the appetizer:

The Entertaining Encyclopedia by Denise Vivaldo, includes articles and recipes like International Party Themes; Wine and Cheese Parties; Cheese Board with Bread and Cracker Assortment; Oscar Night Party; and Crab and Blue Cheese Bundles.

Cookbook Profile

International Party Themes

by Denise Vivaldo

The Entertaining Encyclopedia


What is it about a foreign accent that makes things sound so much more profound? Who knows, but the same trick applies to party food: if you want to add a certain je ne sais quoi to your party, ponder some international themes that will lend their unique style to the soiree and bring out the excursionist in each of your guests.

Caribbean Cookout

In the Caribbean, it's all about the jerk seasoning—a dry rub that includes allspice, chile peppers, cloves, cinnamon and other spices and herbs. Use it to season pork or chicken for the grill and round the meal out with black beans simmered with spicy sausage, and a medley of cool tropical fruits. Put on island music (reggae is always great) and stir up some mojitos; this one is for friends who like to party.

Mexican Fiesta

With lively cocktails and food that appeals to everyone, a Mexican theme lends itself well to a multigenerational party. If kids are on the guest list, consider setting up burro (or pony) rides and serving assemble-it-yourself burritos or tacos to head off picky eaters. Use a colorful serape as a table runner and draw inspiration from Mexico's vibrant colors for the rest of the decor. Make a variety of dips (salsa, guacamole, queso fundido) to serve with tortilla chips as an easy appetizer.

For a grownups-only Mexican-themed party, see the Mexican Fiesta menu (page 386 of The Entertaining Encyclopedia).

Brazilian Mardi Gras

If you think New Orleans has the corner on Fat Tuesday, then consider Carnival—the four days leading up to Ash Wednesday—in Rio de Janeiro. Inject some Latin flavor into your own celebration by spicing up the menu and putting on the samba music.

Irish Breakfast

Give breakfast or brunch an international flavor with a traditional Irish "fry-up": eggs, sausage, toast, boxty (an Irish take on the potato pancake)—and, if you dare, black pudding.

English Pub

Buy a variety of bottled Brit beers and cook some traditional fare, such as bangers and mash, to complement the brew. Purchase pub coasters from stores like World Market (; extras can be used as party favors.

Spanish Tapas

Why not make a meal of appetizers? Buy some Marcona almonds, Spanish cheeses, olives, roasted peppers and anchovies; make tortilla Espanola and chorizo simmered in wine; and pour a Spanish wine, such as Tempranillo.

For a full Spanish meal, see the Barcelona Bash menu (page 392 of The Entertaining Encyclopedia).

French Countryside

Add interest to any dinner party with a French country theme, which makes for such delicious possibilities as bouillabaisse and crusty baguettes. Carry the theme into the decor with bright linens and pottery characteristic of Provence; Williams-Sonoma ( carries pretty examples of both.

German Beer Fest

You'll find no shortage of great German beers to choose from:

Spaten, Beck's, Warsteiner, Bitburger...the list goes on. Ask your favorite retailer for additional suggestions that will represent a few different styles. To eat, be sure to include sausages with spicy mustard for dipping, pick up soft pretzels from a mall or street vendor, and choose an apple or plum dessert.

For another German-style meal, see the German Feast menu (page 404 of The Entertaining Encyclopedia).

Viennese Desserts

In Vienna, desserts are king. Add that to the city's rich musical heritage, and you have the perfect theme for a postsymphony desserts party. Some items to consider: Sachertorte (a rich chocolate cake filled with apricot jam and glazed with chocolate), linzertorte (an almond- and lemon-crusted tart filled with raspberry jam), plum-topped cakes or tarts, and marzipan-filled candies, such as Mozartkugeln. To drink, hot chocolate or coffee, served in a glass mug, with freshly whipped cream.

Russian Cocktails

For a cocktail party with a Russian accent, set up a blini bar (toppings might include sour cream, caviar, smoked salmon, capers, chives and some less traditional foods, such as sauteed mushrooms or crumbled sausage) and serve chilled vodka. Look for a vodka set that includes an ice container in which individual shot glasses are nestled (try Crate & Barrel; If friends are sticking around for a full meal, make it a cozy fireside nod to Eastern Europe and pair borscht—the popular fresh beet soup—with polmeni (pierogi-like dough pockets stuffed with any combination of cheese, potato, cabbage, sauerkraut and meat).

Italian Pasta Party

The easiest of dinner parties starts with pasta. Round it out with ciabatta, salad, Italian wines and gelato for dessert. You can serve this menu to picky eaters: everyone loves Italian. In fair weather, introduce your guests to the well-loved Italian game of bocce; it helps if you have a flat area in your front or backyard.

For another Italian pasta-centered meal, see the Italian Pasta Party menu (page 398 of The Entertaining Encyclopedia).

Greek Lamb Roast

Whether it's for Easter dinner or otherwise, roast lamb is a special-occasion meal that's just right for welcoming springtime. The Greek version has plenty of garlic and herbs.

See the Grecian Get-Together menu (page 410 of The Entertaining Encyclopedia).

Moroccan Dinner

Use a low table with cushions on the floor and serve the local specialties, such as kebabs, tagine (often chicken or lamb in a spicy stew) and couscous. For dessert, offer mint tea paired with purchased Middle Eastern pastries: honey, orange blossom water and almonds are popular flavors for sweets in Morocco. The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden is a popular source for recipes from Morocco and beyond; it includes Turkey, Greece and Egypt, too.

Indian Dinner Party

Don't be intimidated: You can get takeout and just focus on decor and dessert. Or you can stock up your spice cabinet, get a copy of Madhur Jaffrey's Quick & Easy Indian Cooking, Easy Indian Cooking by Suneeta Vaswani or Complete Curry Cookbook by Byron Ayanoglu and Jennifer MacKenzie and try your hand at cooking delicious vegetable or chicken curries and naan. Set an oversize coffee table for dinner, with floor cushions for your guests. A steaming cup of masala chai, an Indian spiced tea, makes a fragrant accompaniment to dessert.

Thai Food Stalls

In Thailand, a variety of dishes is sold streetside, making for many different tastes. Capturing the flavors and feel of this vibrant scene can be as easy as dialing in takeout: order a variety of dishes, including spring rolls, soup, grilled meat skewers and, of course, a noodle dish such as pad Thai—and then focus your efforts on the decor and presentation. Those inspired to try it from scratch might peruse Quick & Easy Thai by Nancie McDermott or Simply Thai Cooking by Wandee Young and Byron Ayanoglu. Serve Thai coffee, made with spices and sweetened condensed milk, with dessert.

Chinese Banquet

With up to a dozen courses, including dessert, a Chinese banquet is traditionally held to honor a wedding, the new year or another special occasion. It can be held at a restaurant, for cooks who are daunted by the parade of food such a theme entails. You can also prepare some of the food at home and pick up takeout for the rest. Search online to read up on traditional recipes and their related symbolism, and check out Martin Yan's China or one of Yan's other titles, including his contribution to the super-accessible Dummies series, Chinese Cooking for Dummies.

For my five-course take on the tradition, see the Chinese Banquet menu (page 428 of The Entertaining Encyclopedia).

Japanese Teppanyaki

Take the cooking to the table by preparing Kobe beef, shrimp, scallops or chicken and assorted vegetables on a grill in the center of the table (in a well-ventilated room of the book). Round out the meal with fried rice. If you don't have a portable grill, try cooking the food in a grill pan set atop a portable burner, or in an electric wok.


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This page created February 2010