When your fingers do the baulking

May 26, 2009

Finger food fiasco - the kind of creation that ends with an olive in the cleavage (& a toothpick in the chef's eye).

Finger food fiasco - the kind of creation that ends with an olive in the cleavage (& a toothpick in the chef's eye).

Note to party caterers: when finger food can’t be eaten with the fingers, it’s not finger food.


Very enjoyable couple of hours at the A&U publishing party the other night, at which NSW Premier Nathan Rees gave a short and very welcome speech about his support for territorial copyright and opposition to parallel importation of books, and then enthusiastically nattered to writers. Imagine – a politician who likes to speak publicly about how much he enjoys fiction, and then wants to talk at length to the kinds of people who write it. All a bit of a shock.

Anyhoo, twas a great party all round, except the finger food was rather too frequently impossible to eat with the fingers – so that when a young woman appeared with a huge tray of food, a gaggle of starving people gathered round her and stared down at this big platter of something scattered with a wet-looking salad and what appeared to be lentils. Then everyone simply looked confused, then disappointed, said ‘ah, no thanks’ and stuck their noses back in their glasses.

It was the image of how one should eat it that put one off: just scoop up the bits in two hands, perhaps? Or tilt one’s face to the platter and bite it off the surface, like bobbing for apples? Bizarre. 

Then there is the mix-of-things-on-an-Asian-flat-spoon approach, which I have no qualms about, provided the mound of stuff is able to be got into the gob in one go. Having a big gob, I managed better than many more delicate guests who nibbled  round the edges of a high pyramid of squiddy-salady stuff, neck extended turtle-style to avoid getting food on themselves when bits of it inevitably began falling.

And then there’s the whole serviette fiasco – how to hold a drink, pick up a bit of food and still manage to extract a serviette from the grasp of a waiter whose arm is so laden with heavy stuff that his grip on the napkins becomes, through no fault of his own, vice-like. Also there is the leftover debris problem – prawns were good, for example, but then you stood around holding a prawn tail for half an hour.

It’s enough to turn a girl off food – another kind of girl anyway. Me, I battled on, chewing gigantic mouthfuls of stuff, eyes popping, as some erudite visiting writer asked a polite question and waited patiently for a reply, looking dubiously down at my greasy fistfuls of prawn tails  ….

All of this prompted Hughesy to remark that all parties with finger food should distribute lanyards attached to teenyweeny personal tongs, which I very much agree could make all the difference.

But I say we return to the days of the party pie and the sausage roll. Actually, at that party someone complained about having been elsewhere, where one bit of  finger food was a teeny cheese-and-tomato toasted sandwich – which sounds perfectly brilliant to me.

But in the interests of the term finger food retaining any meaning, and having  done a wee (read ‘microscopic’) bit of fingerfoody catering Oneself, I reckon these are the go:

  • Oysters, freshly shucked of course and served on, but properly freed from, the shell, with some little lemony/vinaigrette dressing. Not oyster shots, please. Slime in a glass. Ugh. 
  • Delia Smith’s caramelised onion tartlets with goat’s cheese & thyme. Or any little tartlet really that combines protein & dairy – smoked salmon & creme fraiche, etc. Or even just good ol’ roasted tomato & anchovy -anything with a blob of creme fraiche, really.
  • Chorizo sausage rolls, with a stiff tomato relish between snag and pastry – no scary dunking required and no drips.
  • Any scattery food should be served in one of those dinky little cardboard US-style takeaway boxes (I still have a million left from some party years ago), with a biodegradable fork (those jobs made of wood or bamboo). I think we did a mini felafel on a skerrick of tabouli with smudge of both homous and beetroot relish. 
  • Go retro with devils on horseback – Maggie Beer’s version is brilliant, as is one included in Margaret Fulton’s excellent Encylopaedia of Food and Cookery, the latter involving bacon wrapped round prunes stuffed with an almond wrapped in an anchovy. Oh yeah.
  • Kebabs, or as I believe they’re more swankily known these days for who-knows-what reason, spiedini. Octopus, tuna, maybe some Asian-style pork belly bits? But no sloppy dips – have to be firm enough not to splodge yoghurt dressing all over the Lacroix, sweetie. 

Hmm, that’s all from me for now. But our occasional visitor the Shanghai Surprise, Hamish Pollitt, is the king of finger food, having catered for our big fat (meek) wedding five years or so ago on a beach. People still rave to us about the food, which was abundant, surprising, beautiful to look at and all finger-friendly. He created culinary order from complete mayhem in a domestic kitchen, and all guests were stain-free, well-fed and happy as Larrys, if a little sunburned. Any tips, Ham?


  1. I know who’s responsible. The idiot who invented the all-collapsing, multi-decker, overloaded ‘gourmet’ sandwich which makes a mess of working lunches across the city every day has now moved onto a whole new field – all-collapsing finger food.

  2. Am in shock about Nathan Rees, and in total and utter agreement about the finger as opposed to the two-hands-and-an-assistant food. I still love a good sandwich triangle. Oh, and I went to ‘Rum, the Bloodiest Drink’ at the Museum of Sydney last week, and they turned out the most excellent rum balls I have ever, ever eaten as the final finger food of the night. Had never thought of it before but they were awesome. Go Hamish! The wedding sounds fabool.

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