Let's party--NOT!

Back home, Max and I kept quite the social calendar. Extraverts at the core, we hardly let a week pass without throwing some sort of shindig. Many times, these casual gatherings of close friends happened spontaneously and usually ended up with people crashing at our house. Other times, Max and I planned larger, more formal, extravaganzas.

None of this seemed like work despite the fact that we’d spend many hours preparing in the kitchen. We loved entertaining and felt adept at it. After all, I spent my formative years at my parents’ restaurant and knew how to cook for large groups. Max is naturally attentive and good at making sure people are comfortable. Together, we were like the Mark and Martha Stewart of our friends. But it also helped that we knew our guests well, understood their culinary tastes, and had the phone numbers for caterers on hand if we needed a little assistance.

Since living in Germany, however, we’ve only hosted a few smaller dinners of 10 people or less. During these events, I’ve stuck to the basics—spaghetti dinners or Greek lasagna—meals I’ve prepared a hundred times before, with ingredients I was able to easily locate in the grocery store despite my limited knowledge of German.

But when Max recently came home and said he wanted to invite his entire division over for a party, I tried to talk him out of it.

“Let’s just continue to have small groups over for spaghetti,” I said. “It’s easier this way.”

But Max wanted to do something “special.” Our house boasts a large, enclosed courtyard, which could easily accommodate his coworkers and their families. My husband had visions of hosting an American-style barbeque with all the fixings sometime during the month of June. Before I knew it, invitations went out. The event was etched in stone—quite possibly my tombstone.

Now we have 50 people (30 adults and 20 kids) coming over this Sunday at 5pm. Even though I’ve hosted scores of affairs, I’m freaking over this one. Having only spent six months in this country, I feel completely out of my comfort zone.

With the help of someone who speaks the language fluently, I’ve made arrangements for a tent, tables, chairs, beer taps, wine, and soft drinks to be delivered the morning of the party. Sometime this week, armed with a German-English dictionary, I’ll visit the local butcher for recommendations on cuts and types of meat. Friday night, I certainly won’t be salsa dancing. Instead, I’ll be at the local Globus looking for side dishes, dessert, and condiments.

It may sound like I’ve got things well in hand, but I still have many questions. So, I am turning to those of you who’ve been doing this expat thing a little longer for guidance. HELP!

1. What do you recommend as good grill food, both meats and side dishes? We’re hosting an international group of people and children, so I want to appeal to a broad range of tastes.
2. Can I go to the deli section of a large grocery and pre-order sides like potato salad or kraut? I’ll make a few dishes myself. However, given the large number of people, it would be nice be able to buy a few ready-made items.
3. What about bread? Will a corner bakery accept orders ahead, or should I just go in that morning and clean them out?

Any thoughts, tips, important vocabulary, or encouragement would be greatly appreciated and might even prevent my untimely departure. That's right--my life (and sanity) is in your hands!


Me said...

1. I am not good with the grilling....but Schaschlik...you know , wooden sticks with bell peppers, chicken or beef ect...those are great and you can order them ahead of time at ANY butcher. I usually go with that. Then you can also some sausages good for grilling...the rest I leave for grilling expert.

2. Yes. You can pre-order these things at the grocery store.

4. Yes. The will accept orders and probably appreciate it, since a lot of people do the grilling and partying these days. You can definitely go and let them know what you need and what time you will be picking it up.

Jill said...

You can't go wrong with kebabs of any kind... chicken or meat. Large pieces of meat marinated for a day or two, thrown on skewers work well for BBQ's. I keep vegetables separate - and you can cut them up in large chunks add olive oil and garlic and italian dressing and grill them too.

If you want a fancy dish that's easy to make - you can do it ahead and let it warm up to room temperature the day of your party - try Chicken Marbella. Google it - the recipe is awesome. Just had it at a friend's house a few weeks ago for a 30 person party.

I have lots of ideas - I'll pass them along if you'd like!

Me said...

That's what I meant....Kebab...we call them Schaschlik in Germany. LOL

kissashark said...

Just a side note to the kebabs Diane, if you don't have metal kebab sticks then make sure you soak the bamboo skewers so they don't char. But I say the kebabs are a GREAT idea!

Andrea said...

I can't help with 2 or 3 since I've never hosted more than two people at a time (though dh is wanting to invite his office of 12 plus families - yikes!) For #1 I recommend getting bratwurst for grilling. This is usually a big hit with kids and adults alike. You can also get this chicken at HIT (or likely Globus as well) that has a red spice mix on it, we call it HIT chicken around here. It grills nicely though. For side dishes you can buy potato salad in the deli area where you can get 'sandwich' type of meats (at least at our HIT that's where it is) they also have lots of other German kraut and salad type of things.
That's all I can recommend as the only gatherings over 15 I've had have all be in the US where I made jambalaya, baked ziti, baked macaroni and cheese for the kids and things like that.

