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

I’m super excited to collaborate with my talented friend Madiha, aka the goddess of saleeqa (propriety), as we bring you the Complete Guide to Plan a Stress-Free Desi Dinner.

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”.

So let’s start with the planning!

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.

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 dinner. Stick to tried and tested ones.

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

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 corriander 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 the 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 the smell of desi food away).

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.

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.

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


Here are some easy recipe ideas for a great dinner.

(Disclaimer: I am a brand ambassador for Shan Foods. 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!

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 + corriander).

+ Nihari

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

Shan Holiday Consumer Promotion, Buy 3 get 1 FREE

Super excited to share the Shan Holiday Consumer Promotion with you all as you prepare for a big dinner at your place! Featuring the classic Bombay Biryani, spicy Nihari and flavorful taste of Tandoori Masala complete with a FREE pack of mouth-watering Butter Chicken spice mix. So, buy 3 and get 1 FREE! The recipes and menu plans we shared above use all of these. Visit your local desi store and taste happiness with Shan!

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