To many people, the terms “tiki” and “Polynesian” are interchangeable. But in the Māori culture of New Zealand and other islands, Tiki was the first man created by Tāne, the Atua (god) of forests and birds. At Tiki Thai in Reston, owners and staff not only celebrate tiki culture, they honor it, with a fusion of tropical drinks and dishes from not only Thailand but Malaysia, Indonesia, and India.
Founder Jeremy Ross, also behind the equally wildly popular restaurant Sense of Thai Street in Ashburn, heads up the vibrant beverage program at Tiki Thai. He’s all about giving guests an authentic experience, from the elaborate mugs and other vessels to house those frozen tipples, to fun details like AstroTurf, string lights, and the potted palms that adorn the restaurant’s inviting patio, to an impressive drinks menu that melds classic sips like the Mai Tai and Zombie along with modern riffs like a clarified Pina Colada.
Now that summer’s right around the corner and many of us are fully vaccinated, we’re itching to host a festive outdoor soirée. A party like this also makes the perfect antidote to travel FOMO until we can take a trip to the Caribbean or some other palm tree-filled, beachy far-flung locale. “Offering a tiki party for guests is the perfect way to transport your friends to a majestic tropical island—no passport needed,” Ross says, adding that it might even be a first step to organize an actual vacation to Bonaire, or Bora Bora, or Barbados. He share with us his tips for throwing the perfect island-inspired summer gathering:
What elements make for a memorable tiki party at home?
The first step is to create anticipation before the guests arrive. Start by sending a cool invite asking guests to arrive in their best Aloha shirt or tiki skirt, which sets the tone. Then focus on creating an amazing ambience; I definitely like my guests to feel they are on a tropical island full of vegetation, radiant colors, and lively Polynesian music. If you are short on space, focus on good music rather than decor: Spotify has the best tiki/exotica playlists. The most important part is to keep the drinks flowing throughout the evening.
What tips do you have for decorations, glassware, serveware and other decor?
Decorations are key at any tiki-themed party, and there are actually many options in party stores and online that are pretty affordable. The most important component is the glassware–who doesn’t like a cocktail in a festive tiki vessel, right? My go-to sites are muntiki.com and tikifarm.com. Also, you can buy torches in bulk on Amazon and they will create a fantastic ambience.
How about ideas for easy appetizers or pu pus?
If I am going to have people over, I want to be with my guests and not spend too much time cooking. Set up a table with different easy-to-grab appetizers like coconut shrimp with Sriracha mayo, some hot gai (chicken) wings, lamb lollipops, and a curry crab dip. If you pick up a bag of banana leaves from your local grocery, you can set these up as a base on top of any platter and your serving dishes will look amazing.
Cocktail recipes, courtesy of Jeremy Ross:
These drinks can be batched by adding the ingredients to a punch bowl along with ice cubes or an ice mold. As the ice melts, it will give the drink the proper dilution that you would get by shaking it with ice.
Smokey Pineapple Daiquiri
If you don’t have the time to infuse your own flavored rum, you can either muddle pieces of fresh pineapple in the cocktail shaker before adding the other ingredients and then strain them out before serving, or use a commercial flavored brand like Plantation Stiggins Fancy Pineapple Rum or Malibu Pineapple Rum.
1 ½ oz. pineapple-infused rum (see Note)
½ oz. mezcal
¾ oz. lime juice
½ oz. orgeat
½ oz. honey
Pineapple frond, for garnish
Add all ingredients except garnish to a cocktail shaker, add ice and shake until well-chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with a pineapple frond.
For the pineapple-infused rum:
Peel and core a pineapple and cut the fruit into one-inch chunks. Pour a 750ml bottle of gold rum into a glass container (reserving the empty bottle), add the pineapple pieces, and cap tightly. Infuse the spirit for a few days or until desired flavor is achieved, shaking the container once or twice daily. Strain out solids and use a funnel to pour the rum back into the original bottle.
If you don’t have a dispenser in your home freezer for crushed ice, you can use a canvas Lewis bag and mallet to crush your own or pulse cubes in a blender or food processor until they are the desired size.
1 ½ oz. reposado Tequila
½ oz. white creme de cacao
½ oz. Fernet Branca
1 oz. coconut milk
½ oz. lime juice
Mint sprig, for garnish
Add all ingredients except garnish to a cocktail shaker, add ice and shake until well-chilled. Strain into a fancy tiki mug with plenty of crushed ice, and garnish with a mint bouquet.
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