he will decline the invitation, one to three times, depending on his culture, or simply answer ‘yes, something’.
He is a guest, please assume that he has not eaten the 5 days prior to the visit, perhaps longer. Assume also that he has never seen the food you store in your house. And if he had, it was not so tasty, or genuine, or home made. He will thus have to try everything and in abundant quantity. Before preparing you can ask how hungry he is or they are, which should be a formal question, for regardless of the answer, you will prepare an amount of food that double the members of your household would not be able to swallow.
If the guest does not come exactly at dinner time, you will be worried that he will not survive in time for dinner, which presents another hard task. To feed him, but not too much, leaving room for the dinner he is going to have eventually. Your family will help and you will share tasks. More elaborated food might be prepared by the female members, but when it comes to grilled meat, then the man rules in his monopoly.
An easy entertaining thing to do before eating might be drinking, though the proposition must come from a male member of the family who shall then drink with him (her). If your guest is lucky enough to visit an alcohol-friendly country, the ‘aperitif’ he is offered may be of 40 percent. Alcohol is not to be consumed alone, it should rather be enhanced by food. In Russian this is known as zakuski (small bites) ,so that you will drink a glass of local production (be this Rakia, Rakija, Chacha, Samogon) and immediately afterwards swallow a piece of bread, sausage, cheese or whatever is at your disposal. It is not important what, for food is used to accompany alcohol and not vice versa.
If you happen to live in a toasting country, beware! A simple ‘to us’ or ‘to our health’ will not be enough. A toast has to be long and sincere. You might want to drink to the fact that you met with your guest, to a long and wealthy life, to love. The only limit to your wishes will be your fantasy. Your guest might get confused. You will start a toast and tell a long story to stop a second to reflect. The first time the guest will be tempted to drink as you stop, but after some awkward attempts will learn that he has to wait until you give the signal to drink, which may come after some minutes of a speech. Then grab a piece of bread, a salted cucumber or whatever can lighten the effect of that transparent liquid of unknown origins he is swallowing with you.
Once the appetite has been stimulated, you are ready for dinner. Do not worry if your guest cannot make it straight to the dining room, after some minutes of aimless wandering he will learn the way and collapse on one of the seats. His glass will be filled with local beer or wine and his plate filled. As a guest you have the right to the best parts and most abundant portions. Whatever this will mean. The host chooses for the guest, selecting the most succulent parts of the animal, whether this be the tongue, the intestines, or the eye. You will be glad to content yourself with a simple chicken leg in order to be able to offer him only the best of the best.
Of course he shall appreciate the cuisine of your family and the only way this can be shown is by eating. You will expect him to eat twice from every plate, careless of the fact that one single portion means two meals to him. If you think he is too shy to help himself, you will gently toss as much as can be put into his plate without anything falling from the rim.
When there is little space left in his stomach, a glass of wine or vodka will help to find more and go on. By the end of the dinner it is likely that you have toasted to all the possible members of your and his families, to love, life, health and all the positive things life can bring. The host might need to roll (it is not the case anymore to say walk) to the living room after the dinner where his fate will further be determined. By that time you will have already discovered previously unexisting common relatives, promised to visit each other soon and already arranged to marry your and your guests’ children, regardless if they are born or not.
It is not what you say, but how you say it. Nobody will remember the promises you made last night but it is important to become your guest’s brother.
The moral of the story
Take your time and enjoy your food, enjoy also your guests or your hosts, whatever you are or will be. Remember that food is not about eating, or at least not only about eating. Those who stated that the perfect meal is the one that does not fully stuff your stomach, leaving the desire for more, may be right, but it was certainly not a social person, for if the host has the impression that the guest is still hungry, then the social function of all this nullifies. Share what you have and do not be ashamed of taking what has been offered to you because it seems too much a privation for your host. Whatever it is, it comes from the heart and it’s sacred!