Images by Ema Walters
Growing up in a Middle Eastern household, I was taught how to host guests from age nine. My mom would make tea, and it was my responsibility to set the table and arrange a fruit platter with sweets for our guests.
Once the tea was steeped I would have to pour it into matching glass mugs, put them on a tray with a bowl of cubed sugar, and walk around the room offering a glass to each guest. Elders were served first (I always started with my grandma because she was the most important person in my eyes) and then residents of the household and hosts were served last. My mom would spend all day, and sometimes even the day before cooking this feast, and when we would commence eating her love and hard work was evident in each and every bite.
This kind servitude for women has definitely flown out the window for the majority of western society, and although I am evermore relieved by this, I still do make the choice to, and take pleasure in, hosting guests in my home. I take a lot after my mom and the biggest commonality is in our love for cooking. If I’m being totally transparent, I think what actually brings me pleasure in cooking for others, is seeing them enjoy the food, and in some weird twisted way that makes me feel needed. It’s all a big ploy to trap people into my life.
Nonetheless, a love for cooking and for hosting others isn’t something that comes natural to everyone. I realized this recently after having a few friends over in the summer and one of them wondered why I had made food for everyone, he thought he might have forgotten it was some sort of special occasion. I explained to him that as a part of hosting people in my home, having food and drinks prepared for them is a cordial thing to do.
As someone who had recently moved into their own place, my friend wanted to know more. “So, how did you make the guacamole… and why is it served in this decorative bowl?” I was happy to hear that only a week later he took on the role of host and served guacamole in a bowl that wasn’t normally used for cereal.
It’s easy to rally up a group of people at a bar or restaurant, but let’s say that you’re now at a point in your life where you’ve made a home for yourself (it’s called nesting btw), and you feel really good about it. You should! You bought a couch, and it’s not second hand! Show that shit off, you deserve to. You’re just a liquor cabinet shy of being a well-rounded adult. So why not give hosting a try?
I asked my mom what she would list as her rules-of-thumb for hosting in the home; these tips are the backbone of the whole operation. I went in and filled in the blanks with some new-generation tips and tricks, so here’s a quick how-to on feeding your friends and feeling needed.
“You have to prepare something everyone loves.”
Invite your friends! Get that group chat going, tell them the day and time, and let them know if they can expect drinks and snacks, a full blown dinner, or dessert.
Now that you’ve sent out that group text, let’s set up a theme. I find it easier to set up a theme, or mood if you will, as this will help you keep your night well rounded. I love a Mandarin-style buffet as much as the next person, but unless you’re pairing sweet and sour chicken on top of spaghetti bolognese, then on top of jello, do your palette a favour and keep the dishes complimentary to one another.
Seeing as my mom is Turkish and she’s at the heart of this whole article, I’m going to use Turkish Mezes as an example. Meze is the Middle Eastern word for “a selection of small dishes served to accompany alcoholic drinks”. In layman’s terms, appetizers. Now who doesn’t love a dinner made up of appetizers?
If you’re stumped on what falls under your theme’s food category, hit up Google and see what recipes come up. After a little research you notice that all the images with Turkish Mezes show bread next to the dish. So you’ve got the list of appetizers you’re going to make, the recipes set up, and you now know to serve with bread.
“Bulk food stores have the best deals, butchers have the freshest meat, and produce shops have the freshest produce. Shop no more than one day in advance so everything stays fresh.”
Hit up your grocery store of choice and make a run to the LCBO (alcohol is always always optional, but wine is a “nice-to-have” accompaniment). Consult Google’s recipe results and throw all the items listed out on the page into your shopping basket.
“You have to make your guest comfortable, happy, and full. So clean your house. Most important thing is to impress.”
Prep your space! Remember, you just moved into your first solo apartment and you got a new couch. Show it all off with complimentary tidiness, maybe even get a bundle of *fresh* flowers for the table. One thing that’s good to consider is the amount of people you’ve invited vs. the number of seats you have. If you have more guests coming than your couch can handle, then bring in your office chair to the living space or you could even grab some throw blankets folded up to put on the floor for more of a ~*boho vibe*~. If you really want to get into it, light some candles 5 minutes before your guests are scheduled to arrive.
“I do my cooking then clean up the kitchen.”
Start cooking good looking! Follow those recipe finds the best you can. Here’s an insider tip: buy an extra beer or two during your LCBO run so you have something to sip on while you cook.
You’re nearly done the cooking. You just have one last item cooling in the fridge or baking in the oven. What to do while you wait? Clean up the kitchen and go get ready! Shower, do your hair, put on your LBD, or LBP (little black pants).
“Some Turkish food is served cold so you can prepare in advance, but some you have to cook at the last minute, like shrimp. You can make a potato salad in advance, but a green salad should be done last minute.”
There is a plate, platter, dish, bowl, spoon, utensil, tool, for every type of food or item you can imagine. You’ve upgraded from your standard four-piece white china set from IKEA and you now have some irregular shaped bowls that are too small for cereal; you have plates that are long, shallow and need to be held with two hands; you even have a silver tray your grandma gave you in the hopes that you would one day serve tea to your future in-laws one-by-one.
Assess your foods, and make a proper match with a dish. Always put out enough portions based on the number of guests; if you are a keener and made even more, then it’s a good idea to leave some extras in their original cooking container and add to the serving dish once it’s emptied or running low.
One more thing, timing of the plating is crucial! Try not to do this too far in advance of your guests arriving. I recommend doing this as they arrive so that 1) they see the effort you’re putting in and will immediately adorn you with compliments and 2) none of the hot dishes get cold or stale while waiting to be eaten. Remember the surprise attack by the bread? If you have bread to serve this should wait to get cut until you are in the process of serving the food. No one likes stale bread. Except for pigeons.
Last but not least, eat, drink, live, love, laugh, be merry.
Have a good time and don’t stress too much about the food. If you picked out some good friends, they won’t judge you for your mistakes but rather they’ll congratulate you on your triumphs of adulting.
Photos by Ema Walters
Set Dressing by Dani Reynolds
Props by Shayda Omidvar
Shayda Omidvar is a freelance producer, a romantic, and an over-sharer living in Toronto with her rescue dog Prince. You can see more of her work on her website!