Good things come in small packages - some of the world's best dishes prove that when it comes to tasty food, bigger doesn't mean better.
Many of the world's best small-plate dining cultures have evolved to accompany (and mitigate the effects of) drinking alcohol, and Japan's izakaya tradition is no different. An izakaya is a casual, friendly place in which to drink sake and beer, a social environment where drinkers often sit shoulder to shoulder at a bar. Savoury snacks pair perfectly with the drinks: everything from sashimi plates to fried chicken, vegetables simmered in dashi to Japanese-style omelettes.
Think about small-plate dining and the first thing that comes to mind is probably Spanish tapas. This is one famous culture, and for good reason: tapas (or "tops") can be as simple as sliced chorizo or manchego cheese, or as complex as salt-cod and tomato stew or croquettes with Spanish ham, but they're always fresh and tasty. Combine this food with Spain's friendly small-bar culture on historic streets, and you have a recipe for delicious success.
Russians don't mind a glass of vodka – that's well known. What's perhaps not as widely appreciated is that that vodka is almost always accompanied by food, small, often sour or fermented goodies that can stand up to the bite of raw spirits. "Zakuski" is a meal of those snacks, often consisting of small slices of bread topped with the likes of pickled herring, caviar, cold cuts or pickled vegetables.
SRI LANKAN SHORT EATS
You have to love a culture where people just want to eat all day long. That's Sri Lanka, and in particular the custom of "short eats", small snacks designed to keep people going in between their three squares a day. Short eats are spiced, shallow- or deep-fried treats, the likes of tuna and potato wrapped in roti bread, lentil patties with chutney, and "Chinese rolls" of spiced meat, deep-fried.
Pintxos in San Sebastian. Photo: Alamy
Don't confuse the bar snacks of the Basque Country with the tapas of Spain as a whole. This is a different ball game, where small plates are taken to a new level, where each snack is a miniature masterpiece. In town such as San Sebastian, Getaria and Hondarribia, expect to be served the likes of beef cheek with red wine reduction and parmesan crumb, or crispy ravioli with slow-cooked ox tail, or mushroom risotto with seared calves liver. Every dish is created with care and skill. And you can eat several.
THAI STREET MARKET
Street food in Bangkok. Photo: iStock
A street market in Thailand is a moveable feast of bite-sized goodness, a sprawling, bustling, smoke-filled space offering the chance to taste and devour as many spicy morsels as possible. Move from oyster omelettes to grilled sausages, from fried noodles to papaya salads, from stir-fried pork to satay skewers. Arrive hungry and prepared to take a few chances, and you can't go wrong.
BRITISH AFTERNOON TEA
Afternoon tea at London's famous hotel, The Ritz. Photo: Visit Britain
An afternoon tea is an awfully civilised British tradition of taking tea and snacks in the mid-afternoon. The treats on offer include the likes of little finger sandwiches and other savoury snacks, along with scones, jam, marmalade and clotted cream. This is a fancy way to eat, and not to be confused with "high tea", which is traditionally a working-class meal of heavier food served at the end of the working day. In Australia the terms are often used interchangeably, much to the chagrin of afternoon tea purists.
Photo: Scott McNaughton
Turkish people – and indeed those of neighbouring nations such as Greece and the Balkans – are absolute masters of small-plate dining, thanks to their culture of mezze. These petite dishes can either be served to accompany a drink, or as a full meal, and usually include local cheeses, dips of roasted eggplants or chickpeas, rice-stuffed vine leaves, fried seafood, and stewed vegetables.
Is there anything more civilised that sitting at an Italian wine bar in the early evening, sipping something tasty and picking over a couple of local snacks? Aperitivo is yet another of Italy's gastronomic gifts to the world, the culture – particularly in the Emilia-Romagna region – of going to a bar for a glass of vermouth or a cocktail before dinner and picking over snacks such as olives, cheese, salumi or mini-sandwiches.
Banchan dishes are small; however, this isn't a small meal. In Korea, banchan plates are usually served with rice, and there are usually a lot of them. Typically, a banchan banquet is quite formal and traditional, and you can expect to be served dishes that have either been steamed, stir-fried, braised or fermented. And everything is served with kimchi and spicy gochujang paste.