Bring a plate

Updated: Nov 17, 2021


"Yes, bring a plate is an Aussie thing, but what does it mean? According to the Australian National University’s ‘Meanings and origins of Australian words and idioms’ it is ‘An invitation to bring a plate of food to share at a social gathering or fundraiser.’ As you can see, a plate on its own just won’t cut it." Bob in Oz


Easter looms and on Sunday we shall be hosting the annual Easter Egg hunt. Chocolate eggs for all, even the poor people who get doled out their share, when the grandchildren sit down after the hunt and share the found treasure between them. I'm always impressed by how fair they are. It seems to provide just as much fun as actually searching for the eggs around the garden.


After this there will be lunch. What to provide? And should I do all the providing or accept help? I have already had offers so now I am pondering because I'm torn between yes I would love some help, and no if I do this then I have lost control over what we eat. Should this matter? Well no, not really. Should I just tell everyone, including the children to bring a plate?


The Australians really don't quite understand how Australian the phrase 'bring a plate' is. I still cringe at the memory of our first film society Christmas party for which we were told to bring a plate. So we did. Literally a plate each. How could we have been so stupid? But honestly we just didn't understand. After all this was a party for all of the film society members - a few hundred, so it sort of made sense that we should take our own plate, assuming that the food to put on that plate would be provided by the film society committee. We felt so stupid (and mean) - possibly the stupidest I have ever felt.


We are now accustomed to the idea and have often taken along our plate - but mostly to fairly large gatherings such as our local book and wine group combined, work parties, or other such events. And they've mostly been occasions where the other guests are not that close to you.


In America they seem to call these things a pot luck dinner - and the photo below is of one of those. As you can see, it is indeed a bit pot luck. A bit of a mess and a free for all really.

"For the host, it’s a culinary mishmash in which you end up with all of the washing up and none of the thanks, while nobody gets excited about food brought in on a paper plate ... At the very core of every potluck dinner is the assurance that salads be served warm and casseroles just gone cold, a sad skin on the gravy to be lifted off by the first in queue. Plus, with bring-a-plate, there’s always a queue." Kate Gibbs - delicious


Yes the host doesn't have to cook, but they often have to provide crockery, cutlery, oven space, fridge space - an impossiblity for me I find - not to mention cleaning up and returning all the stuff that has been left behind when you've worked out whose it is.


As for the guests - well you end up with a potentially ill-matching mix of things on your plate and possibly, if you are not quick enough, the worst offerings. Because, of course, all offerings are not necessarily equal. And if you are providing food how much do you provide anyway? You are obviously not meant to provide enough for everyone. That way the final result would lead to a massive amount of leftovers. And it's all so competitive isn't it? I mean how would you feel if nobody ate what you brought? It would be a bit like always being last to be picked for the hockey team. Humiliating. How do you sneak out the door with a still full plate? Bob in Oz has this suggestion:


"Can’t cook? Buy a box of Yum Cha from Aldi, 26 savoury Chinese starter pieces and follow the instruction on the box. Feeling lazy? Buy a box of Maltesers and put them on a plate. See how much fun this is? When you’re done, take the plate home." Bob in Oz


It can be done well though, with a bit of planning. Below is a carefully curated feast à la Ottolenghi, and even with a really big crowd this can be achieved if you are a bit dictatorial about what people bring - sweet or savoury, side or main, nibbles or dessert, make it all from one kind of cuisine, one type of dish ...

Not possible for really big crowds though unless you just decree sweet or savoury and it must be finger food.


But I don't want to be ungracious and refuse offers of help for my gathering. So what to do?


I don't think our extended family gathering - even though it may be 15 people - is quite large enough for the bring a plate kind of thing. And also honestly, I'm a bit of a control freak when it comes to food. So perhaps a compromise can be achieved. What if I do the mains - tell everyone what they will be and then dole out assignments like salads, desserts, dips or nibbles, vegetables. Yes that might work. Besides it's family and you can dictate a bit more with them.

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