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Amazing Potlucks?

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How often does it happen? Most potlucks I go to have your basic hohum food, made with processed foods (I'm sure potlucks keep cream of mushroom soup sales high). I went to one last week where almost everything came from Costco. But, I went to one last night that was amazing. A lot of the people making the food were brought up elsewhere so they brought their specialities, and many I talked to have said their dream is to open a restaurant. I don't even know what a lot of the food was but there was a Kurdish dish made w/ ground beef wrapped in grits/oatmeal (the woman said she couldn't find the right grains here) cooked in a vegetable stew, bulgogi and homemade kimchee, crystal noodles, tres leches cake, lasagne made with provolone and prosciutto, this great Vietnamese sticky rice paste roll (does anyone know what this is--it's similar to the one you get from dimsum wrapped in green leaf but it's pastier and wrapped like grape leaves--it was probably my favorite thing of the night), smoked duck,... The American mac and cheese dishes, turkey, and all just paled in comparison (or maybe in familiarity). And, this was a martial arts function, not a food function. I'm really looking forward to the next one!

Are the potlucks you go to normally chowhoundish? How often do you go to GREAT potlucks where more than a couple of dishes are really good, well other than chowhound-type potlucks where that's the point?

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  1. You are very fortunate, as far as I'm concerned...the potlucks I go to are either at work or at church (holding head in hands) and folks at these places are NOT chowhoundish--I mean, one year at work we had a bake sale and some *&%@head brought Girl Scout cookies!!!!! It's bad, really bad..... Oh, by the way, could your Vietnamese wrapped item possibly be shrimp wrapped in sugar cane? I've seen such an item listed on the menu at the Vietnamese place I love but have not ordered it yet, supposed to be fab.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Val

      That's exactly what I mean about most potlucks! I find cookie exchanges to be similar--slice and bake cookies, or storebought. I was really dreading last night but it was a nice surprise.

      I don't know if it was sugar cane leaf. I know it wasn't the traditional lotus ones for dimsum or the bigger, palm shaped ones my mom uses. There was shrimp in the middle and some pork. Whatever it was, it was great.

      1. re: chowser

        Could it be banh bot loc? The crispy shrimp in the middle with the bit of fatty pork sounds right. Was the rice flour translucent? If so it was small pieces of banana leaf as the wrapper.

        Here is the guide to banh which has a description and picture.
        http://dina-n-brian.com/Alice/Banhgui...

        There is also another dish that is wrapped in leaves, but it is more of a meat based than rice based thing...the name escapes me though.

        1. re: truliketrudat

          Yes! That's it! I had asked the guy but couldn't make out what he was saying. Thanks. Though, now I'll go look for it in a restaurant and it probably won't be nearly as good.

    2. I'd never been to a great one until I moved into my current house. I have fantastic neighbors, and there's 4 big potluck social events on our block each year, and I couldn't believe it the first time I went to one. People make wonderful food, beautifully presented, like gougieres, crostini, seasonal vegetable crudites, Vietnamese salad rolls, pasta and grain salads that are actually good, etc. Those that can't/don't have time to cook bring high quality take out/cheeses/etc-none of this grocery store veggie tray stuff. It is WONDERFUL. (To be fair, I should mention we're a very yuppie street-lots of twenty-to-forty-something couples with no kids, and we live in a neighborhood/city with great food options).

      2 Replies
      1. re: christy319

        While I was living in Toronto I attended a church that had members from 38 different countries. (People of Western European descent made up less than 10% of the congregation.) On top of that, there were 8 or 9 different ethnic Indian and five or six different ethnic Chinese subgroups represented. Church leaders made it a point to encourage people to bring food from their native land for potlucks, and a lot of people brought their signature, secret recipe dish. Lamb biryani, anyone? dan-dan mien? perogies? How 'bout some jerk goat? butter chicken? chicken paprikash? kofta? patties? vietnamese spring rolls? You want some of this home made ginger beer? How 'bout that ma-po tofu?

        Man, I miss those potlucks! :-(

        1. re: mclaugh

          Both of your experiences are the type of potlucks that I mean about being amazing. I think the quality of a lot of the food can be better than I find at restaurants. The woman who made the Kurdish patties in vegetarian stew said it took her personally over five hours to make. You don't get the thought out, well matched 5 course meal but you get a lot of each food. Oh, there were about half a dozen different types of eggroll/springrolls--different nationalities, shapes, fillings. And you know if it's good after it's been transported and cool, it would be incredible out of the fryer.

      2. Most potlucks have descended into some kind of culinary ring of hell normally reserved for lousy tippers. Really awful, canned, pre-prepared, frozen bargain lasagna and dried-out veggie trays from the supermarket.

        But my church has solved that problem at our annual Christmas potluck with one small innovation: a prize for the best dish. That tiny bit of motivation brings out the best.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Snackish

          Brilliant!! Gotta make a note of that idea.

