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60 years of White House meals for India

In the history of U.S.-India relations, there has been plenty of broken bread and even a few crumbled Triscuit crackers.

world Updated: Nov 24, 2009 21:15 IST

In the history of U.S.-India relations, there has been plenty of broken bread and even a few crumbled Triscuit crackers.

American presidents have entertained India's leaders over fine wine and even finer food for the past 60 years _ at grand White House dinners with hundreds of guests in black-tie, at an intimate Sunday lunch and away from Washington's prying eyes near a storied Civil War battlefield.

At his first White House state dinner on Tuesday, President Barack Obama will put his stamp on the tradition the White House uses to honor foreign leaders.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is coming for a state visit and all that it entails, a pomp-filled welcome ceremony on the South Lawn, private time with Obama, a joint news conference and, in the evening, the state dinner, to be held outside for 320 people. First lady Michelle Obama's staff, which has planned what could be Washington's hottest social event since the inauguration, has kept a tight lid on the details. But some elements, like the huge white tent going up on the South Lawn, could not remain secret for long. That alone means hundreds more people will be attending than if dinner had been scheduled indoors in the State Dining Room, which seats a maximum 140 guests.

Mrs. Obama also is bringing in a guest chef, award-winning Marcus Samuelsson of Aquavit, a Scandinavian restaurant in New York City, to help the White House kitchen staff prepare the meal. Samuelsson was selected by social secretary Desiree Rogers and assistant chef Sam Kass.

The basic White House dinner has been tweaked over the years to suit guests, invited and uninvited. A driving rain drove President John F. Kennedy's guests to the East Room, scuttling months of planning for Mozart on the South Lawn for Indian President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. With nearly 700 guests in a tent on the lawn, the India state dinner was one of the largest such events of Bill Clinton's presidency. George W. Bush's dinner in 2005 was notable because he held so few overall.

Here's a look back at the dinners for Indian leaders, according to news reports.


October 1949: Truman's dinner with Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, was notable because it was not at the White House. The mansion was being repaired and Truman and first lady Bess Truman had decamped to Blair House, the government guest house across the street.

Five courses were served at Blair to a smaller-than-usual dinner party, including soup julienne; fillet of sole with tyrolienne sauce; roast turkey with oyster dressing, gravy and cranberry sauce; gingerale and peach salad, shredded lettuce, French dressing and toasted Triscuits.


December 1956: Instead of a lavish White House dinner, Eisenhower went the low-key route and treated Nehru to a Sunday lunch of oysters on the half shell and roast leg of lamb. They were joined by first lady Mamie Eisenhower and Nehru's daughter, Indira Gandhi, who had accompanied her father. The next day, Nehru and Eisenhower rode together to the president's Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, farmhouse for private talks and an overnight stay.


November 1961: At Nehru's request, Kennedy dispensed with the pomp of the customary dinner for dozens and held a smaller, black-tie affair, apparently so the two leaders could continue their talks.