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No buffet dinners please, we're Indians!

Last updated on: November 29, 2013 14:27 IST

No buffet dinners please, we're Indians!

Divya Nair

In her fourth entry Divya Nair talks about how food served at weddings is avidly discussed and becomes a crucial part of the wedding preparations and memories.

Irrespective of whose wedding you are attending, one of the things everyone looks forward to is food.

We may forget the decor, or what the bride and groom wore, but we will remember how the steamed rice was half cooked, or how the cham-cham made us dance with joy.

When I was a kid, my amma used to tell me of the sweet master who’d come to their house and prepare boondi laddoos, mysore pak and other goodies.

My granny, amma would say, had the extra challenge of ensuring that the sweets were cooked in fresh oil and ghee, and in good hygienic condition. All this was to ensure that our guests never complained about the food served at the mess operated by my grandfather.

Ironically, at my own mother’s wedding one of the two payasams they served disappointed the guests because the consistency was thicker than desired. 

On the other hand, Papa who works as a chef in the banquet department of one of the largest restaurants in Mumbai, would come home and tell us stories of how they goofed up with a particular experimental recipe and made up for it just in time before the counters were opened to guests.

Given his 35-year experience in cooking and supervising menus for thousands of functions, he would mock the tasting session offered by restaurants ahead of booking the caterers.

He said they always served the best at the tasting sessions, but during the actual wedding, the best of caterers ended up making some mistake or the other.

Either the food was not warm enough, or the plates were not clean, as happened at a friend’s wedding where they used steel plates that were being washed and reused.

Personally I wouldn’t complain about any of the above, because one can always return a stained plate and ask for a clean one. But what does one do when a person serves steamed rice with bare hands?

Except for the curry and pickle, which could not have been served without a spoon, everything else was served with naked hands.

At the same wedding, a young guy was assigned the task of dunking both his hands in a vessel of sugar syrup to pick up exactly two gulab jamuns!

Having lost my appetite already, I tried to hide my displeasure by jokingly asking the young boy why he was exerting himself so much when he could have simply used a serving spoon.

The guy said they were short of spoons and were finding it difficult to manage the crowd.

Much as I loved the hospitality of the humble rural folk I met at that wedding -- I even danced to my heart’s content and helped the women in the kitchen that morning -- that was the only wedding from where I returned home with an empty stomach.

Even though I have grown up in a city where weddings are held in restaurants and food is served from counters with people usually standing and eating with a plate in hand, I disapprove of this urban tradition.

Most of the time, I cannot concentrate on the food because my eyes are fixed on the plates of the aunties and uncles who are comfortably seated, wondering when they will leave their chairs for a second helping.

I find it really impossible and annoying to stand and eat while I’m wearing a sari, holding a clutch, and suddenly my phone is ringing.

I always prefer to sit while eating. At my own wedding, I intend to serve my guests while they are seated.

In South Indian weddings we serve our guests on a banana leaf with the choicest of delicacies and after they are done, the discarded leaf is shared with domestic animals who feast on it.

However, in the last few years, I have realised that a good number of people have given up age-old meal traditions and prefer having standing buffet lunches and receptions because it requires less manpower and is apparently, hassle-free.

I know we all love to chit-chat while eating, but would it cost us anything to vacate our seats once we are done eating, particularly if there are fewer seats in the eating area?

If you are reading this and are planning to attend my wedding, I will try, but not promise, that the food will be great.

But I will definitely promise you that you will not have to stand while you are eating.

Don't miss Divya's previous columns:

'I'm finally getting married and you're all invited'

'Have you bought enough gold?'

'Arranged marriage seemed like a box of lies waiting to explode'

Photographs: Uttam Ghosh/