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Picking Made Easy

Thursday, January 04, 2018

When it comes to wedding preparations, the menu is usually the last thing on everyone’s mind. But, it’s the food at a wedding that guests usually look forward to the most. Komal Soni brings you tips on acing the menu for your big night

We spend months finalising the perfect wedding outfit. We start dreaming of and planning our honeymoon way in advance too. Even the hunt for the perfect venue begins months, even years, before the actual date. But the menu for a wedding feast is often overlooked until just before the wedding day.

If you want your wedding to be a grand success, then you will have to make sure that the menu packs a punch. And there’s a lot more that goes into planning the menu than picking random dishes off a standard list of food items. Here’s what you need to keep in mind if you want to floor your guests with a well thought out, lavish spread.   

The budget

The first thing you will need to get a fix on is how much you are willing to spend on the food for your big night. The number and variety of dishes you finally pick will depend entirely on your budget. If they are stretching your budget, you may have to give up on including some of the fancier dishes and replace them with others that are as appetizing but easier on the pocket.

You will also have to take into account the number of people attending your wedding since you will be charged per plate. But remember to have a buffer of around 20 to 25 plates for any unexpected or additional guests who may decide to surprise you at the last minute.

The caterer

The hunt for the caterer should begin alongside the hunt for the venue. If the venue is a hotel or a wedding hall, the in-house caterer or chef may come as a package deal. So if you are not happy with the dishes on offer, you may have to start looking for a different venue. Or the venue may charge extra to allow you to bring in an outside catering service.

The more time you have on hand, the greater the flexibility you will have with your choices. You could opt for a simple venue that allows you to go with a caterer or chef of your choice. And, don’t be in a hurry to finalise the catering service or the chef. Go for lots of tastings, confer with like-minded friends and check out all the options available online before you take a call. Find a chef who understands your needs and who will work with you to rustle up the menu you desire.

The season

Your menu will also be shaped by the time of the year you have picked to get married. You may have to forego your favourite butter garlic prawns if you have chosen to get married during the monsoons. If it’s a winter wedding, your beloved gaajar ka halwa could make for the perfect dessert. Jugs of chilled nimbu paani, on the other hand, may occupy the prime spot at a wedding held in the shriveling heat of summer. Speaking of shriveling, you will need to be extra careful with the dishes you pick if it’s a summer wedding. You don’t want flies buzzing around that fruit salad you had your heart set on, or worse, the fruits starting to rot in the heat.

Seasonal ingredients will also make the dishes more flavourful. If it’s a destination wedding, you may need to do some research so that you can include ingredients that are in season into the dishes on your menu. Going seasonal will also keep the cost in check since the ingredients will not have to be transported specifically for your wedding. 

The setting

The presentation is as important as the food itself. It can add to the air of gaiety and festivity. But it will also largely depend on the location of the wedding and the number of attendees. If you are going for a small, intimate ceremony, you could serve the main course in the form of a family-style dinner with long tables joined together so that your guests can enjoy stimulating, uninterrupted conversation alongside the sumptuous food.

If it’s a beachside wedding or set in the outdoors, round tables decorated with flowers and lamps or even fairy lights are best, so that guests can dine under the stars. For seating, you could use benches, couches or chairs. You could have the waiters wheel carts of dishes from table to table for an experience that everyone will be raving about for a long time.

The spread

Since it’s your special day, you should pick dishes that both you and your partner love. Or incorporate at least one favourite each into the menu. Most Indian weddings stick to serving traditional fare, but you don’t have to follow the norm. You could design an exciting menu comprising of hand-picked dishes that could serve as an ode to your love for each other and leave the guests with great memories about you two.

If it was over sushi that you first bonded, by all means include it in the menu. If butter chicken with aloo parathas firmed up your love for each other, have a counter that doles out aloo parathas straight off the tawa. Or mix some of your favourites to come up with dishes with a difference — samosas stuffed with chicken in place of the regular paneer tikkas or chicken kebabs, for instance. Go a step further and name the dishes after each other or the stages of your love story they represent. Be as quirky as you like. It is your special day!

TASTING

Before you pick a caterer, you will likely be invited to another wedding that the caterer is handling, for a “taste” of what to expect. Here are a few tips for the tasting.

  • Pay close attention to how the food is presented. Take pictures for reference, because it is easy to forget with so many options being presented to you.
  • Don’t feel embarrassed to take notes. Write down what you liked and disliked, and what you think could be done better.
  • Take note of the cutlery you are served on, and confirm with the caterer about the final cutlery. Something may look great on the fine China on which you are served at a tasting, but if the caterer will be using plain plates or no plates at all, it will come off completely different at your wedding.
  • If you like the parts of a dish with one exception, see if you can switch that out. For example, ask for a different sauce, garnish or side dish.
  • After the tasting, make sure to get a detailed revised proposal of the menu (in writing!) based on everything you’ve discussed with the caterer during and after the tasting. This will make things clear to both parties.

The diet debate

Nowadays, more people are becoming conscious of what they eat. While you don’t have to cater to every guest’s food preference, if you have close family members who follow new-age or restrictive diets, such as vegan or gluten-free diets, you can have a separate section with food that fits the bill. Talk to the caterer about this requirement and make sure you have at least four dishes, preferably more, for people who have such diets. Accommodating the food choices of your mother-in-law or an aunt that you are close to will be appreciated and well-received by one and all.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Steer clear of these mistakes when you are deciding on the menu.

Providing too many options

Pick a few select dishes. Decide on the number of dishes that you’re going to serve and stick to that number, no matter what. If you try to fit in too many dishes, it will not only drive you crazy but also increase the overall cost.

Going too generic

Avoid following the conventional dessert route. Desserts are something you can really have fun with. Go for assorted cakes, muffins, cookies or doughnuts instead of the regular gulab jamun and kulfi or ice cream (unless these desserts happen to be your favourite).

Trying to cater to everyone

Do not try to accommodate everyone’s likes and dislikes. Just make sure that you cover both vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare, if your customs allow it. And what about those of your guests who have gone off gluten or turned vegan? Lay out a few dishes for them as well. You don’t have to provide a lavish spread to every kind of eater.

Picking out-of-season options

You may love dragon fruit or honey dew melon, but it’s best to pick fruits that are in season. Out-of-season options are not just expensive, they may not keep well.

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