We’ve said before that sometimes you don’t quite know what’s going to happen over here. Case in point: lunch in Racha the other day.
A group of friends drove up in the morning from Tbilisi to spend the weekend with us exploring the beautiful mountains, rivers and ancient churches in this breathtaking region. Before we set out for the day, we had to eat.
There are three restaurants in Ambrolauri, the small town where we stayed. One of them McKinze and I had been to the day before. It was less than impressive. Another one of them was a big hall for events and didn’t necessarily look like a place you just drop by to grab a bite.
The last option was this one, a small roadside establishment. The sign was promising, touting itself as a “Rachuli Kitchen,” featuring dishes like lori, lobiani and other specialties of the region.
A party was underway, and our table was literally in the middle of it.
The singer was good. Very, very loud — so loud that we couldn’t really carry on a conversation at our table — but good. The guys were toasting, laughing and generally having a great time.
We ordered some food, including lobio (bean stew) and lori (the salty, smoky & fatty ham that I can’t get enough of).
And then the party, this celebration (keipi – ქეიფი), started to spread.
It’s not entirely uncommon to be in this situation. As you should know by now, Georgians are typically a lively and exuberant bunch who enjoy drinking, singing and dancing. They also enjoy sharing their festive mood with others who are around, especially foreigners.
One of our friends happens to be a very good traditional Georgian dancer, which is also not uncommon. In Georgia, most young girls and boys alike are raised learning the intricate footwork and hand movements of the many regional Georgian dances. Therefore, pretty much everyone knows how to perform them, at least a little bit. They’re done at weddings, supras and, in this case, at a restaurant in the middle of the afternoon.
Our friend hopped to her feet, and was soon joined by a few of the men.
In the States, older guys jumping in to dance with younger women at a restaurant might seem inappropriate or lewd, especially if the guys had been drinking. That’s not necessarily the case here. Traditional Georgian dance is a very precise art form, with specific roles for men and different roles for women. There’s virtually no touching or dancing together; the man and women more often dance around each other.
But there’s also the occasional slow song, which is perfect for the kind of dancing you might remember from middle school or from your cousin’s wedding reception.
As the only guy in our group, I had my own responsibilities to tend to: drinking wine. It was lunchtime and we had a whole day of exploring and hiking ahead of us, so I didn’t want to join the party, but it would have been rude not to accept a toast or two. After all, what’s more fun for a Georgian man at a party than drinking with a foreigner?
Actually, drinking with a foreigner who can speak Georgian is more fun. Which is why in this particular instance I pretended not to. Otherwise, I might still be there.
The gentlemen (and really, they were — very nice and respectful guys) sent a jug of homemade Khvanchkara wine over to our table for us to enjoy and went back to their party as we ate. Before we left, on our way out the door, there was time to squeeze in a few more dances.
And that was lunch. Our time in Racha was off to a great start.