Desi Dinner Planning: Host a Stress-Free “Dawat-of-the-year”

Have a big dawat coming up? Afraid of judgmental aunties scrutinizing your biryani, serving Nihari gone cold and guest children ruining your table decor? Have no fear! We have some awesome tips for you to host the “Dawat-of-the-year” as you plan your desi dinner.

I’m super excited to collaborate with my talented friend Madiha, from The Prairie Tray, as we bring you the Complete Guide to Plan a Stress-Free Desi Dinner.

So let’s start with the planning!

desi dinner
Complete Guide to Plan a Stress-Free Desi Dinner

The guest list: Invite like-minded people so that the conversation flows easily. But first look at the seating space you have available. Don’t call 20 people when you only have space for 6. Also know thy guests. If your guests are comfortable then have everyone sit together. Otherwise if you have two seating spaces, people will split according to their own preferences (generally mardana/zanana). Count children in the guest list. Little people take more space than we think with their infant car seats, baby bags, area to hang out for older ones (more to come on that later) etc.

desi dinner

You can increase sitting space by adding dining chairs and floor cushions.

The invites:

  • Send out invites well in advance. Make sure to have your complete address, phone number, and parking instructions on the invite. For people who visit my house for the first time, I send a picture of the front of my house so that they can easily spot it.
  • If you live in a condo, access the building once from where the guests will and share the steps with the guests especially buzzer code etc.
  • Ask guests about allergies and any food aversions before hand.
  • Send a reminder a day before about the event.

Menu planning: Plan the menu to give yourself time to make a trip to the grocery store and the halal meat shop. Decide if you want to serve only desi or incorporate a few fusion dishes. This depends on the guest list: adventurous or standard “Roti-salan” fans? Keep four or five dishes on the menu, majority of which can be cooked in advance and frozen. This way you can simply heat them on the day of the event and garnish to look super appealing. Don’t have more than one fried item on the menu unless you want your house smelling like the back alley of KFC. Don’t try a dish for the first time for the desi dinner. Stick to tried and tested ones.

desi dinner

Star Dish: Have one “star” dish that you know everyone will love and that can be the centre point of your spread. A few great ideas are roasted raan (leg of lamb), Biryani, Nihari or Haleem.

A few example menus:

  1. Bombay Biryani + Kebab + Raita + Salad + Vegetable Pasta + Chicken Kerhai + Naan
  2. Roasted Raan + Baked Potatoes + Matar Pulao + Fried Fish + Kebab + Salad
  3. Nihari + Naan + Vegetable Rice + Tandoori Chicken + Raita + Salad
  4. Haleem + Naan + Matar Pulao + Kebab + Butter Chicken + Salad

desi dinner

Follow to the bottom of the post for easy recipes.

Potluck: Incase you are having a potluck, don’t let people decide what they will bring. This usually ends up being the most tragic of all parties since the menu is extremely incoherent; you end up with four pasta dishes, a convenient plate of boxed chicken nuggets and three store bought desserts. When organizing a potluck decide on the menu and give people options to pick from (keeping them fair). Be in charge of the main dish yourself. Keep lots of serving spoons handy. And never assign plates/cutlery to a guest. If they come late or don’t show up, you can be in a very sticky situation.

Hosting Children: Hosting little people requires special planning.

  • Check with parents what their children prefer to eat. The following is always a safe bet to be a hit with any group of children: chicken nuggets, cut up vegetables and fruit. Avoid any sugary treats and juice.
  • Keep plastic or paper plates for children
  • Set aside an area for children to eat at. Preferably where they can sit safely and to contain the unavoidable mess. You can place a plastic mat on the floor for the children to sit and eat at.
  • Don’t count on the parents to bring toys for the children. Keep a basket of toys for the children. Blocks, books and lego are a safe choice. Avoid markers (your walls will thank you), scissors and any small parts that can be choking hazards.
  • Before the guests arrive check your TV for child friendly channels, or if you can put YouTube or Netflix on it.
  • Remove anything that you value and might be in the children’s reach. Don’t bet any heirloom to the parenting skills of your guests.

