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I'm currently travelling in Korea and Japan and learned that both languages have words specifically for snacks that accompany alcoholic drinks, or at least go with beer and spirits such as sake or soju. It can include but is not limited to chips and nuts, sometimes salty or spicy. But it occurred to me that English doesn't have an equivalent word. The best I can think of are "snack", "munchies", "nibbles", and "finger food".

For those wondering, the Japanese word is "おつまみ" (otsumami) and the Korean word is "안주" (anju).

What's the best English word for a drinking snack?

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I didn't really want to request a "single word"! A short phrase would suit me just as well. –  hippietrail Aug 10 '11 at 19:58

9 Answers 9

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I believe the Spanish word tapa is often used in English, which means precisely that. From the Oxford English Dictionary:

1953 C. Salter Introducing Spain iv. 36, I should like to draw attention to...the admirable habit of the ‘tapa’. In Spain, when you order a drink in a bar..., you will always be given...something to eat.

1959 W. James Word-bk. Wine 186 Tapas, small dishes served gratis in boat-shaped saucers with every glass of wine ordered...in a Spanish bodega or café.

1964 C. Rougvie Medal from Pamplona vi. 79 Must be a pub there with tapas...these bits of food they give you free with the booze.

1978 J. Hyams Pool vi. 74 She had tapas and white wine at Café Monaco with a friend.

1982 D. Serafín Madrid Underground 63 It was the hour to take tapas or pre-dinner snacks.

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I think this is the closest to a "general bar nibbles" word that English has! –  user1579 Jun 9 '11 at 15:30
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In Australia I've only heard tapas used in tapas bars, which specifically try to mimic the kind of places found in Spain, so I would say there is a strong association which keeps it from being used for bar nibbles generally. Despite this it does seem to be the closest answer to my question and when I asked my Japanese friend for an English translation of "otsumami" she immediately answered "tapas". –  hippietrail Jun 9 '11 at 22:56
    
I think "often" is pushing it... –  T.E.D. Aug 5 '11 at 16:11
    
@T.E.D.: Perhaps so. It also depends on where one usually eats. I don't think English has a real word for it. –  Cerberus Aug 6 '11 at 3:30

I am going to vote for "drinking/beer/bar snack" based on transitive translation from Japanese to Russian to English:

  • In Russian, food given with alcohol (otsumami) is called "закуска" (zakuska). Among sources for translation: http://biablasta.ru/raznovidnosti-edy/cukemono-2.html

  • Despite a very strong connotation of being alcohol companion, it is officially translated into English as "snack" (based on several russian-english dictionaries I checked).

Therefore, a good translation would merely add the alcohol connotation, e.g. "beer snack" or "alcohol snack" or especially "bar snack".

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"Bar snack" is an accepted term in Australia, and is a good answer. +1. –  jozzas Jun 9 '11 at 6:19
    
+1 for "bar snack" which is very good but makes it sound like something you wouldn't eat with drinks at home, but -1 for using "officially translated" which is totally misleading about the nature of translation. –  hippietrail Jun 9 '11 at 6:52
    
@hippietrail - please clarify what you mean re: "misleading about the nature of translation"? –  DVK Jun 9 '11 at 10:27
    
@DVK: Who approves an official translation? –  hippietrail Jun 9 '11 at 13:31
    
@hippietrail - whoever is the editor of a well-accepted widely used dictionary. In case of russian-englisg, there are several (including online) and they all agreee. –  DVK Jun 9 '11 at 14:29

A British term that's caught on in the US: pub grub.

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Pub grub is generally any food that can be bought at a pub (in the UK at least), and as such couldn't be defined as a snack. Burgers, steak and ale pie, bangers and mash and ploughman's are all examples of "pub grub" that are in themselves a hearty meal - certainly not snacks. –  jozzas Jun 9 '11 at 6:21
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@jozzas: Never underestimate that which an American would consider a "snack" ;-) –  ESultanik Jun 9 '11 at 13:47

A French word for food that is often associated with drinks is hors d'oeuvre; it is widely used in English.

