Over the past two years, my husband and I have made some wonderful friends here in Tokyo. As a result, we have been able to have dinner parties on a regular basis, enjoying each other’s company, good food, and a few drinks. After hosting a number of parties, it became clear that we needed to mix things up a little bit.
I happened to be looking at a copy of my Asian Dumplings cookbook by Andrea Nguyen with a friend when he suggested that we have a dumpling party. The basic idea was that guests would bring dumplings to share, and pair them with wine. The idea evolved and we decided to make it a contest! Our guests really came through, providing some amazingly tasty, creative versions of traditional Asian dumplings. Based on our experience, here are some tips to help you throw your own Asian dumpling and wine pairing party:
Send out invites well in advance. Parties like this take time and planning for everyone, including you, so allow 10 to 14 days for guests to scope out recipes and test wine pairings. Use a website (like MyPunchBowl.com) to help you organize your invites and choose fun designs to get everyone in the spirit of the party.
Include contest rules in your invitations. For our party, we required 50 percent of the dumpling recipes to be homemade. None of this picking up frozen dumplings at the store stuff! No sir. But be specific. Can you use store-bought wrappers? Decide how strict you’d like to be and communicate that to your guests.
Plan how the voting process will work. You don’t want a Florida-type situation on your hands, right? (No recounting the ballots!) Before each pairing was served, the guest responsible gave a short explanation of what he or she brought. One rule: you couldn’t vote for your own dumpling or your spouse’s. Everything else was fair game. Allowing guests to introduce their contributions added a fun element to the party and showed how much everyone cared about what they made. From the little lady at the grocery store to inspiration from a foodie friend, everyone had a different and meaningful story for their concoctions.
Decide how prizes will work. As the host, you would be responsible for providing the prize. I gave the winner a copy of Nguyen’s book, Asian Dumplings. Other options are to have guests bring two bottles of wine—one to share and one to put in a bag that is given to the winner at the end of the night. Sending the winner home with a bag of six or so bottles of wine is quite the treat—plus you aren’t left footing the bill for the prize. Everyone chips in!
Keep it “zen.” Rather than buying flowers, I used bunches of Chinese chives in clear glass vases. They are elegant and add a nice Asian feel to the space. And they are cheap! Can’t ask for more than that, right? If you can’t find Chinese chives, use regular chives or other decor-worthy produce. Also, using disposable bamboo dishes (check out www.kitchenware.com for some great selections) and chopsticks is a great way to serve the dumplings while keeping with the Asian theme. We set out cups with chopsticks in them, which was yet another great way to have utensils handy while contributing to the overall decoration.
Keep the cocktails and appetizers light. Since guests may arrive at different times, you should have something available to sip and snack on, but don’t fill everyone up before the contest begins! We served French 75s (champagne, gin, simple syrup, & lemon juice) as an aperitif alongside shrimp wrapped in spring roll wrappers. Perfect finger food.
Pairing can be tricky. Since it is somewhat subjective, many people shy away from coming up with a pairing on their own. Asian food can be particularly difficult for some. Here is some advice: Look carefully at the list of ingredients in the dumplings.
Are they savory? Pinot noir or zinfandel are great for bolder flavors. Spicy? A white rioja or fruity Torrontés can help cut the heat and add a nice contrast. Sauvignon blanc and chardonnays are also great wines to pair with spicy flavors. Is the dumpling fried? Champagne or sparkling sake pair well with fried foods because the bubbly effervescence cuts through the grease.
Our guests all provided white wine, with the exception of one who brought a Chinese wine and mixed it with large granules of sugar and lemon juice. It was a fabulous change of pace (and he and his wife ended up winning the competition!) Whether you choose a traditional wine pairing or something off the beaten path, make sure to think carefully about the dominant flavors in the dumplings and the wine. Ideally, they should not overcome one another and should work together.
Lastly, make sure you have some control over the pacing between servings. Our party moved along quite quickly. Let’s just say that tasting six different dumplings with six wines can catch up with your guests faster than you can say “pot sticker!” So give them a break and keep things going at a relaxed pace.
The last tip? Have fun! As the host of a party like this, you can really relax and spend time with your guests. Especially since most of the food and beverage needs are taken care of for you! If you follow these tips you’ll have a great start to a fabulous party! Add your own flair to the gathering, make sure guests know the guidelines beforehand, and everything will move along swimmingly. Cheers!
Rachael White is the author of the blogs Set the Table and Tokyo Terrace. After four years of living, eating, and entertaining in Tokyo, Japan, she and her family have relocated to Denver, Colorado. Rachael is constantly searching for new ways to make entertaining easier and more interesting for guests in a variety of environments and situations. In addition to food blogging, her recipes have been published in cookbooks including Foodista Best of Food Blogs and Peko Peko: A Charity Cookbook for Japan and in Japan’s Daily Yomiuri newspaper. Originally from Minnesota, Rachael strives to recreate recipes and settings that reflect Midwestern comfort with a modern twist.