Finger food is food meant to be eaten directly using the hands, in contrast to food eaten with a knife and fork, spoon, chopsticks, or other utensils. In most cultures, food is almost always eaten with the hands; for example, Ethiopian cuisine is eaten by rolling various dishes up in injera bread. Foods considered street foods are frequently, though not exclusively, finger foods.
Before eating utensils were invented and widely adopted, all food can be considered finger food and there was no need for this term. Having a separate word for food eaten with hands occurred only after the normalization of eating with utensils, and hence 'finger food' is a retronym.
Today, vegetable sticks, whole fruits, and packaged snacks are usually eaten by hand.
In 1920, after the Volstead Act was published, some people did not want to comply and had drinks secretly. Since bars and bistros were prohibited from drinking, people established a place called Speakeasy to provide illegal drinks. In order not to let customers indulge in it and expose the places, they provide customers with a small amount of food throughout the night. Some easy food, such as sandwiches and stuffed mushrooms, were the best choices that are small in one hand while another hand holds the drink. In addition, many people liked to have private alcohol-centric gatherings at home. Cocktails parties were becoming more and more popular after the prohibition. Having some food or snacks were also popular at these private parties. After that, many different kinds of finger food were developed at parties and restaurants.
M&M's chocolates adopted the slogan "melt in your mouth, not in your hand" in 1967.
According to legend, John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, was an avid gambler. One day in 1762, he was gambling for 24 hours and felt hungry, but he didn't want to put down his cards to eat. Then, he asked the chef to make something that he could eat with one hand so that he can continue playing cards. The chef rushed to meet the demand and showed the count the meat sliced with two slices of bread, which was the first Sandwich.
According to Records of the Three Kingdoms, written in the third Century, Japanese people at the time eat with hands. While chopsticks were later introduced to Japan, it is still considered appropriate today to eat sushi with hands.
The packaged snack pocky is specifically designed with one end uncoated by the chocolate so that it can be held in the hand without melting.
In the Western world, finger foods are often either appetizers (hors d'œuvres) or entree/main course items. In the Western world, examples of generally accepted finger food are miniature meat pies, sausage rolls, cheese and olives, chicken drumsticks or wings, spring rolls, miniature quiches, samosas, sandwiches, Merenda or other such based foods, such as pitas or items in buns, bhajjis, potato wedges, vol au vents, several other such small items and risotto balls (arancini). Other well-known foods that are generally eaten with the hands include hamburgers, pizza, chips, hot dogs, fruit, and bread. Dessert items such as cookies, pastries, ice cream in cones, or ice pops are often eaten with the hands but are not, in common parlance, considered finger foods. In East Asia, foods like steamed bun (mantou 饅頭), pancakes or flatbreads (bing 饼) are often eaten with the hands. It is interesting how "finger food" is used frequently in some cultures, but is frowned upon in others. For example, around family you can use your hands to dip a chunk of bread into the pasta sauce, but if you were in a fancy restaurant it would not be as appropriate.
In many Western countries there are catering businesses that supply finger foods for events such as weddings, engagements, birthdays and other milestone celebrations. For weddings, in particular, finger foods are becoming more popular because they are less expensive and offer more flexibility with menu choices. Gourmet hors d'oeuvres such as Quiche, pâté, caviar, and tea sandwiches are suitable for a formal event, whereas more familiar food such as sliced fruits, deli trays, crackers, and cookies are preferred at more casual celebrations.
- Kay Halsey (1999). Finger Food. Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 962-593-444-8.
- J.H. Arrowsmith-Brown (trans.), Prutky's Travels in Ethiopia and other Countries with notes by Richard Pankhurst (London: Hakluyt Society, 1991)
- Avey, Tori (1 February 2013). "Speakeasies, Sofas, and the History of Finger Foods". PBS.
- Michael M. Grynbaum (10 January 2014). "A Fork? De Blasio's Way of Eating Pizza Is Mocked". New York Times. Retrieved 16 October 2016.
- Christine Roberts (1 June 2011). "Use your hands! New Yorkers respond to Sarah Palin, Donald Trump pizza-eating faux pas". NY Daily News. Retrieved 6 October 2016.
- Sockeel, Didier. "Modern vs. Classic Finger Food – How Finger Food has Evolved". Ganache Patisserie.
- "Finger Food", BBC.co.uk, 11 January 2002
- "FINGERS VS. FORK". Good Housekeeping, 2019. 268.
- Ridgway, Judy (2014). Catering for a Wedding: How to Plan and Prepare a Great Spread. Gardiner Press.