IN “BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM,” an Indian mother begs her soccer-mad daughter to learn to cook so she can catch a man. While that movie mom spends hours in the kitchen stirring curries, throwing a party with sub-continental flair doesn’t have to entail lots of prep — or kidnapping a Bombay chef.
One of the easiest ways to throw Bollywood-style bash is to focus on chaat (fried snacks) and other small dishes. “Snacks are an integral part of Indian cuisine,” said Vikram Sunderaman, chef at Penn Quarter’s Rasika. Indique Heights chef K.N. Vinod agreed, “Indians are very fond of munching on some- thing while they are drinking.”
In India, bitty bites — samosas (stuffed savory pastries), chickpea and puffed breads like naan and kulcha— are often served from carts or roadside stalls. Stateside, party- ready snacks and drinks at Indian markets mean you can put together a spicy, exotic spread in less time than it takes to watch a Bollywood movie dance sequence.
“I usually do Mumbai street food parties with prepared foods,” said Rockville, Md., doctor and Indian American Nina Japanwalla. She uses ready-to-stick-in-the-oven stuff like samosas and papad (lentil wafers). Both can be served with jarred chutneys in varieties like cilantro to tamarind. Also popular in India are fried, bagged snacks: channa chor (spicy chickpea flakes), moong dal (salty lentils) and mint lacha (spiced potato sticks). Indian naan and onion kulcha breads, sold both frozen and fresh at area Indian groceries, can also morph into cocktail party fare.
“They’re great when toasted and cut as pita-like chips,” said Ashburn, Va.’s Shirley Taur, who often throws parties where she pairs homemade “chips” with chutneys.
In the drawing rooms of Delhi and the cafes of Bangalore, Indians often sip fruity soft drinks like Limca or bottled lassi, a yogurt libation. Widely available at Indian groceries, these can be iced down in their bottles, or used as mixers with gin or sparkling water.
You could also serve guests Indian-inspired cocktails, like Indique Heights’ Tamarind Margarita,a blend of tamarind pulp, tequila and sour, or a martini spiked with curry leaves and cilantro. Wine, increasingly popular in India, also pairs nicely with spicy nibbles. Try Gerwuztraminer, which stands up to heat and spice.
Since you’re channeling a culture known for its rich pageant of sights, smells and sounds, your party should reflect that: Use child-sized bangles as napkin rings and Indian saris used as tablecloths or wall swags. (Buy both at Chaubara Fashion Studio, 8711 First Ave., Silver Spring; 240-354-2437). “I use incense or candles with jasmine or sandalwood,” said Japanwalla. And to finalize your virtual passage to India, pop a Mumbai film in the DVD or put on a Bollywood CD and start dancing.
(this story originally appeared in the Washington Post Express newspaper)