“If it wasn’t for the olives in his martinis he’d starve to death”Milton Berle
Martinis should be followed by food. Otherwise, you face a realm of danger.
You should always have easy options for nourishment available for when your drinks are finished. Maybe dinner is keeping warm in the oven, or you’ve ordered takeaway or made a restaurant reservation. If you don’t have an option, by the time the alcohol has hit, you may be too late for salvation.
However, before post-martini food, there is a wealth of delectable bites, snacks and nibbles that can accompany and indeed enhance the pleasure of the martini.
To begin with, the snacks you have with a martini should whet your appetite but not spoil it. You need to be hungry for dinner when your martini is over, otherwise you run the risk of pursuing alcoholic ruin rather than a civilised ascension to the next stage of the evening.
Snacks to serve with a martini should be edible with one hand so you can hold your glass in the other. If you need both a knife and fork to eat a martini, it detracts from the martini.
Martini snacks should be bite-sized. There should be no slicing, cutting or biting off required. Again, you should be able to hold your martini in one hand, and pick up the food with the other hand. Having to bite it is inelegant. Please slice, chop or cut the relevant snacks into appropriate sizes in advance.
The snacks should complement the martini, not compete with it. A special food that requires a keen palette might be wasted on a martini, which is strong to the tongue. High quality sashimi, for example, might be too fine to pair with spirits. Equally, depending on your taste, particularly strong or spicy foods might be too much and detract from the martini experience.
Categories of Martini Snack
Here are some categories of food that make ideal martini accompaniments.
The classic, ubiquitous martini snack, olives are the defining feature of the Dirty Martini but an ideal accompaniment to many forms of the drink. You can serve them fresh, with all manner of varieties, brined and stuffed with an endless array of options.
This encompasses a wide array of potential snacks, some of which fall into the other categories of this page as well. They are usually infinitely pairable with martinis, and often constitute a specific garnish for certain Martini variations.
A crunchy, savoury and most classic accompaniment to many classic aperitifs, not least the martini.
Flesh, whether it is smoked, roasted, cured, raw or prepared in all manner of other ways can make a delectable accompaniment to a martini.
This is such a wide, rich and beautiful category of food that can be served with martini, encompassing everything from sushi to pate, ceviche to herring, linking cultures around the world with a cacophony of potential flavours and experiences. Fish in all its wondrous forms can go beautifully with a martini.
Shellfish and Crustacea
Crustacea are decadent, indulgent and perfectly complementary to a martini. You can enjoy oysters, lobster, langoustine, prawns, shrimp and all manner of this luxurious bounty of the sea with your drink.
Indulgent and satisfying comfort food, potato-based snacks are a perfect crowd-pleaser and a wholesome treat, for you or for others. Let’s not beat around the bush: crisps are a tasty martini snack as good as any other.
Bread, wheat and oat
This is a broad category, encompassing all manner of sumptuous treats from focaccia with oil and vinegar to cocktail blini, oatcakes, crackers, ryebread and all manner of variations. The possibilities are endless.
This is not a traditional martini accompaniment but various options for experimentation exist. You could try miniature onigiri, rice crackers or sushi for example.
Popcorn is so simple, so easy, so light – this should be a stable item in your martini snack repertoire, because of its ease and versatility. It won’t spoil your appetite and you can season it with all manner of flavours if you make it at home. My personal favourite is salt and smoked paprika but you can mix up anything you like, from cumin to za’atar.
There are several other corn-based food items that can go really well with a martini. I would save tacos for afterwards, simply because they can be somewhat messy and don’t naturally pair with a martini, but they are absolutely perfect for a post-martini meal.
Once you get into this category there are loads of tasty options to explore, ranging from hummus to steamed and salted edamame beans.
Healthy and refreshing, a salad can be a surprisingly welcome accompaniment to a martini, but remember the overall guidelines – it should be edible with one hand and ideally simple, perhaps only consisting one or two elements, such as cucumber or tomato.
Potentially exotic to some, this food, enjoyed in some parts of the world for millennia, will increasingly become part of our diet and provides numerous options for martini-accompaniment joy. Try nori, konbu, pepper dulse, sea aster, samphire or all manner of seaweed types to see how perfectly their salty umami goodness compliments a martini.
There is no limit to the creativity you could deploy with this category, be it grilled, boiled, roasted, raw or otherwise, refreshing or satisfying vegetables in small, bite-sized portions can make an amazing and unusual accompaniment to a martini. Try Korean spinach or asparagus skewers to get you started.
There is a world of delectable fungi that can accompany your martini, from wood ear mushrooms to matsutake. They can be an unusual but highly tantalising side dish.
Some martini variations call for fruit such as lychee or cherry but even with a classic martini certain fruits can make a pleasant and refreshing side dish, such as apple, mango or grapes.
A robust, reliable and globally welcomed snack, martinis can go well with quail eggs, scotch eggs or all manner of omelettes.
Perhaps uncommonly associated with martinis, tofu can make a very tasty side-dish. Try agedashi tofu or ma bo tofu as unusual but tasty partners to your drink.
Apart from fruit, this category encompasses all other sweet items of the food world that could constitute a martini accompaniment. Classic martinis are usually savoury drinks, but they can go surprisingly well with a sweet side dish. You could try lokum, halwa, dark chocolate, jaggery or all manner of sugar-based bite-sized snacks if you have a sweet tooth, but they tend not to be served in venues, you will likely have to do this at home.
Yes, we have to accept this. It’s a food of the future, and indeed of the past in many parts of the world. Whether its grasshoppers from Mexico or locusts in Nigeria, there is a surprising variety of crunchy, salty snacks in insect-form that perfectly complement a martini. Just think of them as shrimp from the land.
We end with one for the dairy lovers. The smooth, fatty umami of cheese is an ideal contrast to the cold, sharp, astringent mouthfeel of a martini.
Where to find it
Here is a list of trusted suppliers that I will add to over time:
Billingsgate Fish Market: the beating heart of London’s seafood industry. You’ll have to get up early to visit but it’s worth it!
Borough Market: it’s not just for tourists, this central London marketplace provides a wide variety of seasonal ingredients that go beautifully with a martini.
Fragata: suppliers of beautiful Mediterranean food.
Japan Centre: a London institution supplying the UK with Japanese food for decades.