        2. Someday if you are in the San Francisco Bay Area in the fall, go to the "Chowing with the dogs" Chowhound picnic. Now that's a potluck!!

          (Sorry I missed it this year. I'm hoping that in 2007 its a weekend I can make...)

          3 Replies
          1. re: janetofreno

            That would be awesome, but probably intimidating for cooking!

            1. re: chowser

              The Chowing with the Hounds Picnic used to have a contest with prizes for the best dish in each category but every year some people complained that it was too intimidating so this last we dropped the contest.

              Guess what?

              There was a noticeable drop in the quality and quantity of food (since everyone votes, if you want to win or at least be in the running you have to bring enough for all the voters to taste your food).

              1. re: larochelle

                LOL, I don't think a "best" dish contest would be intimidating but a "worst" would stop me from attending!

          2. My potluck group is a drag. As soon as the host starts to
            confirm the date and set the theme, someone signs up for scalloped potatoes. And it comes around once per month.

            6 Replies
            1. re: taco_belle

              I feel your pain. We have someone that always, always brings a block of cream cheese covered with jalapeno or garlic jam, and crackers. Every single time.

              1. re: Snackish

                You think that's bad, try cream cheese with brine shrimp and cocktail sauce. I jokingly told someone it was my favorite and they proceeded to bring it to every potluck after that, -Yuck!

                1. re: saeyedoc

                  double-yuck! We must have attended the same potlock!

                  1. re: saeyedoc

                    Brine shrimp - isn't that what they advertise for sale on the back of comic books: Sea Monkeys? My son used to raise them to feed his tropical fish.

                    1. re: Nyleve

                      It does taste Like fish food.

                  2. re: Snackish

                    My SIL's specialty is queso--a can of chili and some velveeta cheese. She brings it to every occasion. She also does shrimp creole--sautee onions and green peppers, add cans of tomatoes and then some bait shrimp.

                2. I'm envious that you guys can get a potluck together at all. A good number of our friends have small children, and it's difficult get on their calendars at all, much less something that involves them having to cook. I'd be pretty stoked about getting our friends together that regularly, mediocre food or not.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Andiereid

                    Hanging out with friends is one thing but most of the ones I go to are with people I barely know--dance class parents, brownies parents, etc. Mediocre food, can't wait to leave.

                  2. I must be lucky because I can't recall ever going to a bad potluck. Then again, it might be that growing up in a Taiwanese household, I didn't have many opportunities to eat exotic dishes like tuna casserole, blocks of cream cheese with jalapeno jam, chicken a la king, scalloped potatoes - man I love all that stuff! (I'll pass on the vegetable jello molds though, blech.)

                    Most of the potlucks I've gone to have been work related. Since I've always worked in places with a lot of cultural diversity, the food has reflected this. This past Saturday, the nursing home where I work threw a party for the families and residents. The staff, who are from the Carribean, Phillipines, Korea, Dominican Republic, Russia, and all parts of good ole' NYC went all out as usual. There was oxtail stew, codfish and callaloo, maki sushi, lasagne, curried goat, pernil, various rice dishes, Texas burritos, Russian salad of some sort, red devil cake, flan, etc.

                    And of course I just got diagnosed with acid reflux. Sigh.

                    1. We just had a potluck this past weekend and it was one of the best I've been to. About 15 couples came and only one store bought item (baked mac and cheese - boy was she embarrased!)

                      We had smoked turkey breast with homemade rasberry/chipotle sauce, a grilled shrimp/black bean/corn mixture in a brown sauce, tarragon scalloped potatoes, a great salad w/ all kinds of crunchy stuff and cheese, sauteed peas n shrooms, wild rice salad, some kind of roasted beets - again with walnuts and goat cheese that were awesome (and i don't even like beets) - what else, well - I could go on, but suffice it to say, it was NOT your typical potluck.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: wallybgood

                        With so many people who love to cook, I'm surprised gourmet potlucks aren't more popular. I know people do cooking clubs and things like that but it never seems like the food is extraordinary. I'd choose some of these potlucks over most restaurants.

                      2. we had a potluck here where we were supposed to bring "interesting ethnic dishes"

                        so i brought a saffron pilaf
                        my friend brought a wonderful curry dish and everyone else brought.....

                        scalloped potatoes
                        irish stew
                        scallop potatoes
                        mac and cheese
                        scalloped potatoes.....

                        since when did mac and cheese become an "interesting ethnic dish"?

                        i hate pot lucks with a passion

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: RiJaAr

                          Interesting...I don't believe I've ever seen scalloped potatoes at a potluck. Any number of cream of ___ casseroles, buckets of KFC, and pasta salads, and of course, cool whip and Jell-o pudding-based desserts.

                          A small church group we used to be part of was ethnically diverse -- Chinese, Lebanese, Japanese, Puerto Rican, Jamaican, and a handful of Euro-Americans -- and our potlucks usually ended up being variations on chicken and rice. All fairly good, but I'm not sure it was quite as diverse as we might have expected!