Last week I attended an informative event in downtown San Francisco. Located just two blocks from the Westfield San Francisco Centre shopping mall at Powell and Market, New Delhi Restaurant was the location for an educational seminar that focused on Indian weddings explaining both ethnic and religious aspects along with trends in 2011.
I had never been to New Delhi before. Inside I found a long bar that led to the restaurant area set up for a seminar and slideshow.
The event lighting in the presentation area, provided by Exquisite Events and Entertainment, was really gorgeous. It made me go "oooooh" and "ahhhhhh" as I walked in. That day I learned so many new things. For instance I didn't know that 80% of Indian weddings are Hindu ceremonies.
There was a beautiful and colorful table top display complete with a floral chandelier centerpiece designed by Anais Event Design.
Can you believe the table cloth was made of actual peacock feathers? Ranjan said that peacock feathers and vintage Bollywood themes are two of the most popular trends for 2011 Indian weddings.
Gorgeous right? I did a bit of online sleuthing and learned that each autumn, peacocks naturally shed their long and colorful tail feathers. So, for those who might have been concerned that the peacocks are plucked or slaughtered for their feathers they aren't. I guess it's similar to how deer shed their antlers each fall and they grow back in the spring.
This image by Hygraph Invitations and Calligraphy
Highlighting the trend, Hyegraph Invitations and Calligraphy displayed these beautiful purple, teal and gold peacock feather themed wedding invitations.
The bustled chair covers to complete this very stunning table display were provided by Mimi and Company.
The afternoon's seminar was given by Owner and Chef of New Delhi Restaurant, Mr. Ranjan Dey. I thoroughly enjoyed his candid, informative and often humorous presentation. If you are a wedding professional it is helpful to know and understand that cultural differences do exist between a typical American wedding and an Indian American wedding in regards to religion, traditions and menus. He discussed the many different religions of India (Hinduism, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Sikhism and Jainism) and how religion will dictate how certain menues are prepared, something Indian caterers need to be sensitive to. For instance Jains practice strict vegetarianism and do not eat root vegetables because doing so kills the plant. Not every caterer would be aware of this distinction.
He also discussed how there are 28 states in India. I had no idea, nor did I realize that ceremonies, food and language may vary by state. While almost everyone in India speaks Hindi (Hindi is a language while Hindu is a religion), did you know English is the second official language of India? I didn't. In addition there are over 1500 local dialects that vary by both state and region. It was quite fascinating to learn so much about a country I knew so little about.
To Enlarge, Click on the Image. There were lots of other bites to sample like the Barbecued and Spiced Paneer Tikka (top left), Mustard Legume Crisps (bottom left), Five Spice Chicken Pops (bottom right), and Saffron and Cardamom Chicken Kebabs (not pictured).
And then there was the food. Wow. I must confess that 20 years ago I went to an Indian restaurant with a friend. I tried several dishes and didn't like any so I thought I didn't like Indian food. Well, now it make me kind of sad to say that after trying several of the hors d'oeuvres that afternoon I now realize that I love Indian food. That's 20 years of not eating it that I'll never get back :(
Of the dishes featured above the Alu Bonda, spicy potato puff fritters, in the top right corner was my favorite. I could have eaten the entire plate. But I didn't :)
I loved the non-alcoholic "Indian Lemonade." It was a refreshing combination of carbonated lemonade, rose water and pomegranate syrup. It was so delicious I can't wait to have it again. (There's also a version with alcohol.)
My favorite hors d'oeuvre was the Dahi Papre Boat: spices, potatoes, and garbanzos covered with yogurt and tamarind chutney. This was soooooooo good!
And here were two of the most interesting things I learned that day regarding guests at Indian Weddings...
RSVP'ing: Because Indian weddings often have guest lists that range from several hundred to over 1000 guests, it is imperative if you are invited as a guest to RSVP. In a more typical American wedding with 100 to 200 guests it's fairly simple to add an extra table and a dozen extra meals to your catering head count to accommodate those who failed to RSVP. With an Indian wedding not having a complete headcount can mean instead of 800 guests 1100 show up. There is no way a caterer can possibly accommodate 300 extra guests so many of your guests will go hungry. The unfortunate thing is that unless you have set down name cards at the tables for those who have RSVP'd, some of them may end up standing with no place to sit and nothing to eat while those who didn't take the time to RSVP enjoy a seat and food intended for someone else.
I also tried and enjoyed a Chili Cheese Pakora: spiced paneer (a type of cheese), green chili and lentil fritters
Saris: As a non-Indian (female) guest, wearing a sari to an Indian wedding is a welcomed, respectful and appreciated gesture especially when attending a Hindu ceremony even if you don't know which type of sari is most appropriate. Listening to Ranjan describe the appreciation for the effort reminded me of when I went to Paris and was told that to mispronounce a greeting like "Bon Jour" in French is better than correctly pronouncing "Hello" in English. The locals will appreciate the effort even if you don't say something quite right. If you are unsure about wearing a sari simply ask the engaged couple if it would be appropriate to do so. A sari shop, friend familiar with Indian culture and even helpful strangers on the internet can steer you in the right direction when it comes to selecting a suitable sari to wear as a wedding guest.
Barbecued Lamb with Cucumber and Mint
Due to our ethnic diversity here in the United States, it is not uncommon for weddings to embrace two cultures and in doing so, two types of food may be served at the reception. New Delhi specializes in Indian food so if you want a traditional Indian and French, Irish, Japanese or Mexican menu you will want to find an expert in each cuisine to create the best dining experience for your guests. If you want a more interpretive or fusion style dining experience a talented caterer may be able to provide both styles of food you're looking for.
Spinach Paneer with Garlic and Cumin
I also learned that 95% of receptions at Indian weddings are buffet style. Family style is an option but requires 30%-40% more food and labor so the cost rises accordingly. But in Ranjan's opinion the most significant drawback to serving family style is that guests get so caught up in socializing the food sits on the table and by the time they eat, it is often cold. With buffets you don't have this concern, people get their food hot when they're ready to eat.
Tamarind Eggplant Crisp. This looked delicious but I didn't try it because I couldn't eat the "crisp" cracker with my sore tooth. I will have to go back when my dental issues have been resolved and try this.
Dessert was a Chilled Rice Pudding with Alfanso Mango Float
Overall the food ranged from mildly spicy to not too spicy and EVERYTHING I tried was a thousand times better than the Indian food I tried decades ago. Maybe the first restaurant I tried was just bad. Or perhaps my taste has changed over the years. I suspect the first place was simply not nearly as good as the food at New Delhi which I've been told, by other wedding professionals, is the favorite Indian catering company by discerning brides and grooms who want to serve delicious Indian food at their weddings.
There was also a vendor showcase area where my friends and colleagues from Hyegraph Invitations had samples of many, colorful, wedding invitations on display.
That's me with Hyegraph's owners Jacques and Hilda Oksanian. My thanks to Jacques for letting me know about and inviting me to this event. It was so informative and an added bonus is that it was for a very worthy cause with all funds raised that day being donated to Ranjan's non-profit "Compassionate Kitchen" which serves underprivileged youth both in San Francisco's Tenderloin and in New Delhi, India.
So the next time you're in SF and need to take a break and enjoy a great meal I would highly recommend going to New Delhi, trying an Indian Lemonade and some of the dishes I reviewed here. Maybe I'll even see you there :)
New Delhi Restaurant
160 Ellis Street
San Francisco, CA 94102