29 Sep

Burning Question: Aren’t hors d’oeuvres just appetizers?

Finger foods, starters, appetizers, hors d’oeuvres: call them what you will – but hors d’oeuvres and appetizers are often confused. Even though you may find them listed online interchangeably, there are subtle differences between the two courses, as well as many different versions throughout the world.

Hors d’oeuvre is a French term that literally means ‘out of work’ but translates to ‘outside the meal.’ These are one-bite items, either presented on a stationary display or passed and served butler style separate from or prior to an entree. It can refer to favorites like crudites, bruschetta, or canapes. They are most prominent at cocktail parties or during the cocktail hour of a reception or gala.

Appetizers, on the other hand, appear as the first courses when seated at a table. The portion is often slightly larger and presented in a way that compliments an entrée. Usually these are passed among the table in a family style service, although at times are also presented in an individual serving.


Hors d’oeuvre: Petite mozzarella, arugula pesto, grape tomato, balsamic glaze

Either can be served hot or cold, sweet or savory, crunchy or soft and include a variety of colors, textures and temperatures. Notably, they are both served before the meal. However, each are served at two distinctly different points. In fact, an event can include both hors d’oeuvres and an appetizer.

Food is complicated and the debate of appetizer or hors d’oeuvres doesn’t stop there. What about mezze and tapas? These two popular terms are often well-known in the United States with more and more menus sprouting up this vocabulary in a section typically dedicated to appetizers. However, both mezze and tapas are not appetizers at all– despite the way they are widely used.


Hors d’oeuvre: Eggplant “cannelloni”, boursin, pine nuts, red pepper basil relish


Mezze or meze is a descendent of cuisines of the former Ottomon Empire such as Greece, Turkey, and Lebanon. Mezze is a selection of small dishes served to accompany alcoholic drinks. The term expresses ‘a taste, snack, relish’ doesn’t depict a full meal, or even the starter of a meal. Although, given its platter presentation it is very easy to make a meal of it.

Like mezze, tapas are the Spanish version of an accompaniment to alcoholic drinks. They are not a particular type of food or a known as a meal starter either. Unlike Mezze, it isn’t a collection of smaller dishes but instead one small dish of one item. Anything can be a tapa such as paella or croquettes. Since it is one small dish of one item, when ordering tapas you would say whether you want one tapa or two tapas. The serving of tapas is designed to encourage conversation, because people are not so focused upon eating an entire meal that is set before them.

So, which do you prefer – or is it all the same to you?

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