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Christmas canapé strategy: five top tips

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By Time Out’s theatre editor Andrzej Lukowski, for whom the best things in life are free… and really small. 

It’s December, and the only proper, life-size meal you’ll be eating is on Christmas Day. That’s because it’s what adverts like to call 'party season', and parties mean massive platters of very small, often very delicious food. But how do you make the most of this seismic shift in portioning?

Before you even start, be sure of your motivation. Do you just fancy a very light nibble? Or are you basically aiming for an actual full-blown meal? It helps to be clear about these questions beforehand as it’ll help sculpt your strategy/determine how much time you’ll spend ignoring whoever you’re with in favour of hunting trays of delicious micro-snacks.

Jettison self-respect

Look: the ‘correct’ way to eat canapés is to have the odd one or two and look a bit bored about it, as if you live in a world where servants proffer you platters of fantastical mini-bites 24/7. It’s crazy, but that’s the way it is. If you’re being serious about eating large volumes of canapés, realise that other people will notice, and probably at the very least smirk. Ideally you will be with friends who can have ‘a bit of a laugh’ about it all.

Get a good spot

The waiting staff will inevitably make a stab at fairly distributing their treats throughout the room. But the fact is that short of brandishing a cattleprod there’s very little they can do to stop their trays being raided as soon as they emerge from the kitchen. So stand as close as possible to the kitchen, basically.

‘Befriend’ a waiter

If it becomes apparent to a member of staff that you appear to be unusually ‘into’ the food that evening, they will often take pity on you and actively go out of their way to offer you the tray. As if you were a stray puppy that they feel sorry for. Again, there are issues of self-respect at play here, but you can easily claw this back by casually turning away your pitying waiter (only to pounce on one of their colleagues the moment their back is turned). You'll have your dignity AND a smoked salmon blini. 

Play the long game

It’s tempting to get very overexcited when the first trays come out and to slightly panic when the initial wave subsides. Generally, it’s best to have faith that there will be more: early panic can lead to you stuffing yourself with something dull (rice balls or something) when there are more interesting bites still to come. Remember, canapés are as much for show as anything, and it is a poor show on behalf of the hosts to not at least look like they’ve taken a stab at properly feeding you. 

But remember that the best is not saved until last

Sweet canapes: they do happen, and sometimes they can be alright – miniature tarts, strawberries in chocolate and whatnot. But they're not a given, and to be honest if you're really after small sweet things, maybe you'd be more comfortable in the namby pamby world of afternoon tea. Canapé eating in its purest form is a rugged contest of strength in which you pit your wits (and stomach) against a foe whose numbers are uncertain and forms are unpredictable. The arrival of desserts is pretty much a white flag, signalling that things are winding down. They may appeal to beginners, but the true connoisseur knows to leave the instant the sweet ones appear, ideally for another canapé party.

Want more than a mouthful? Take a look the best Christmas sandwiches ranked worst to best.

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