I just returned from a trip to Europe where purely by chance I got to attend a couple of weddings. Earlier this year my own daughter got married so I did have a reference point, but nothing quite prepared me for this experience. It is interesting how geography and wealth can change the dynamics of something so familiar. Out of respect for the hosts, I will not disclose the who, when, and where of the weddings. There are many small and large decisions that have to be made in a wedding: the venue, the caterer, the dress, theme, cake, entertainment etc. That requires a whole book to cover, so for this post I will focus on just food and a few other details. Here in the United States, most of the weddings I have attended tend to have buffets, although a few have been sit-down served at the table ones. In the UK, both the weddings were served. Now get ready for the menu. Here it is verbatim, and for proof if you don’t believe me the photos.
- Fresh Fruit Platter
- Fish Masala
- Chicken Tikka
- Vegetable Samosa
Maybe due to my sheltered life, I had never come across the word or the food Canapes, but it added another course to a huge menu.
- Beef Medallions
- Salmon Fillets
- Roast Chicken
- Crushed Potatoes
- Accompanies with Salad Platter, Raita and Chutney
It is interesting how language and vocabulary can change the perspective on food. Starter implies an appetizer, but all the items are what we would consider the main dish or entree. I, like most people, were full by the end of the Starter, but wait there’s more…
- Lamb Karahi
- Chicken Channa
- Accompanies with Naaan and Lamb Pilau
Although some people with appetites the size of a bear getting ready for hibernation did eat the main course, most like me just dabbled in it and the trays and dishes went back almost full. But wait there is more,…
- Ice Cream
- Gajar Ka Halwa
Pavlova? Yes I know, I know, I live a sheltered life. I did sample it, and wasn’t too impressed. Interesting observation, as the waiters returned with the desserts most of the pavlovas were either untouched, or just slightly sampled. Possibly not a hit with South Asian taste buds.
I asked the event manager how many people were at the wedding. He said, “About 1100.” This was more than double the size of the largest wedding I have ever attended. This also dwarfs most American weddings where the number of guests may range from 60 to a couple of hundred. OK maybe that is not an apples to apples comparison, but hopefully you get the point.
The point that really bothered me was how most of this food was wasted. The program was running very late it was 2 a.m. Although for those who come from Karachi to Kuwait, Mumbai or the Middle East, this may not be unusual, it was way past my bed time. Interestingly, although the bride and groom did cut the multi-layer cake towards the end, we did not have to wait for it to served. Including the favors there were 20 items on and off the menu.
On the subject of desserts, the second wedding was maybe only half the size about 500 people with a slightly simpler menu, but still opulent. When it came time for desserts there was an array of them, offered in beautiful glass cups. The following day, the host shared an interesting insight. She said instead of a guest taking one or two desserts, nearly everyone took four or five, sampled them all, and possibly ate one or two, leading to a lot of waste.
I thank the hosts for letting me crash their parties. I wish the best to the bride and groom and for giving me something to write about. My insights are not revolutionary, much more about common sense. As much as we may want to host a memorable wedding, there is a golden rule we can all apply. “Voluntary simplicity,” which teaches “Less is more.” Although giving more choices and options in the menu may sound like a good thing, science and faith show otherwise.
The paradox of choice as shown by many studies including Sheena Iyengar at Stanford in her famous Jam study was that it becomes paralyzing. I don’t think that is the word she uses, but I am trying to summarize her PhD in one sentence. From a faith perspective, the Qur’an reminds people not to be extravagant or niggardly as well as for people to spend within their means. I am sure other faith traditions have similar sayings.
For me, the ultimate in food choice are the buffets in Las Vegas. I know, I know you’re going to put me on the spot. I was just passing through, really! Seriously though, as much as the buffets there give you the option of trying out the major cuisines of all the world, I have found that I have enjoyed eating just one dish compared to the sampling of the many. Enough about Vegas. Here are some ideas about how to have a memorable, but simple wedding:
- Follow the one-dish rule. One dish for Appetizer, one for Starter, Main Course, and Dessert. To be pragmatic of course with so many guests, you have to accommodate different diets and tastes. E.g. vegetarian, non-spicy, but it is the principle behind it that counts.
- Keep the guest list small. Separate the must-have’s from the nice-to-have’s. You can always make exceptions. For some families you can limit it to Mr. and Mrs. Even with RSVPs, there are no-shows, so allow for that in your headcount. Ten percent is an OK rule, but you can adjust based on your friends/family/culture-circle.
- Make it personal. One of the weddings I attended had a formal toastmaster in attire. It was interesting, but the more you understand the audience and the more personal you can make the speeches and comments the better.
- Make it fun. Last year I attended my nephews wedding, and one of the big hits there was a little candy store in the lobby. Both the kids and the adults loved it. At one of the other weddings they had a photo booth, with silly hats and accessories. Guests could take pictures, take a copy themselves and put one in the guest book with a message for the bride and groom.
- Leave a take away. Provide the caterers with disposable containers in which they can put the excess food that can be shared with guests before they leave so that food is not wasted.
- Make it entertaining. Nobody attends weddings to hear a lecture. Keep the mood from the “father of the bride” speech to the MC and the music or band entertaining.
- Make it spiritual. A prayer for the newlyweds goes a long way.
I have only scratched the surface. There are so many ideas. What are yours that made a wedding memorable and or simple?