Planning a Desi Dawat

The urdu term Dawat literally means invitation and is commonly used for invitation to a feast . In other words, it usually refers to a dinner party at home, though you can have a lunch dawat too.

The term desi is colloquially used for people from the Indian subcontinent (Indians/Pakistanis/Bangladeshis) .

Planning a desi dawat here in the US or other western countries is slightly different from planning one in India or Pakistan as we usually don’t have any household helpers or cooks here. Hence, it requires some meticulous planning, unless of course if you choose to get food catered from a restaurant or caterer. You can also choose to have a potluck to lighten the load and still have a fun time with friends and family.

One week before the dawat

Decisions Decisions Decisions !

Decide the guest list

While deciding the guest list it is important to keep in mind some points like:

  • How many people can you comfortably cook for ?

If you have multiple dishes in the menu you can make small quantities of every item but you will still need to make things like rice in bigger quantities so that everyone is covered. Do you have big enough cooking pots and pans ? Do you feel confident handling large quantities of food ?

  • Do you have enough seating arrangement ?

Usually, in desi dawats men and women sit separately, either in different rooms if you have space or different areas of the same room / backyard. Young kids usually switch between their Moms and Dads while older ones prefer to be in a separate room.

If you don’t have enough sofas and dining chairs you can consider buying, borrowing or renting some folding chairs. For kids you can simply put some cushions if you have carpets.

  • Will all the guests get along together ?

I believe that for a memorable dawat the conversation is as important as the food and ambience. To keep the conversation flowing pleasantly make sure that the guests will get along well. For instance, if you know that most of your guests will prefer to speak in urdu/hindi except for that one friend who cannot speak/understand the language it might be better to invite him or her some other time so that he/she doesn’t feel uncomfortable.

Decide day and time

Most of us prefer to have dawats on Fridays, Saturdays or the day before a holiday so that everyone can stay till late night without any stress of waking up for school or work the next day. Even if the dawat is for a special occasion such as a birthday or anniversary, most people prefer to have it the following weekend. The only exception that many people make is perhaps for Eid.

Its best to specify a time as well since dinner time varies from one family to another. In my family we usually specify the time as after maghrib salah (evening prayer) or after isha salah time (night prayer) if isha is not too late.

As soon as your dawat date is decided, try to call up your friends so that you can finalize your guest list according to their availability.

Decide the menu

If its a small gathering and you are aware of the likes and dislikes of your guests, then the task of planning a menu becomes much simpler. However, if its a larger gathering you need to try and come up with a menu in which everyone can find at least a couple of items which will appeal to his/her taste buds.

I prefer to go with my tried and tested recipes rather than trying anything new on dawat day. Its also advisable to be aware of any food allergies among guests in order to prevent cross contamination or avoid the ingredient altogether to be safe.

Here is a sample menu for a typical non vegetarian desi dawat. Of course, you can always add or subtract items according to your convenience. For instance, in my family we prefer to serve dinner and drinks directly rather than have appetizers before starting the main meal but you can always choose to have some light appetizers/soups.

  • One rice dish – This can be any kind of pulao (with or without meat) such as Matar Pulao, Vegetable Pulao, Afghani Pulao, Shahjahani Pulao or the ever popular Biryani (Chicken/Mutton/Beef).
  • One Mutton Curry / Beef Dish – You can choose any type of mutton saalan (curry/gravy) such as Korma, Mutton Karahi or Mutton Do Pyaza which can be eaten with naan or pulao. Instead of mutton you can also go for Beef Haleem, Nihari or Qeema.
  • One Chicken Curry – You can choose between dishes like Butter Chicken, Karahi Chicken, Chicken Korma, Murgh Musallam or any similar dish. A general rule of thumb is that if your mutton curry is tomato based your chicken curry should ideally be yogurt based and vice versa.
  • One grilled/fried dish – In this category you can have Tandoori Chicken/Chicken Tikka, Fried Chops, Raan Roast, Seekh Kababs, Shami Kababs (can be conveniently frozen days in advance) and the likes.
  • One vegetable dish – Some popular vegetarian choices for dawats include Matar Paneer, Palak Paneer, Baghare Baingan, Mixed Vegetables, Matar Mushroom.
  • One Seafood Dish (Optional) – You can have any kind of fish curry (boneless preferred for dawats), shrimp curry , fried fish, baked salmon. I prefer to have mild tasting fish for dawats rather than those with strong taste and smell as not everyone prefers those. Also, make sure to light those candles after cooking !
  • One Kid Friendly / Non Desi Dish (Optional) – If your guest list includes a lot of young kids you can consider adding something like Pasta , Lasagna, Chowmein or even store bought pizza.
  • Naan – If you have a desi restaurant nearby and someone from the household can make a last minute run to grab some fresh naans you can order some. You can ask the restaurant to cut the naans in half or quarters as they are quite large or can do it yourself at home. You can keep the naans in their foil packaging in your switched off oven until its serving time. Alternatively, you can get frozen naan from your desi grocery store and warm them in your oven just before dinner time.
  • Raita/Chutney – Traditional mint raita is a must have accompaniment for any kind of biryani. Other kinds of raitas include Boondi raita, Beetroot raita , Cucumber-tomato raita. You can also have Green Chutney or Tamarind Chutney to serve with kababs and tikkas.
  • Drinks – Apart from sodas you can choose to have punches or mocktails like Saudi Champagne or Virgin Mojito, especially during summer.
  • MiscellaneousDesis love their chai (Indian tea) after dinner. Green tea can also be served instead of chai. Sweet Saunf (fennel seeds), supari, mints can be served after dinner in a pretty little platter.

Three days before the dawat

Shop for groceries

Once you have decided the menu make a list of all grocery items and try to do your grocery at least 2-3 days in advance. For larger gathering its most convenient to use disposable plates, bowls, cups, cutlery and napkins, so make sure you add them to your list. For certain items like salad it might be better to get them on dawat day if someone in the household can make a last minute trip to the grocery store.

Deep clean the house

Its best to deep clean the house 3-4 days in advance so that you don’t end up running like a headless chicken on dawat day 🙂

One day before the dawat

Most desserts can be made a day ahead . In fact, many of them such as Crème Caramel taste even better the next day.

For grilled items, marinate the meat a day before. Kababs and koftas can also be shaped a day before and can simply be fried, baked or grilled at the last minute.

Most mutton gravies such as Korma as well as Qeema can be made and refrigerated ahead of time. I don’t prefer making chicken in advance though as it tends to develop an unpleasant smell . You can fry onions in advance if you plan to make Chicken Korma.

If you are making Mutton or Beef Biryani you can prepare the meat one day in advance and simply boil and layer rice for dum before guests arrive.

Dawat Day

Rise and shine as you get things ready for the evening. Start off the day by getting the gravy dishes ready. Keep the rice and frying or grilling for last but do keep enough time on hand to clean up everything and get ready before guests arrive. Light up some scented candles and switch on the vent to remove any cooking odors. You can also simmer some citrus peels, cinnamon, cloves and vanilla on the stove to make a natural air freshener.

Last but not the least, have a smile on your face when you greet your guests. You might have the most delicious food ready but if you are stressed out you run the chance of ruining the entire party. Have fun with everyone!

If you have additional tips to plan a stress free desi dawat please share it in the comments section below.

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