Good luck - you are certainly brave!

Sizzle said...

That's quite an undertaking! I'm sure it will be great.

Charlotte said...

1. Along with the Schaschlik, why not get some Bratwurst? They grill really well and taste like a piece of heaven with sharp mustard. Or with "Curry Ketchup," which is literally just ketchup mixed with some curry powder and Worcestershire sauce. You might also get some Rindswurst or Polnische (different than Polish sausage you get in the U.S.). Especially the kids will love you for this. Depending on your budget and the fanciness quotient, you might want to spring for some steak (Steak or Grillsteak in German).

The original trusty German side dish is potato salad (tons of German potato salad recipes online). Also, EVERYBODY appreciates a fruit salad, especially when the weather's warm (just throw some apples, peaches, bananas, and cherries or kiwis or whatnot together, and you're fine; you can fancy it up with Grand Marnier). Lastly, I'd recommend a large green salad with some tomatoes, red bell peppers (or chopped red radishes), and grated carrots instead. Use butter lettuce, which should be in season right now.

2. Yes, you can pre-order. HOWEVER, be aware that not all Germans like Sauerkraut, especially in the summer. At a good butcher, you can also buy ready-made potato salad in big tubs. Order a small sample before you so, though, to see if you like it.

3. YES! Any bakery appreciates highly any pre-orders. They might even give you a discount price. Make sure to order some Laugenbrezel, both for decoration and eating.

NOW, for a special dish, especially if you're close to the Hessian border of Rheinland Pfalz, you might want to try Handkaese mit Musik--it's a marinated nonfat cheese in oil, vinegar, and caraway seeds, a typical summer dish. You can buy Handkaese, which has the format of little Babybels, in rolls, wrapped in plastic. Then, throw it into a vinaigrette of oil, vinegar, and a bit of mustard, top it with lots of onion and caraway seed, and let it steep covered in the refrigerator for a day until the flavors mix. This is a typical German summer dish for the region. Oh, how I miss it!

Lise said...

Well, I can't help with the vocab!!!, but I think the easiest mantra to live by is 'keep it simple'...kids tend to be the fussiest of eaters, so I think you're safe to go with the Brats/Franks...Kebabs are also a 'good to go' idea, they do up quickly, plus you'll cover a couple of food groups. Toss in a salad, and fruit/cheese platter and i'll bet everyone will rave about your get together.
Dont' stress about it...chances are that most likely if you've realized you've forgotten something, you'll be the only one worrying about it because everyone else will be having a blast!...how about a pinata or something for the kids? Have a great time...entertaining is SO much fun, you need to enjoy yourself as well!

G in Berlin said...

This is a really interesting thread! I can't help because we don't do any entertaining here and I think the quality of food when eaten at latge groupings in Germany is quite bad. I also think most of the wurst here is too fatty and tasteless. Some rindwurst and some lammwurst is quite good. I would personally cater in from a Lebanese place, which is what we did for our largest grouping, of 8, but that's because I find it so difficult to actually get large quantities of ingredients. Now the Zip car equivalent has come to Berlin and we will be in a larger place, that might change.

I'll be reading with interest and awe.

PS Don't forget dessert- Germans love their kuchen and sweets.

Caligerm said...

I guess what you serve definitely depends on which nationality the majority of your guests are. If your guests are mainly German, be warned: Germans can be rather 'picky'( I can say this because I'm married to a German and I've been to a lot of German BBQs in my 10 years here).

I would keep things simple. Definitely Bratwurst, pork cutlets (Nackensteak), some marinaded turkey (Putensteak/marinierte Putenschnitzel). One thing is for sure: Scrap any thoughts of serving beef. Germans love their pork and will be disappointed and sceptical if you throw beef on the grill. Also be warned that Germans eat a lot of meat.

As far as side dishes are concerned, potato salad is a must. Scrap the sauerkraut (it just isn't served at such events) and go for a cold cabbage salad called "Krautsalat." Green salad is always a winner. Germans like American, Joghurt, and French dressings. Germans are also really into layered salads (Schichtsalat). Try recipes with maybe leeks, ham, pineapple, cheese, and of course, all loaded down with miracle whip/mayo- that sort of thing.

One word about fruit salad: Germans like fruit salad, but they will not put it on the same plate as their main course. Fruit salad is considered more of a desert over here. Maybe some slices of melon, pineapple, and strawberries for people to munch on would be good.

You could stop by a Turkish bakery and pick up some rounds of Turkish flat bread (türkisches Fladenbrot), cut that into bite size pieces and mix up a big bowl of Tzatziki (this is a good universal dip for meat and bread).

