There have been many occasions when, instead of hosting a dinner party at home, my husband and I have taken people out to eat. There are some obvious incentives, not the least of which is less prep on my part.
We usually pick somewhere we’ve been before. We are fortunate that Richmond is in a restaurant renaissance. That may sound pretentious…until you go to one of the amazing eateries popping up like yummy mushrooms and try the chef’s take on soft- shell crab, fried green tomatoes, or tres leche cake. Then you’ll say, “That’s not pretentious, that’s delicious!”
When hosting we make it clear it’s our treat. If the guest offers to pick up a round of drinks or the tip, I think it’s OK to accept graciously. If they don’t, that’s OK too. Guests should not feel obligated. The only thing I absolutely cannot abide is a tussle over the bill. My husband’s family has mastered this sport. One relative literally ripped a bill in half trying to wrestle it from my husband. Frankly, I would have given it to her gladly! And I’m not talking about the bill. But I digress.
I think hosts should offer to drive and be mindful of their alcohol intake. If a guest has a compelling reason to drive, I think that’s all right too and the offer should be gratefully accepted. It’s a funny thing, when people hear I’m supposed to drive they become very keen on providing the transportation themselves. I’ve been known to back into things.
If possible, we make reservations to prevent a wait. Needless to say, everyone should do their best to be on time. There is nothing more stressful than chasing a reservation at a popular place because your guest wasn’t ready. If there is no emergency, there is only one reason for keeping people waiting. And that is because you’re a jerk.
I often see complaints in etiquette columns from hosts whose guests have ordered expensive entrees. I don’t quite get this. I assume that if my hosts have invited me to a restaurant, they can afford to feed me. I don’t think it would be polite to order a take home meal for the babysitter, but if it’s on the menu it’s fair game. No pun intended. Same for drinks and various courses.
Unfortunately we have hosted guests at restaurants where the service is bad. Although the host has no control over this variable, I always feel awkward about bad service, as if I were the one holding things up. What does one do? You don’t want to bring attention, but it gets to that awkward point when everyone is hungry. It’s like an elephant in the room that you wish were on your plate. On one occasion when the drinks hadn’t shown up after 45 minutes, we got up and left. I think the arrival of drinks is a pretty good gauge. Besides, after a round of drinks you don’t care as much. Another telling sign is if very few diners have food in front of them.
If the actual food is not up to a guest’s standards, I think they should just grin, chew, and bear it. After all, you can’t beat the price. I feel it’s rude to criticize a free meal. That’s happened to me several times and I’m always taken aback by it. To me it’s the same as criticizing a gift. It’s all right to politely send something back that’s the wrong order or woefully undercooked. But to compare food unfavorably to other restaurants, or even home-cooked meals, is insulting to the hosts. What’s the point? Keep it to yourself, or better yet find something you can complement, like the company.
What finishes off the meal best is a heartfelt thank you; from the guests for the meal, and from the hosts, for the fellowship. Even if everything sucked, at least you didn’t have to shop, cook, or clean. That is something to be thankful for.
Thank you for visiting.
My trip to Kuwait coincides with Ramadan. I won’t even attempt to explain this observance from a religious or historical perspective because I don’t have the appropriate knowledge. But here’s what it’s like for an American, who is not Muslim, visiting Kuwait during this major religious observance.
Ramadan lasts a full a cycle of the moon, which is about 30 days. Ramadan moves earlier by ten days every year. This means Ramadan is experienced in every season. You cannot eat or drink anything (including water) from sunup to sundown. All restaurants are closed until sundown. There are exceptions to the fasting requirement such as pregnant women, the elderly, the infirm, and children. However, even those with exceptions are expected to eat and drink in private so as not to disrespect those who are fasting. This is also true of people who are not Muslim. No one is going to come after you for eating or drinking in private during Ramadan. However, I met one American woman who was pulled over because an officer saw her drinking water in her car during the day. She was given a strong rebuke and sent on her way.
The fast is broken at sundown with what is called Iftar or Futoor. This is analogous to a Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings, but for 30 days straight! So far I’ve been to an extended-family futoor and a futoor that celebrated the birth of a baby. Tonight my hosts celebrate futoor in their home with friends of their own age.
Futoor dishes are both savory and sweet. Spices, and combinations of spices, are as important as the protein, vegetable, or starch on which they ride. You’ll find cardamom, clove, cinnamon, saffron, rose water, allspice, mace, black pepper, white pepper, and bay leaf. Most of these spices are used in both savory and sweet dishes.
Lamb and beef are popular in futoor dishes and fancy rice is ubiquitous. According to the dietary laws of Halal, animals must be raised and killed humanely. I have yet to eat plain white rice in Kuwait, and haven’t missed it. There are a variety of sauces, many of which are yogurt based. Along with olive oil and various vinegars, I’ve also found good old hot sauce on most tables. Regardless of the many explanations I’ve been given, I’m still not sure what goes with what. But it all seems to go together just fine.
There are a number of desserts associated with Ramadan, one of which is Lugaimat; fried dough balls soaked in saffron-sugar syrup. But there is one treat in particular that everyone rhapsodizes about and eagerly anticipates. It’s called Kunafa. Every family has its own recipe, but basically it’s really good soft cheese (think mozzarella), wrapped in sweet thin noodles (think vermicelli), deep fried, sprinkled with pistachios, and drizzled in honey. It is cheesy goodness from heaven, regardless of your religion.
There is also a version of trick-or-treat in Kuwait during Ramadan called Gerggian. Children dress up in traditional costumes and go from door to door in their neighborhoods. They sing songs, beat drums, and are given goo gobs of candy and treats. Remember when you were a kid and there was that one neighbor who gave out full-sized candy bars at Halloween? EVERY house is like that during Gerggian in Kuwait. Kuwaitis are crazy about their kids. Gerggian goes on for two or three consecutive nights. Some families hire a horse and carriage for Gerggian. My hosts’ two-year-old boy has been saying, “BIG WHITE ‘ORSE!” for the past week.
During Ramadan in Kuwait, many of the businesses will be open in the morning, close down about noon, and then re-open after sunset. Kuwait City comes alive at night and it’s a little weird for me to sit in traffic jams after midnight that have nothing to do with a sporting event or concert. You see young children running around at full tilt long past what we would consider a normal bedtime. But that’s what’s great about traveling to places with different cultures; you get the chance to rethink your definitions.
Kuwaiti women always dress up in public, but during Ramadan they wear gorgeous outfits that look like museum pieces. I feel mighty shabby in my tourist gear, but there’s no way I could pull off one of these outfits, nor am I expected to.
Well, it’s time to start prepping for tonight’s futoor. Not only are my tourist outfits shabby, they’re also getting pretty tight around the waist.
Thank you for visiting,