Mezes, Mezedes, Tapas, Petiscos, Amuse-guele, Vesper… just to name a few of this worldwide art of enjoying food. It is a rather small art but the pleasure is with the details and the way of consumption. It is a lifestyle. We must make a difference to entrées, hors d’oeuvres, Vorspeisen, starters, also antipasti, dishes that are part of a complete menu and are usually served before other courses. Naturally you can also have Antipasti just by themselves if your hunger is small.
In Spain you go to a Tapa House where you choose from the many containers behind the glass counter and you get them served in small dishes; it is usually not dinner time, it is the time when women meet their girlfriends after shopping, when working people leave the office and get together for a glass of beer or wine and have some tapas, it is for the small appetite.
The mezes which we have here in North Cyprus and also in Turkey are either served before a complete meal or you can order a full meze where you get served nothing but these little dishes; the same applies to the mezedes in Greece and South Cyprus. I have heard mentioning that in other European countries they have Meze and Mezedes Houses similar to the Tapa Houses in Spain. In many of the Mediterranean countries they have the same name or very similar, Mezze, or Meza, so you would never be wrong when you just order some meze, they will understand you.
There are no limits to Tapas, many fishy things, you can often eat them with your fingers or with a toothpick, the same for the petiscos in Portugal; I love the rissoes de camarao, sort of börek but made from pasta and filled with shrimps, deep-fried. Or a bowl of steaming clams, or some bacalhao burgers… I feel my mouth water.
Mezes… we all do have experience with these, I suppose; a good fresh Humus is a delicacy, but unfortunately often served out of the tin. I love the aubergines grilled over charcoal and served as a salad or cream.
Amuse-guele or what we call them in German ‘Gaumenkitzler’ or ‘Magentratzer’ all meant to wet the appetite; caviar or salmon in crèpes; tasty meat balls served on toothpicks; there is no end to it. They are often served at cocktail parties where you hang around and make small talk.
Vesper or rather Brotzeit is something typical Bavarian, where you get all sorts of cold meat, sausages, cheese, on a wooden board; raw minced beef mixed with onions, gürkens and an egg, or another typical dish is the ‘Obatzta’ camembert mixed with butter, paprika, onions, herbs, or you can order a brawn with ham, cold meat or fish.
The history of these dishes are to be found in the need to preserve your food; vegetables that were pickled, cheese that was made from goat or cow milk, olives, almonds, tomatoes that were dried, and so forth; so when the men came from the fields they sat down and were first served some appetizer to prevent them from emptying the pot in which the dinner cooked. Or guests came to the house, and it was a rule that no guests were left without something to drink and a bite.
It is an easy way of communication, you meet with friends or they just knock on your door, and you don’t have to worry about a dinner invitations, you can have a relaxed conversation and no stressed housewife, you just cut some cheese, get some olives out and other pickles and enjoy a good talk; some small things are easily prepared, such as guacamole, zucchini with blue cheese and so on.
Or is there anything more exciting than to visit open markets in France or Italy and order something to nibble, some pâté or cheese and a baguette, or what I love doing in Munich is to go the Green Open Market and get some French cheese there and a glass of red wine, or you get some fresh oysters with a glass of champagne, or more hefty things the Bavarian style. Have you ever tried the open kitchen stalls in Singapore where you compose your appetizers by selecting them from many different stalls?
A lifestyle, especially when you are travelling, the easiest way to learn about the food of the country and meet people. A lifestyle which makes having guests much easier and more relaxed. A lifestyle to keep friendships alive.