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small-plate also small plate

adjective

used to describe food which is served in small portions and on smaller plates

'The Lakeview Japanese-focused pub hasn't revealed its menu yet for restaurant week, but we expect it to include the type of exotic, small-plate dishes that have attracted fans since opening last summer.'

Huffington Post 10th January 2011

'On the culinary front, a now firmly established theme is menus encouraging the casual pick-and-mix of small plate dining in its various regional iterations: from tapas bars to Japanese izekaya joints, Chinese dim sum to Venetian cicheti.'

Taste of London 12th April 2011

If you threw caution to the wind this Christmas and allowed yourself to indulge in all manner of festive food and drink, then as 2013 kicks off you may find that, whilst the contents of your wallet have dwindled, your waistline has in turn undergone a serious amount of expansion. If, however, like me, you're one of those people whose heart sinks at the prospect of any kind of diet and the associated restrictions this entails, then the concept denoted by the new compound adjective small-plate might just offer a ray of hope.

one of the key things about the small-plate concept is that it encourages the consumption of smaller amounts … but doesn't compromise on taste

The adjective small-plate is now used to describe a type of cuisine which involves the preparation of food in small portions, correspondingly served on small plates. The expression is used in two main culinary contexts – either for the style of serving several small courses of food at a meal instead of two or three large courses (which in turn relates to a gastronomic activity now often widely described as grazing, i.e. eating at least five or six small courses), or as a generic reference to small but appetizing dishes familiar in many world cuisines, such as Spanish tapas, Greek/Turkish mezze, or Italian antipasti.

One of the key things about the small-plate concept is that it encourages the consumption of smaller amounts – and hence fewer calories – but doesn't compromise on taste. Small-plate dishes are characteristically tasty and carefully presented – think prawn tempura, mushroom risotto, tender and deliciously flavoured pieces of meat or vegetables … rather than half a sausage and a teaspoon of mashed potato! Such dishes are sometimes correspondingly dubbed small plates, the expression also being used as a countable noun to refer to a small, tasty bit of food served attractively on a small plate.

As an adjective, small-plate turns out to have a range of culinary collocates, such as small-plate chef/dish/eating/menu/option/portion/restaurant and, quite commonly, small-plate dining, the latter referring to the activity of eating at a restaurant which serves food on small plates and in smaller portions. Small-plate dining, also known as micro-dining, has become extremely fashionable in recent years, and there's been a boom in restaurants specializing in this very concept. Such eateries are thriving despite the tough economic climate, and a possible explanation is price – small-plate dishes are only likely to set you back about £5 or less, considerably cheaper than a full-blown meal. They also suit professional lifestyles where time is at a premium and what's needed is a quick and tasty pit stop before dashing off to the next activity.

Background – small-plate

The expression small-plate first emerged around the year 2000. From 2008, it also featured in the expression Small Plate Movement, a weight-loss and healthy eating initiative in the USA which encouraged American families to serve food on smaller dinner plates and thereby avoid oversized portions. The basis for the movement was a range of medical and marketing research which indicated that people tend to serve themselves in proportion to the size of the plate that they've been given, so smaller plates lead to more modest and appropriate food intake.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 8th January 2013.

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