Does wedding food matter?
Foie gras churros from our welcome drinks

Does wedding food matter?

What happens if wedding food isn't an experience? What if the food is just that—food? Sustaining, necessary, straightforward food. What sort of memory do guests now have about a wedding...about our wedding?

Shikha Kaiwar

If you're one of the handful of you who follow me on Instagram, you'll know that I spent the last few weeks getting married! Nine events across California and Mexico City filled with guests from every inch of our lives. It was wild and exhausting and way more fun than my current routine of staring at a screen.

But this is a newsletter about food (mostly). This week, I'm looking at the significance of food at weddings and the pressure of creating memorable food when you've been a part of the industry for so long.

I spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about what guests should eat at our wedding. The only thing I spent more time on was the music (our seven playlists were so popular that we ended up sharing with friends after the wedding!). As we planned our menus, I realised how few memories of food I have at other weddings, and how most of those memories aren't even positive ones.

At one Indian wedding I attended, the food was all vegetarian, which is fine except they added paneer to almost every dish. By the end, I had turned into a hefty hunk of paneer like a cheese-themed Animorph and felt sluggish and unmotivated to dance.

Then was an American wedding where they served the cake after the dance floor had opened. Guests awkwardly rushed to their table to shovel bites of cake in between songs, and the groom pleadingly asked if it was good. I don't like wedding cake in general, but I wasn't about to tell him that his cake was mediocre, so I smiled and nodded through cloying bites.

The best wedding food memory I have comes from two French weddings. In France, there isn't typically a cake but a croquembouche—a tall pyramid consisting of dozens of choux coated in gleaming caramel and enveloped in spindly sugar strings. It's fancy but more importantly, it's fun—less like a museum artefact and more like a friend who's fashionably late but ready to party. Instead of cutting meticulous slices and pawning them off, guests pluck a choux of their choice, demolishing the grand pastry in minutes like a sort of dessert (not desert!) Burning Man. Everyone gathers to watch this structure fall and lo and behold, it does. We cheer in delight and victory and a shared understanding that everything is temporary.

Mehndi and guac add-ins

Does wedding food matter? According to the Internet, it does. Sites like The Knot and claim that food is one of most important details a guest pays attention to—that is, if you're a millennial guest. '"Millennials are all about that experience,"' declares an expert, and she's absolutely right. As a fellow millennial, I one-hundred percent crave and seek out experiences in everything from movies (why merely watch "Top Gun: Maverick" when I could watch it in 4D?) to food (grasshopper salsa prepared tableside? Sign me up.). When I can't find those experiences, I feel strangely disappointed.

The question that isn't explored here is what happens if the food isn't an experience? What if the food is just—food? Sustaining, necessary, straightforward food. What sort of memory do guests now have about a wedding...about our wedding?

Desserts from the Indian menu

On Friday, we served Indian cuisine based on what I grew up with and loved. There was gobi musallam, a richly spiced baked cauliflower my mom makes for Diwali that I forever associate with new beginnings. Goat curry because it was one of the first dishes I learned to make in our InstantPot when we moved in together. Plates of kebabs like the ones I eat on the streets of Delhi late at night after drinks. And of course, gajar halwa—y'all know how I feel about this one.

On Saturday, the menu was upscale Mexican cuisine, featuring rib eye taquitos, rajas sin crema to keep guests nimble, nopales salad, made-to-order quesadillas with corn tortillas, and dessert.

Naturally, I worried most about the desserts. Reception food is considered a wedding's main food, and it's often what guests remember most when recalling what they ate. Since cake was a no-go, we served an array of desserts with a mini version of everything I love—a chocolate banana tart, arroz con leche, churros, cheesecake, flan, and more. I wanted it to be fun and interactive, a choose-your-own-dessert fantasy that played out like a delicious, upbeat Goosebumps novel. I wanted a range of flavors because that's how our relationship has been–a blend of everything good. But most of all, I wanted them to taste good because as a food industry veteran, people were going to expect it. More than anyone, I was expecting it of myself.

While I'd love to say that the food was excellent and everyone showered us with praise, the truth was that it was merely okay. The Indian food was under-spiced, and the labels had nothing more than the name of the item. All the context was missing, leaving guests to guess their way through each dish. Saturday's meal improved, but the desserts suffered the same fate as the night before—no context for guests to immerse themselves in. They tasted fine but reminded me of every other wedding's food—good enough but not amazing (with the exception of the croquembouche). It was, at end of it all, just food.

Now, I know that I was literally trying to backstory-blog my wedding menu, but the fact is that backstory matters. Cheesecake is cheesecake wherever you go, but it's the story that makes it worth seeking out and eating. I wanted our guests to be completely inside our world when they ate with us, but what happened instead were some perfectly adequate meals have been weighing on me since the wedding ended:

  • Did our friends still enjoy the wedding given the food was just okay?
  • What did they really think about the food, like forreal think?
  • Am I being too hard on myself?
  • Do they think less of me given how much I care about food and hyped it up?
  • Have I failed? Do I still know what good food is?

I wanted so badly for our wedding to reflect us, so while it was a wonderful wedding, it's been hard to come to terms with this reality. My own sparse memories of wedding food prove that it is indeed a small part of a wedding experience. But still, I feel sad that I couldn't create the experience I'd envisioned. I couldn't live up to the expectations I had of myself.

Sneaking in tacos in between wedding events

When you work in an industry long enough, you start to forget where it ends and where you begin. So I know that it's going to be difficult to shake the feeling that I let myself and our guests down. But at the same time, the memories I have of our wedding far surpass the food. They are big moments like watching our aunties perform, hearing each others' vows for the first time, and having the best first dance of all time (to Big Sean's "IDFWU" cuz anything else wouldn't have been us!). And there are small moments like inhaling tacos wearing gym clothes and full face makeup, eating chicken tenders at 4am in our room, and having a guessing contest of how many bobby pins were in my hair.

To me, food always matters. It brings people together and creates strong, immovable memories that last for our entire lives. But in a wedding, lots of other things matter too. Long after the food is rotten and old, there are a platter of memories that will stay close to me and remind me of the love we felt that weekend. Because there are a million ways to show love, and food is just one of them.

We did it!