If you are trying to make sense of your menu offerings, or even if you are a seasoned pro, some culinary language can be confusing. Not only that but some dishes or items have been called something completely different, leading to confusion for even industry experts.
So what is the difference between hors d’oeuvres and canapes, except for the fact that one is easier to spell and pronounce?
These two terms have evolved and are now being used interchangeably, although they used to mean two vastly different things. If both these words recall images of elegantly crafted little bites served during cocktail parties or pre-wedding reception, then you do have the right idea. Both terms refer to bite-size finger food served separately from the main meal courses. However, the offered dishes are distinctly different from each other.
You know how all squares can be rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares? The same applies here. The term hors d’oeuvres refers to a wide variety of bite-sized snacks ranging from panko prawns to chicken tandoori kebabs. The term canape essentially refers to a small, open-faced sandwich of some sort. They typically have a base of bread, crackers, crostinis, or pastry and are topped with various things and garnishes.
The word canape is French and means “sofa”, and is probably called that because of the way that the toppings sit on top of the base, similar to how a person would sit on a sofa cushion. The term hors d’oeuvres translates to “outside of work”, probably playing on the fact that these bites are served as a separate event as opposed to part of the main meal. To make it even more confusing, that is what distinguishes these two types of food offerings from an appetizer, which is served as the first course of the meal (also known as the starter), and usually complements the main course. We hope this makes it a little bit clearer, although your wedding caterer might group hors d’oeuvres and canapes together, calling it either one or the other, just to make the selection process a bit easier. We do that 😊