Reviews

Stalin’s speeches were always considered important, not only if given at Communist party congresses or from Lenin’s mausoleum in Red Square, but also during official meetings, receptions and especially during dinners. According to our European customs, at table we eat, talk and drink at times, toasting very shortly to someone’s health, but Stalin was Georgian, so he kept strictly to the ritual of the tamadoba (toasting), delivering long and sometimes key toasts. As asserted by the author, ‘the form of a toast allowed Stalin to combine confessional candour’ with the spirit required in that precise, political moment (p. 832). Georgian culinary traditions were quite well known among the Russian pre-revolutionary bourgeoisie and intelligentsia, thanks to the fact that Georgia had become part of the Russian Empire from 1801; but after the creation of the Soviet Union Stalin undoubtedly encouraged tamadoba to become a Soviet new custom, particularly when ‘the Soviet table was increasingly laden with Georgian cheese pies (khachapuri) and spicy Georgian soup (kharcho), accompanied by Georgian wines and the Georgian mineral water Borjomi’ (p. 832).

In this research the author demonstrates how the Soviet planners ‘sought to create a multi-ethnic cuisine that privileged the culinary practices of the non-Russian national republics’ (p. 833); in any case, the versatility of Georgian food and its national connection with the leader of the Soviet Union, from the 1930s onwards had more than others contributed to the development of multi-ethnic Soviet cuisine. Official institutions in the food field (for example the Obshchepit [Public Food Service]) were influenced by a great number of Georgian experts, which thus assured the success of Georgian cuisine. ‘By the end of the 1930s ― asserts the author ―, Georgian food and drink had gained a prominent place in Moscow’s restaurants, in specialty stores and Soviet cookbooks’ (p. 839). Moreover, in 1940 the restaurant ‘Aragvi’, with typical Georgian cuisine, was opened in the centre of Moscow. Very soon it became a model for Soviet fine dining and its fame did not decrease with the death of Stalin; on the contrary, in the ‘Thaw’ years it became a trendy restaurant. During the ‘Thaw’ and afterwards, the Public Food Service, using existing supply chains and networks of expertise that had previously been utilised to serve Georgian cuisine to Moscow’s elite, became de facto a centre for the popular spread of Georgian food (p. 847).  From personal experience, I remember that by the end of the 1960s, Moscow’s restaurants and eateries were still flooded by tsyplionok-tabaka, i.e. a dish, created by the restaurant ‘Aragvi’, in which a young chicken was flattened and then fried under a heavy weight.

In the 1960s and ‘70s Georgia and its culture continued to be considered fascinating by Soviet people, so the Public Food Service decided to mass produce Georgian sauces in order to help Soviet women to prepare Georgian dishes at home (p. 849). It is clear from the study that Georgian food became a part of Soviet multi-ethnic culture, but owing to the collapse of the Soviet Union, this concept disappeared and Georgian food was restricted within its national limits.

 

Luigi Magarotto, Ca’ Foscari University, Venice
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