You know what I never love about a potluck get-together? How unluckily a whole bunch of misfit dishes seem to be combined, sharing a buffet together for absolutely no apparent reason. Know what I mean? Aunt Susie’s fruit quesadillas next to Laura’s grandmother’s beef and sauerkraut casserole, all tied together with cousin Greg’s latest creation — homemade sushi.
So, being the controlling-for-a-very-good-reason hostess that I am, I've found a a solution that combines the fun of a potluck — everyone bringing something — with just the right theme to make the meal cohesively work: a geographically-focused potluck get-together. To show you how it's done, let me take you on one of my favorite tasty tours where North Africa-meets-Southeast Asia.
Planning Your Potluck
You can choose any region you like. I suggest picking one that will appeal to your guests’ palettes, yet take them somewhere slightly outside their normal recipe file. Send out an email invitation and establish the fun and festive ground rules there. Indicate the theme of your cuisine by limiting it to just one or two regions. Then give the party an appealing name to suggest the theme: Brunch in Tijuana, for example, or French Farmhouse Friday.
Organizing the Menu
One way to maintain some semblance of order at your potluck (i.e., who brings what) is to tell your guests that you’ll provide the drinks and the dessert. They are to bring the mains and the sides. Before you know it, you’re on the road to a delightful destination: party central.
Setting the Scene
If you’re feeling crafty, you can ask guests for the name of their intended dish and make travel postcard-inspired cards for the buffet with a rubber stamp or two, allowing other guests to identify the dish (and its ingredients).
I organized my buffet on colorful, tile-like placemats and displayed silverware in a miniature suitcase I found on sale at Michael’s craft store.
Music is a wonderful tool for adding mood and a sense of place at your party. Look online for some new tunes from local artists, and create a special playlist. It’s a great way to expand your musical horizons!
Don’t forget to finish your culinary tour with a destination-worthy dessert. And it doesn't have to be elaborate. For my North Africa-meets-Southeast Asia party, I served my Tunisian Mint Tea in colorful glasses alongside store-bought Indian sweets I found at a local specialty shop. (Photos courtesy of William Geddes)