Let’s have a party

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Right now I’m packing up the final details for Jack’s sister’s bridal shower occurring in Oklahoma this Saturday. Planning this shindig from California means that I need to be on top of my game. As I make up the shopping lists and action plans for the 72-hours leading up to party time I’m reminded of another fete that we threw in Vietnam leading up to the celebration of Tet, Vietnamese New Year, this past February.

Our home in Saigon has a terrific riverfront location. Right across the street from us and running adjacent to the river are large cafe patios that fill up every night with cheerful people laughing, drinking coffee or beer and noshing popular Viet cafe snacks. The atmosphere was relaxed and convivial. The location was beyond convenient. So that’s where we had our little party for fifty folks to happily ring in the New Year.

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The caterer. She and her small staff setup their kitchen (a frying wok and boiling pot) in our garage and cooked up each course on the spot before it was run twenty feet across the street to our party patio full of hungry happy guests.

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A typical Viet meal will have 5-7 courses of which one is nearly always a hot pot of seafood. All dishes are served family-style in the middle of the table. These shrimp puffs made from rice flour and noodles were part of the first course of small bites. Oh, boy. Coming right out of the oil they were so fragrant and delicious!

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One of my mom’s tips for party-throwing is to do one thing a little different than the norm.

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So, Leah and I put together a Western buffet spread of appetizers—charcuterie and cheeses—and served classic martinis before dinner.

And instead of the typical disposable wetnaps we served each guest a fragrant, chilled wet hand towel prior to beginning the meal—a small but classy touch.

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We started out with wine and beer (the most popular Viet beverage next to coffee) and ended with a bottle of Cognac on every table.

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Simple, cheerful Gerbera daisies in a slim vase complement the floral pattern on our china.

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A standard condiment for every Viet table is a little dish of a salt and pepper mix with limes and chiles. When you’re ready to eat you squeeze the lime juice over the salt/pepper mix to make a paste that you can dip (usually parboiled chicken) into.

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The most common, and frankly refreshing, dessert is fresh fruit. After so many courses of delicious fare you will be stuffed to the gills. Anything heavier than fresh fruit will put you into a coma.

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And finally, the essential element to a successful outdoor party, the pièce de résistance: the mosquito coil.

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