Night before the event:

  • Take out the frozen food and put in the fridge to thaw.
  • Make a nice salad. Chop up all the veggies and put them in a Ziploc bag; this takes up less space in the fridge and leaves you with less Tupperware to put in the dishwasher. Mix the dressing for the salad when the guests arrive.
  • Take out the clothes you and your family plan to wear. Make sure that the matching dupatta is ironed and the dress your child is supposed to wear still fits. Doing all this the night before saves a lot of last minute drama.
  • Cut ginger slices, fresh coriander and lemon slices and put in sealed containers to use for garnishing the food the next day.

Day of the event:

  • Set the table beforehand. Think where every food item will go. Put the bowl/serving tray in its spot and add a sticky note in the middle with the name of the dish.
  • Empty your dishwasher
  • Make space in the coat closet
  • Leave all last minute preps and get ready an hour before your guests arrive. That way even if you are running late you will be in a presentable state to receive guests and can involve them.
  • Make sure you know where at least one empty vase is. One guest is bound to bring flowers.
  • Check the powder room or any washroom the guests will use. Make sure there is a hand towel and soap (also a lota!)
  • Don’t use your bedroom as dumping ground for the extra living room stuff. People might need to use your room to pray, nurse a baby or change a diaper.


  • Set the mood with some great music. Keep it upbeat and classy. Coke Studio is a great choice
  • Flowers always brighten up a room
  • Light some fragrant candles (helps to whisk away the smell of a desi dinner).

Add Ons : Chatnis, Achar and Raita enhance the desi dinner experience.

Drinks: If you decide to serve fizzy drinks, don’t forget to keep plain water also. All that spicy food, makes people thirsty. You can add some lemons, cucumbers and mint to plain water for an interesting twist.

Dessert: For many people dessert is the highlight of the desi dinner party. This is a topic for a whole new blog post. The great thing about desserts is that most can be made a day before. Do keep healthier options like fruit if possible.

desi dinner

Entertainment: While it is natural for any large gathering to get split into sub groups because of different interests, it is important for the host to ensure that there are no wallflowers. Try to engage all guests in the conversation. Introduce people by mentioning their interests. A designated person to entertain the kids usually frees up adults to enjoy the evening. If budget allows hire a babysitter for two hours or put on a movie for the kids. If it’s an adult only party, you can suggest a game like Mafia or Dumb Charades, however go with the mood of the group.

Heating the food: Desi/South Asian food is usually best served hot. It’s always a challenge to keep the food warm, especially in the cold winter days. If you have chafing dishes, they are great for keeping the food consistently warm. If you don’t have enough chafing dishes, you can keep the food in pots and warm on the stove till right before serving. If you have an especially good looking pot you can serve right out of that! Be creative!

Serving: Don’t get flimsy paper plates to serve Nihari. If you do want to go the paper plate route, then get some bowls for gravy items. Bowls provide insurance for your fabric sofas and convenience for guests.

Chai/Green Tea: Set up a station for Chai/Green Tea. That way guests can help themselves whenever they feel like tea.

desi dinner chai station

Leftovers: Keep ziplocks handy to pass on leftovers to guests or freeze it for later.

Desi Dinner Recipes:

Here are some easy recipe ideas for a great dinner.

(Disclaimer: I was a brand ambassador for Shan Foods from Oct 2016 to March 2017 and this is a sponsored post. All opinions are however my own)

Bombay Biryani

This is really a winner of a recipe and takes one big stress out of your way. Using the Shan spice mix for Bombay Biryani makes the cooking super easy and the results guaranteed to get you many compliments!

These are all the ingredients needed along with the meat (I don’t find raw meat too appetizing to photograph!). So simple!

bombay biryani ingredients

The recipe is easy-to-follow and right at the back of the box for your convenience! I use a rice cooker to make the boiled rice.

