Explore Plates Unknown: How To Host An International Potluck Dinner
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Anthony Bourdain taught us that the best way to learn about other cultures was through food. From curry to casseroles, international cuisines give us a glimpse into other country’s customs and open us up to a whole new world of flavors. You can experience parts unknown for yourself by picking a place and planning a potluck party with friends, featuring dishes from that destination, where each guest learns about the origins of their dish.
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Decide where you want to 'go.'
One of the coolest things about food is that it takes you on a trip without ever needing to get on a plane. So, pick a country you've always wanted to travel to or try their food. Think lesser mainstream options like Morocco, Guatemala, Egypt, Africa, Portugal, Malaysia, or Peru. (Everyone's tried Indian and Chinese food.)
The key is to expand your horizons and culinary repertoire. And don't be afraid to push yourself out of your comfort zone. You'll be amazed what you'll discover when you open yourself up to new flavors and styles of cooking.
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Everyone will be bringing a dish and you don't want to end up with a dozen appetizers or desserts and no entree, so be sure to assign each of your guests a specific course. Depending on the size of your party, you’ll want at least four to five appetizers, two to three entrees, and two desserts. (Adjust as needed based on your final number of guests.)
You’ll also want to take into consideration their cooking skill level and any dietary restrictions they may have. You don’t want your vegan friend, Jessica, assigned to a lamb dish!
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Brush up on your history.
In addition to sampling the cuisine of your chosen country, you'll want to learn about its origins to share with your guests. What is the meaning behind the name of the dish? What year was it invented? Is there any historical significance to the style of cuisine? Why is it prepared a certain way? Hop onto Google and get cracking.
You'll also want to let your guests know to research their selected dishes as well so you can all exchange these interesting tidbits at the party. This will help you to experience the meal with a whole new appreciation by understanding the culture and societal factors behind it.
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Bring the destination to life.
Make your home or event space feel like you're there. Buy decorations and signage representative of the country. Play that country's music. Serve its traditional beverages. Even think about dressing in their style of clothing so guests can feel like they’ve arrived at that destination.
Spotlighting every element of your chosen country will contribute to bringing the meal to life. Details matter when it comes to sampling exotic fare, and you want the surroundings to be as authentic as the food. Plus, who doesn’t love a good theme party?
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Embrace the customs.
Remember that not every country eats their meals around a table. If you've picked a place where people eat on the ground, set up pillows and trays for floor dining. If the natives of that land eat with their hands, you and your guests should, too. Even plating and serving should be taken into consideration so you can experience the food exactly the way you would if you were there.
An entree in a clay bowl may taste very different than served on a ceramic plate, so find out how your country's inhabitants eat in addition to what they eat. There's a reason they consume their cuisine a certain way, so to fully absorb those authentic flavors, you need to mirror exactly what they do.
Above all, have fun! Food should be a celebration of life, and the best way to honor a culture's cuisine is to enjoy the laughs and camaraderie of sharing it together.
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