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Georgians feast on their culinary heritage

By Matt Knight, for CNN
  • Georgia food and drink celebrated at traditional feasts called supras
  • Toasting at supras is a central part of Georgian culture
  • A "tamada" or toastmaster leads numerous toasts through course of a meal
  • Government of Georgia seeking trademark protection for regions wine and dishes

Editor's note: CNN's new series i-List takes you to a different country each month. In April, we visit the Republic of Georgia focusing on changes shaping the country's economy, culture and its social fabric.

(CNN) -- The great 19th century Russian poet, Alexander Pushkin was once moved to comment that "Every Georgian dish is a poem."

Anyone visiting the Republic cannot fail to notice what fine hosts the Georgians are. Whether its in a public restaurant or in the home, Georgians take great pride in their gastronomic heritage.

Georgians regularly meet to enjoy a supra -- which means feast -- where tables groan under the weight of traditional dishes like red bean stew (lobio), dumplings (khinkali) and chicken "tabaka."

Like all good feasts, a central component of a supra is the toast where Georgian wine -- an ancient seat of winemaking and home to over 500 varieties of grape -- is quaffed with alacrity.

All supras have a tamada (toastmaster) whose job it is to lead frequent and varied toasts. The Georgian Embassy in London says the tamada must be "a philosopher-poet, a wit, an orator and social commentator and even a singer."

Video: Enjoy a glass of Georgian wine

Toasts are regularly raised to peace, gathered friends, ancestors, parents, women, children, the country and even the journey home -- wisely perhaps, given the inevitable levels of intoxication.

If you're lucky enough to find yourself at a supra, under no circumstances should you toast your fellow guests with beer -- unless you want to see the smiles drain from their faces -- as it is deemed insulting.

Instead, fill your clay bowl -- the traditional wine vessel in Georgia -- with one of their many vintages.

So proud are the Georgians of their wine that the government has recently made moves to protect the status of their wines and many of their native dishes.

In February 2010 negotiations between Europe and Georgia began on eighteen varieties of grape grown in Georgia to decide if they qualify for protection for "Geographical Indication" status (essentially a food label assuring customers that a product comes from a particular region.)

In April, Georgian officials announced they are seeking to secure trademark status for a range of foods including khachapuri -- a cheesy flatbread which is the national dish - and tkemali, a sour cherry plum sauce.

The hope is to not only protect the status of traditional Georgian dishes but also expand the market for Georgian food abroad.