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I have actually seen "hors d'oeuvre" written in katakana on packs of otsumami in Japan so a definite +1. –  hippietrail Jun 9 '11 at 23:06

It seems Beer Nuts should be mentioned here:

Beer Nuts is a brand of snack food building on the original product, peanuts with a "unique" sweet-and-salty glazing made to a "secret recipe" [...] the name is intended to suggest to customers that they go well with beer. Many believe that Beer Nuts, with their high salt content, encourage people to order more beer in bars.

The phrase has come to mean any nuts served at a bar:

It's the name that grabs people's attention and sticks in their memories: Beer Nuts. Two words that say it all. In fact, the name is almost too perfect. Like Band-Aids and Kleenex, the name Beer Nuts has taken on the taint of the generic, which is why the company branded the name a few years ago. "Some people thought it was any nut you ate with beer," said Jim Tipton, manager of marketing communications.

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Direct from the OED (and straight from French):

amuse-gueule, n.

Brit. /əˈm(j)uːzˌgəːl/, U.S. /əˈm(j)uzˈgəl/

Plural unchanged, -s

[‹ French amuse-gueule (1946), lit. ‘(that which) amuses the mouth’ ‹ amuser amuse v. + gueule (see gullet n.).]

Esp. in French cookery: a small savoury item of food served as an appetizer. Also fig.

  • 1963 News Herald (West Lake County, Ohio) 7 May 6/1
    There were seven courses, seven wines and liquors. At the reception‥various appetizers listed as Amuse Gueule (amuse the gullet).    
  • 1977 Time 28 Nov. 31/2
    From the amuse-gueules to the mignardises, everything is exquisite, and so is the bill: $100 to $150 for two.    
  • 1993 Times 15 Feb. 29/1, I am not alone in lamenting the decline of those short film that used to precede the main feature in cinema programmes, performing the dual role of unpredictable amuse-gueule and subtle incitement to purchase unwanted orange squash.    
  • 2002 Wall St. Jrnl. 29 Mar. w10/3
    But there's much to admire, starting with an amuse gueule of kippers transformed into a delicate, smoky pudding-like cream topped with a parsley sorbet.
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In English, I'd say the more formal "amuse-bouche" has become more popular of late, however, it is usually used to refer to a small bite at the start of a larger meal; it is rarely used to refer to a snack that is eaten throughout a drinking session. –  ESultanik Jun 9 '11 at 13:44

I believe Munchies is the right word. The other words you suggested would mean other types of food as well. But munchies is almost synonymous with beer snacks.

Another specific word used in the same context is canapé.

EDIT

One source describing the usage of canape as a drink snack is Wikipedia. This is the link - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canap%C3%A9#Details

Similarly, Encarta World English Dictionary mentions the association of Munchies and Canape with drinks

http://encarta.msn.com/encnet/features/dictionary/DictionaryResults.aspx?lextype=3&search=canape

http://encarta.msn.com/encnet/features/dictionary/DictionaryResults.aspx?lextype=3&search=munchies

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Is there some documentation that shows association of munchies with alcohol? Merriam-Websters didn't mention that (I'm ESL, and from my limited cultural knowledge of the topic munchies is associated more with Marijuana). Same question for canapé's context. Thanks! –  DVK Jun 9 '11 at 6:05
    
The definition for canape can be found here - encarta.msn.com/encnet/features/dictionary/… –  Sri Atluru Jun 9 '11 at 6:25
    
Similarly, the definition for munchies can be found here - encarta.msn.com/encnet/features/dictionary/… –  Sri Atluru Jun 9 '11 at 6:26
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@DVK. I know. Google sucks. Move over to Bing. ;) –  Sri Atluru Jun 9 '11 at 6:48
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I use munchies all the time with absolutely no association with alcohol. –  Marthaª Jun 9 '11 at 15:48

Bluntly, there isn't a generic word for alcohol-related snacks. As others have suggested, canapés and tapas are particular types of snack foods associated with particular types of alcohol in particular contexts. The general "snack" words — munchies, nibbles and so on — don't have a particular association with alcohol. There may be some terms that work in some regions, like bar snacks (which unfortunately has a different specific meaning in the UK), but nothing universal.

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Which word I'd use depends on the setting:

A formal setting with drinks, I'd say hors d'oeuvres.

If it's at home with family and friends, tapas.

If I'm at a bar, or in the process of a barcrawl - bar food, beer nuts, munchies, snacks or grub.

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