Entertaining in the traditional sense is a lot of work. We, Sri Lankans love a big menu which creates an unrealistic workload. If you have someone to help you with lengthy prep that’s the best scenario, however, almost every one of us has a smaller family unit. We love to invite everyone, different age groups and noisy gatherings are the norm in a typical Sri Lankan set up. We love our bright ceiling lights, coats piled up blocking the entry way or the shoe farm we all stumble on as we walk into a house. This is all good as far as you enjoy such gatherings and I don’t think people mind it either. However, just because it’s culturally accepted doesn’t mean we are bound to continue. It’s the quality we must strive for.
I am a vegan and a vegetarian private chef living in Miami Florida. I entertain a lot of people monthly and intimate dinners are my favorite way to connect with the community. I have found the right balance between American entertaining and vibrant cultural values. I carry as an immigrant and a mother. More than the menu, which dishes to use, or how to style the table focus on how to be a good hostess which is connecting with guests in a way with a welcoming environment: mood lighting, candles, a tray of appetizers and a drink readily available so we can connect. Here are some tips I practice when entertaining.
Let’s start from the basics: your home
Where to begin…
🌱 Greet your guests.
This is crucial and I can’t stress this enough. I have heard many times my friends yelling from far ‘ I am in the kitchen!’ Well! It’s ok once in a while, it depends on who you are having and how close they are to you. However, as a habit, get dressed and be fully present when guests arrive, greet them at the door, help them hang coats, put their shoes out of the way so your other guests can walk into an uncluttered entryway. If you have a tiny closet at the entrance one must collect guests coats and store them in a bedroom somewhere they can find them easily.
🌱 Avoid harsh lighting.
As I walk into many Sri Lankan homes almost every house has all the lights on! I mean every one of them. This blinding white light makes you feel exposed in some way, definitely doesn’t make you feel relaxed. Turn them off, all of them! and have a few table lamps generously scattered in living areas on side tables, a generous overhead pendant light above the dining table, some string lights to create interest and scented candles to put you in a good mood. These things won’t cost much but they can instantly transform a space.
🌱 Hang your artwork on eye level.
Remember you have been carrying those elephant prints or wall hangings from back home? Maybe you are not into arts and that’s normal to many Sri Lankan homes. If you have some, hang them at eye level, not too high. Create a gallery wall for your family photos so they are not all propped up on a console table over crowded, covered in dust wanting to escape. This has nothing to do with entertaining but I feel that it helps creating an esthetically pleasing space. However, why Sri Lankan homes don’t have wall art? I am just going to lay it here so give it a thought. I have my own personal view on that.
🌱 Make do with what you have.
A decent white or French gray table linen is the best so you have a solid base for your tableware. I have a lot of cotton saris I use as tablecloths. I often use a flat sheet underneath to give the sari some grip and I have been able to create many looks based on the colors and the unique designs they have. It’s just so pretty. If you have a great table use some placemats to protect the top or a runner to keep it free of stains. If you are using patterned ones, solid color plates are the way to go. I have a set of white plates so I can change my linens as I please. Mix and match dishes are perfectly good. But have some great platters and interesting shaped bowls. Clear glasses for water are foolproof, no need to be expensive crystal ones.
🌱 Turn that TV off! Please!
I can’t speak for other cultures but I can speak for my own kind. Whenever I am invited to a home I hear the TV! Let’s fully focus on our company. We are so used to scatterbrained living. If kids want to play a game or watch a movie while adults hangout make sure they are limited to a certain area. Their iPads making noise or tiny games in hand beeping is a clear sign of trained distraction. Try minimizing these things when you have a company.
Traditional seating is ok but you can definitely use ottomans, bar chairs or a bench for extra seating. If you are in the kitchen trying to get everything ready make sure you have a few chairs in the kitchen, so your guests can hangout with you. We don’t live in Sri Lanka. We don’t have to be alone in the kitchen. We definitely don’t have maid service. You are a human and you want to be with guests as much as you can.
🌱 Buy flowers.
A mood lifter! Buy generic bouquets from your nearby grocery store. Cut some foliage from your backyard (if you have one) , trim the stems before arranging them. Use mason jars or a regular water pitcher to add different heights and interests. I use all kinds of recycled glass containers and throw them away (I do recycle) when I get tired of them.
🌱 Showing up vs showing off.
There is no need to focus on what everyone is doing these days, trends or trying to make it look perfect. My focus is always on simplicity, humility and human connection. If you feel like you need to meet certain standards when it comes to certain guests I wouldn’t invite them at all. If they are unavoidable I will take them to a restaurant. Because my home is my sanctuary where I feel safe and unpretentious. I have absolutely no need to try harder to entertain my tribe.
🌱 Let’s guests participate.
Would you like me to make something?
Fruit salad, ice cream, tomato cucumber salad? Consider your menu before you ask people to contribute, please don’t say yes because you can’t say no.
Can I bring some wine? yes/no
Can I help you with cleaning? YES!
I can watch kids for a few minutes! YES Please!
Accept help. You are not a goddess with ten hands. Also being needed in a useful way is a wonderful way to interact.
Always remember, bringing people together should never feel complicated, it should be joyful and spontaneous. The spontaneous togetherness must often happen because we are not designed to live a solo life. Sometimes we simply need to be with people to feel seen, heard, and make our home a place of healing, beating that loneliness we often feel being away from the motherland. Perfectly imperfect as we are, breaking bread with your tribe with a great Pol Sambol and a tea is all we need. Happy entertaining!
By Udenie Wickramasinghe – Miami, Florida – Follow me on Instagram @mind_full-eats