Hmm...definitely have different kinds of mustard on hand and Curry Gewürz Ketchup. Germans also like bottled dips like Schlemmersoße/Schlemmersauce (cocktail sauce) and Knoblauchsoße/Knoblauchsoße (garlic sauce).

To top things off think about maybe having everybody roast marshmallows and/or make smores.

Most of all: Have fun, relax, and keep it simple! Good Luck!

caligerm said...

Oh yeah, and don't forget to rent or borrow dishes and flatware. Europeans will despise you for the rest of your life if you make them eat off of paper plates and use plastic forks and knives. Cheers!

Diane Mandy said...

Caligerm- any idea where someone rents dishes and flatware?

Lynda said...

Wow a million good ideas there - I would agree, a good local butcher will do all the prep for you and deliver the salads. My MIL always does 'dicke rippen' - the fatty ribs, marinated. Agree that some bratwurst are always good. Fruit salad is a must in Summer, and if you have the freezer room - buy some good quality ice-cream and cones for the kids...

Don't forget the Apfelshorle, and I agree that Germans do not like to eat off plastic.. or with plastic cutlery... your butcher might be able to help you out? or the local pub where you are getting your Fass.

Sounds like you will have no problems.

Erin said...

Don't stress. If you've hosted parties for a big group before moving to Germany, you can do it here as well. My advice is don't try to change what you'd serve to make it too German. Instead, serve what you know and like. In my experience people enjoy seeing how other cultures entertain.

Just one month after arriving my husband invited his colleagues and their families (around 20 people) for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. The best part was that -- no matter how each dish turned out -- I was able to say: This is a traditional American dish.

American in Norway said...

Ditto what erin said... Didn't Max want to keep it kindda American BBQ ish? Americans tend to do things in a BIG WAY... (guilty...) I think no matter what you will end up knocking their socks off.
I am a big fat cheater...I would head up to the Army Base & buy everything at the American Grocery store. Do you know anyone there?

caligerm said...

Hi Diane,

Do you have a local yellow pages (Gelbe Seiten) at home? If you do, flip to "Partyservice" or "Verleihgeschäfte". Hope this helps you out.

Do you think you may be throwing more big events while you're here? If you have good storage space, you might consider making a trip out to IKEA and stocking up on dishes and flatware. You can pick up plates, glasses and flatware for about 50 cents a pop.

Good luck! If you need any other help, just holler!

Cheryl said...

So, I'm no help over here...but I wanted to offer my moral support on this one.

Michelle said...

Wow a lot of advice here already! A few observations from my side when we did something not quite so big for an Oktoberfest kick off last year and had quite some friends arriving into town on Friday afternoon.

First, the butcher was great. We told him how many people and he took care of preparing a typical spread of meat, side salads, baguettes, etc. Two things I have noticed about German BBQ is that (1) they love a lot of meat and (2) a lot of variety in the meat. Really it is almost disgusting ;-)

Potato salad, a green salad, tomato mozzarella salad and a nice pesto-pasta-pine nut salad with basil are usually hits as side dishes for us. Nothing wrong with some grilled mixed vegetables or corn on the grill cooked in the leaves either. We usually throw on some packages of Nurnburger sausages as well (yes, they are a side dish).

Condiments are crucial. In addition to ketchup and several varieties of mustard, must haves are mayo, curry ketchup, and maybe 3 or 4 other flavors of sauces like sun-dried, one that begins with t that I always forget what it is called, etc.

After all that (!) dessert tends to be a simple affair. They just don't go quite so over the top on that like Americans. Ice cream with some warm mixed berries or some kind of big pan cake with fruit baked on top are always fine. Sometimes I make a couple of pies, which although they don't know them here, are always requested at the next outing with a little twinkle in the eye.

Good luck and one other thing - at these events Germans are quite laid back so just let things evolve. People will pick and eat as things are ready. :)

karey m. said...

two words...cate and er. get a bartender, while you're at it.

we always use local restaurants and local help. it's surprisingly not expensive...but i wonder if that's just because of my location and the overabundance of help here.

this may be too late advice, but i HIGHLY recommend it. that way, you can enjoy your guests...and your evening.

plus? they clean up.

utenzi said...

That's very ambitious but I suspect once you recover afterwards you'll feel more comfortable entertaining on the scale you did back in the states. Good luck!

AmyD said...

Everyone seems to have great advice here, so I will only say GOOD LUCK and have fun! If something doesn't get done, only YOU will know about it (unless you tell everyone, and why would you do that?!)! :o)

kenju said...

I can say good luck, but I have no experience in hosting that many people at once, except for family.