All over the country, Italians start their meals with antipasti (meaning ‘before the meal’) or cicchetti, as they call them in Venice. This tradition traces back to Roman times, when the antipasto course was known as antecoena. Today, the bites on offer vary between provinces, with each area embracing its own breads, cured meats, olives and cheese. For a taste of Italy, make mini bruschetta – toast little squares of focaccia and top with pesto, mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and basil.
Mezze, which translates as ‘taste’ or ‘relish’, is ingrained in Turkish culture. Small dishes – think roasted vegetables served with warm flatbreads, cheese pastries, rice-stuffed vegetables and all kinds of kofta – often take the place of larger plates. For Turkish canapés that can be passed around the party, spread toasted zaatar bread with labneh and top with sumac-spiced chicken breast, pomegranate seeds, toasted pine nuts and plenty of freshly chopped coriander leaves.
As with much traditional Russian food, zakuski (little bites) often feature preserved produce, such as pickled herring. For an easy festive canapé, update another classic Russian dish, borscht. Toast chyorniy khleb (rye bread) and layer with beetroot purée, horseradish crème fraîche, flaked hot-smoked salmon and dill. Or, party in truly indulgent style with caviar: top blinis with cream cheese, then pile pretty pearls of lumpfish caviar on top.
Recipes for canapés began to appear in British cookbooks in the late 19th century. By the 1970s, no party was complete without a tray full of mushroom vol-au-vents and cocktail sausages. These days, canapés – though less retro and more modern – are just as popular, particularly at this time of year. Turn a British seaside favourite into a delicate party nibble by assembling minted pea purée, chips and flaked battered fish on toasted white bread.
Greek cuisine is renowned for its mezedes, sharing plates served anywhere from low-key tavernas to the most formal of settings. In the Ancient Greek epic Odyssey, a housekeeper brings ‘appetisers aplenty’. These bites typically include taramasalata and tzatziki, dolmades and spanakopita. It’s easy to transform Greek salad, known as horiatiki, into a mini mouthful. Whip feta into yogurt flavoured with oregano, spread onto toasted pitta bread and garnish with black olives, cucumber, tomato and parsley.
Rather than preceding a feast, hot and cold tapas – which translates as ‘lids’, as they were invented to cover small glasses between sips – are often eaten in place of a main meal. Usual suspects include grilled spiced prawns, patatas bravas and a variety of croquetas. To celebrate Spain this season, rub toasted bread with garlic and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Finish with shavings of Spain’s most famous cheese, manchego, a scattering of torn parsley and chopped piquillo peppers.
Vast platters stacked high with a host of snacks – hot samosas, fluffy aloo tikki, spiced meat, vegetable and paneer kebabs and crisp pakoras, all accompanied by a range of fruit chutneys and cooling raita – are the classic way to start an Indian feast. Serve a light and delicious nod to this tradition by warming little squares of plain naan bread, then dot with mint and cucumber yogurt and add thin slices of grilled chicken tikka, cubed mango and coriander leaves.
As a sign of good hospitality, Mexicans serve botanas, simple little appetisers such as roasted mixed nuts flavoured with red chilli and garlic, or all kinds of different pickled vegetables. For the perfect Mexican finger food, offer guests a twist on the classic party chip and dip: warm tortilla squares, dollop with homemade chunky guacamole (ripe avocado, chopped tomato and red onion and lime juice) then finish with sour cream, coriander leaves and chopped red chilli.