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At receptions, small pieces of food are often served, that can be eaten "on the thumb" even when holding a cup of champagne in the other hand.

What to call this kind of food in English?

I was convinced this could be called "thumb food", but Google proves me wrong.

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In the UK and often in slightly less formal situations these are called 'Nibbles'. (A nibble is a tiny bite). – Tristan Warner-Smith Jun 17 '14 at 13:33
@Tristan: In even less formal situations, they might be called snacky-poos by the "twee" middle class, or munchies by the sugar/fat-obsessed proles. – FumbleFingers Jun 17 '14 at 15:20
I want to be at the party pictured above! that looks delicious. – Mr. Manager Jun 17 '14 at 17:48
In my dialect, at least, these would not be called appetizers unless they were actually followed by a meal -- and even then calling them that would be slightly unusual. Hors d'oeuvres, party food, or just 'snacks' would be more appropriate (depending on the register). – Charles Jun 17 '14 at 18:05
up vote 19 down vote accepted

Finger food comes to mind. You were close with your thumb!

They are also conventionally called appetizers or hors d'oeuvres, even though according to the strict definitions appetizers or hors d'oeuvres precede proper meals, whereas at cocktail parties, an actual meal does not normally follow.

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"Finger food" answers the question but is a little informal. – David Richerby Jun 17 '14 at 17:42
Strict definitions aside, an appetizer is widely understood to precede a meal, which doesn't apply to hors d'oeuvres. – Kaz Jun 17 '14 at 19:32

The term canapé is often used.

Technically, a canapé is just one kind of hors d'oeuvre – specifically, the kind with a small piece of bread or toast, or something similar, as a base – but the term has, in the UK at least, come to be used for all such foods.

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It is particularly common in England to refer to any small pre-meal food such as this as a "canapé". I seldom hear the term "hors d'oeuvres". – Alastair Maw Jun 17 '14 at 19:16
@AlastairMaw The situation is the reverse in the US, in my experience. I'd never heard of canapé till five minutes ago. – user6951 Jun 18 '14 at 1:35
@CarSmack Yeah, but then you guys call main courses entrées and are therefore deeply confused about this stuff. ;-) – Alastair Maw Jun 18 '14 at 13:10

Such food is often referred to as hors d'oeuvres. Literally, "outside of the main work."

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Tapas could also be the word you are looking for


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Although Tapas intersects somewhat with what the poster is referring to, it by no means is the same thing. Tapas is a collection of plates, generally eaten sitting down as a proper meal (or part of one) and often consists of much larger items than this. – Alastair Maw Jun 17 '14 at 19:12
@AlastairMaw There are two styles of tapas. The Basque-style pintxo is quite similar to what this question is about; I agree that the style you refer to (small dishes, often with sauces and so on) is completely different. – David Richerby Jun 17 '14 at 19:36
The information provided by @AlastairMaw is completely wrong. The tapas is a common way of eating in Spain that generally involves eating a small portion of food with a drink (small glass of beer or wine) while standing or sitting in a bar chair. After one or two tapas, the group moves to a different bar/restaurant to do the same. – tashuhka Jun 18 '14 at 10:10
@AlastairMaw you clearly read nothing in that link – Chandler Jun 18 '14 at 16:07
In the US and Great Britain at least, "tapas" as a term most definitely includes food that is too large/messy to eat with your fingers while standing at a cocktail party, that would require a knife and fork. As such it is not an appropriate term for what the OP was asking about. Like I said, it is an intersection. I said "generally eaten sitting down as a proper meal" because that is the case in many English-speaking countries such as the US and Britain. "Generally" does not mean "always". – Alastair Maw Jun 18 '14 at 19:56

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