Sometimes a little game is just what the doctor ordered.
A passport party is my best prescription for those times when you want to be sure your guests mingle and your food dazzles.
You pick the countries and the food. Your guests try to match them together.
Present every guest with a passport when they arrive. Unlike most new passports, this one will already be filled with stamps.
Over the course of the evening, you unveil each dish and give it a number. Your guests must decipher the stamps and guess which food item belongs to which country.
Planning I – The Food
For this party, you need food that is easy to prepare and serve. Small or one bite items are best, since you want guests to try everything without filling up too early.
There are a lot of recipe resources to help you out on this one, but something organized by country is best. I consulted Plates to Share, which has whole menus of appetizers and small bites organized by country or region.
Epicurious‘ Around the World in 80 Dishes is definitely worth a look. Just make sure that any dishes you choose are easy and can be served in one bite pieces (i.e. nothing too amorphous like berry pie or chickpea curry).
Planning II – The Winner
Offer some kind of prize for the person who first guesses everything correctly.
At my party, the winner got to cut the cake (as if it was their birthday) and take home the extra pieces of chocolate-y goodness.
The prize can be food or wine related, like a special dessert or bottle of wine. Or it can be some completely random novelty item. Cruising the toy aisles at a store like Walmart or Target always turns up highly amusing (yet inexpensive) prize options.
Planning III – The List
I originally brainstormed about twenty-five countries and associated dishes (email me if you want the whole list with recipe links).
I knocked out some because they were too time consuming, others because they were too heavy, and some because I just couldn’t find the passport stamp.
Here is what I served:
Karantita – baked chickpea custard
Empanaditas – bite-sized, chorizo-filled, savory pastries
Crudités – french breakfast radishes with homemade mayonnaise
Paneer Pakoras – fried cheese bites breaded with chickpea flour
Godoh – fried bananas with rice flour and coconut batter
Tofu Dengaku – miso glazed tofu sticks
Quesadillas – with black beans and poblano peppers
Pimientos de Padron – pan-fried peppers with sea salt (not as spicy as you’d think!)
Devil’s Food Cake – rich chocolate cake with pudding frosting
Prep – The Passports
A passport cover is also pretty easy to find online. I took the U.S. passport cover and adapted it to say “United World of Food.” Feel free to steal it.
I tried to make mine looks as much like the set-up of an actual U.S. passport as I could (without using up all my printer ink), but you don’t need so much formatting to get the point across.
To assemble the book, put everything into word or PowerPoint as shown below. (If you are lucky enough to have access to an actual layout program like InDesign, that’s even better.
Execution – The Party
When guests start trickling in, hand out the passports and explain the idea.
Until you reach a critical mass, don’t set out any food. Half the fun is for the guests to guess which country the stamps belong to. Let them mingle and get some drinks for a bit, and once nearly everyone has arrived, bring out a few dishes.
You want to start out with about a third or the dishes and then bring the rest out one or two at a time with five minutes or more in between. Let everyone know that there is a new dish, and give everyone a chance to try it and make notes before moving on.
Don’t say the names of the dishes
Often, mentioning the name of a dish can be a huge give away as to what country it belongs to. Ask your guests to try to keep this information to themselves as well. Because who wants to help the competition?
Don’t answer questions!
If you can help it. It is a host tendency that can be hard to squelch. If you do hand out any clues, make sure that everyone at the party is privy to the information so it doesn’t look like you are playing favorites.
Ban cell phones
Intrepid players may turn to their iPhones or Blackberries to try to get a leg up on the competition using the god-like power of Google search. Nip this in the bud by announcing a no cell phone rule when you bring out the first dish.