Taste the World with Your Friends
by Susan Montgomery
Several years ago we created a Tasting Around the World dinner group with about ten good friends. We all love cooking and traveling and sharing stories about our travels. This group seemed like the perfect way to combine all those interests.
Perhaps you and your friends would also enjoy this enticing approach to dinner parties. Our “rules” are simple. We meet every 2-3 months and take turns hosting the group. When it is your turn, you choose the country whose food we will explore for the evening and prepare an entrée that is representative of that country. Sometimes the hosts also serve a special cocktail from the region. Other guests bring side dishes that are coordinated ahead of time to accompany the main course.
Since we started this group in 2015, we have savored culinary explorations of many countries, including Spain, Argentina, Morocco, Greece, Polynesia, France, Scandinavia, Canada, Italy, and Chile. One holiday season we even focused on Christmas Around the World. Each evening has been special and sometimes included music and decorations reflecting the country’s theme.
An example is the dinner we recently hosted at our home. Our focus was Japan. Our ties to Japan are deep and based on personal experience. My husband, Todd, was based in Japan with the US Navy many years ago. And more than 20 years ago, Todd and I both traveled to Japan and explored this beautiful country for three fascinating weeks. In addition, my brother is married to a wonderful woman from Japan.
The most challenging part of the evening was setting the table with multiple bowls and plates and glasses for our various courses. Fortunately, we had brought back lots of lovely traditional pottery from Japan and this was the ideal chance to put these precious pieces to good use. So what if a few of the plates had suffered small chips over the years? These plates reflect the unique and lovely Japanese concept of shibui where the beauty of an object may grow over the years and its subtle imperfections add to the artistry of the bowl or plate.
Our evening started with a Sake Lychee Cocktail (recipe at the end of this article) that was a scrumptious accompaniment to the beautifully presented sushi platter brought by a guest. During this cocktail hour, we showed a short film, called “Japan on a Wing” that we had made about our trip to Japan so many years ago. This set the tone for an evening of exploring Japanese cuisine and culture.
After our sushi and cocktails and lots of laughs, the guests adjourned to our table laden with many dishes for multiple courses. We started with traditional miso soup and a refreshing Sunomono cucumber salad. Meanwhile guests enjoyed mellow hot sake, which warmed us all up on a chilly spring night in Southern California. Crisp white wine and Sapporo beer were also drink options — and lots of iced lemon water was on hand.
The main courses were Tonkatsu, a traditional deep fried pork dish, and teriyaki-marinated filet and shrimp kabobs, along with colorful vegetable kabobs, all served to each guest on a traditional Japanese plate with crisp sesame green beans. Of course sticky white rice was also in a small bowl at each place setting.
The dessert was very special and included green tea ice cream, mango and pineapple mochi balls, and homemade coconut and matcha tea cookies. The festive dessert presentation enhanced this last course of our wonderful Japanese meal.
A special touch were the tiny boxes lined with Japanese paper at each guest’s place setting. Todd meticulously created these boxes as favors to take home. We placed a single stone with an inspiring word in each box. During dinner, we went around the table and each person read his or her word and made a few comments about the word. The words encompassed our human experience — such as Trust, Love, Courage, Joy, and Peace. It’s fun to have a conversation starter like this, but our group is pretty vocal without much urging.
You can create your own Tasting Around the World Dinner group. Just make sure that all the participants enjoy cooking and trying different cuisines. You need somewhat adventuresome diners who like to research authentic dishes.
Sake Lychee Cocktail:
The Sake Lychee Cocktail was made with equal parts gin, sake, and limeade mixed with one part lychee liqueur. We dropped a big ice cube and lychee nut into each glass for a special touch. This drink was very popular with our guests and we will serve it again.
Kompai! (A popular Japanese toast meaning “cheers” or “bottoms up” in Japanese
Photos by Todd Montgomery.