Sticky problem that’s difficult to approach

First published in SMH in 2007

Impossible-to-eat hors d’oeuvres make me sick, writes Julie Ihle.

I went to a drinks function the other night and had a shock. The hors d’oeuvres consisted of weird morsels in boxes, accompanied by a pair of plastic chopsticks.

These boxes are apparently the latest thing in finger food and surely rate up there with spray-on cheese and the ThighMaster as the world’s most stupid inventions. They typically involve a flimsy cardboard box (emblazoned with the company’s logo if they’re really trying to be groovy), half-filled with sloppy, sauce-smothered noodles and airline-standard chopped nuts. More sophisticated boxes have bits of sushi, tiny cubicles of wasabi sauce and a spring roll.

So let’s get this straight. Somehow we’re expected to negotiate chopsticks, drink and handbag, and talk to people we’ve only just met without accidentally flicking udon noodles at them and little bits of chopped peanut. In high heels, no less.

How did such a stupid invention ever hit town? It was probably dreamed up by some chemically assisted celebrity chef in search of a novelty to spice up his career (sorry, but such a stupid invention can only have come from a man).

Or could it be a cost-cutting measure by the hospitality industry? Cardboard boxes occupy precious room on the plate so it looks like the venue is providing lots of food. This means they can avoid the bother of serving real food.

Chefs, please understand that it’s impossible for a woman with a handbag and heels to scoop noodles out of a box at a drinks function. Something’s got to give and it isn’t the drink. If you insist on serving food in boxes, then we should be given a contraption at the door to hold the drink – maybe something we can slip over our head with a built-in drink and wallet holder, even if it means looking like an octopus all night.

The tragedy is that finger food used to be so much better. Sure, the 1970s had its share of gastronomic shockers (pineapple rice salad and apricot chicken spring to mind) but they got finger food right and not just because people could actually eat it with their fingers. The ’70s’ Kath and Kim party pies, frankfurters, and asparagus wrapped in sliced bread (crusts off, naturally) were perfect. All you fretted about back then was not spearing the inside of your cheek with the toothpick and spilling tomato sauce on your blouse.

Anyway, I was not the only person at last week’s drinks who was horrified by the hors d’oeuvres. Piles of boxes were left opened and people left early: presumably in search of more convenient fare. All we needed were some party pies and frankfurters: really, Kath and Kim have the hang of drinks and nibblies far more than Sydney’s trendy chefs.

It is time venues stopped being try-hards and turned back the clock. Finger food is not meant to be fashionable. It is for one purpose only: to line your stomach so you do not throw up in the taxi on the way home.

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