Checkout this pot of yummy Bombay Biryani. Serve with Raita (plain yogurt + salt + chopped cucumbers + coriander).

desi dinner bombay biryani


Master this grand dish with the ease of Shan Nihari spice mix and make your dinner menu shine! Recipe here.

Roasted Raan (leg of lamb)

  • 1 mutton leg
    1 tbsp garlic
    1 tbsp ginger
    2-3 tsp flaked red chillies
    1 tsp salt
    2-3 tsps Shan Tandoori masala
    1 tsp black pepper
    1 tsp garam masala
    1 tsp cumin powder
    1/4 cup lemon juice
    1 1/2 cup yogurt
  • Mix all of the above ingredients and marinate the raan (leg of lamb) in it overnight. Put raan in an oven bag and bake at 400 for 3 hours. Serve with a side of potatoes and fresh salad.

Butter Chicken:

Checkout this video for the delicious recipe


Hope you have a great time planning your desi dinner! Do share what are some of your favorite hacks!

49 thoughts on “Desi Dinner Planning: Host a Stress-Free “Dawat-of-the-year”

      1. Love the post. I usually don’t have time to read long blogs but as I was reading it was making me more Curious(like George) for what next. Like I I am doing Eid party at house and I’m planning for that so it helped me I really like chai set where have you bought it from?

  1. Your post just made hosting dinners/ parties so easy & fun. So want to try your ideas :)). With three little kids, it always seemed so nightmarish ?
    Thankyou for sharing the post

  2. Always love your simple and practical.your passion to keep alive everything desi be it food,the life style or language while living away from home is really apreciable.

  3. Well for me setting up table a day before is a great help. Also, desserts prepared 2 days before are chilled to the core when served. Green chattni, fried brown onions for nehari and the garnishing platter can we preped a day before. Shami kababs can always be fried in the afternoon and then reheated before serving.
    Incase of not having dishwasher..what I’d like to do is take a big plastic box and put in all cutlery and dirty dishes to be be cleaned later rather than cluttering the whole kitchen.

  4. Amazing post! Hosting parties have always been a nightmare but hopefully not after reading this post Alhamdulillah:)))

  5. “Take out the clothes you and your family plan to wear. Make sure that the matching dupatta is ironed and the dress your child is supposed to wear still fits. Doing all this the night before saves a lot of last minute drama.”

    I don’t know why I love this point! 😀 Usually at the last minute such things make you go crazy lol. Wonderful pointers!

  6. This does not sound de-stressing. The list is quite long and seems like it needs weeks of planning. Typical desi dinner which needs to change when living abroad.

  7. Best post with very helpful and brilliant ideas.JazakAllah khair. Thank you very much.

    1. Most non-rice ones do, especially nihari, nihari etc. Garnish with fresh coriander and sliced ginger 🙂

  8. i need some idea regarding the food which i serve on my baby 1st birthday party.the event is a mix gathering which have old one diabetic n heart patient includes other than childrn n young ones

  9. Thanks for this!!! I have a dinner this coming Friday and was not sure about the menu! Love this post!

  10. That chocolate dessert (trifle?Mousse?) looks really good! Can you please post the recipe?

  11. I’m hosting my first dinner gathering ever. And I’m happy I came across this. Thank you. Very useful tips ❤

  12. Excellent post. I think you nailed everything that goes into the planning of a desi dinner party.

  13. Hi, these images are really amazing & mouth watering 🙂

    Do share more recipes about making Pakistani cakes (i.e. cakes mostly liked by Pakistanis)..
    Best of luck !!

  14. Thanks tamania i have a dawat tomorrow came here round this really useful. Thanks

  15. Thanks for the ideas. Question: Is for salan/”estew” type of recipes, is beef better or goat? I find Beef (even Grade A) quite tough and not as flavorsome in Canada but I am reluctant to cook with goat (because I never have!). What beef is nice and soft to use?? Thanks!

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