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29th February 2024

The concept of small plate dining

Tapas, dim sum, chaat, meze, banchan and more!
The concept of small plate dining
Photo: Alex Haney @Unsplash

The concept of small plates exists around the world. Predominantly this style of dining is more common in Asian countries where food is often a very communal experience.

Recently I visited a tapas restaurant Porta  in Salford with my friends. Being international students from East Asia, all three of us started wondering about our inclination towards this style of eating. We found ourselves drawn to the concept of small plates and sharing dishes as opposed to ordering one dish for each individual, which can make the dining experience feel relatively flat. I realised it might be because we grew up eating mostly South and East Asian food, both of which involve sharing every dish, i.e. dim sum. 

Intrigued by the topic, I began researching it and found a term in anthropology called ‘commensality’ which means the practice of eating together. Eating from the same plates creates a bond and promotes cooperation between those sharing the food. This could be why there is more camaraderie between family, friends, and workers in Asia as opposed to the West. During work gatherings, meals are served in this style of small plates. This is my personal observation, having lived in both places.

Still, there is more of an individualistic culture in the West, whereas in Asia, it’s more collectivist. I’ve realised this multiple times when talking to my friends from back home and my friends at university and how we measure things like success differently. My friends back home would deem themselves successful if they were able to settle their parents or buy their friends a gift from their own earnings. Here, success is measured based on how quickly you can begin earning your own money, move out of your parent/caregiver’s house and stop depending on them or anybody for your livelihood.

No approach is wrong or less than; both are simply different.

These cultural differences translate into food and dining. That may be why, from my observation, many of my Western friends don’t particularly enjoy or understand the concept of small plates. They find the idea of ordering eight-12 dishes, for three-four people, daunting. There’s also the question of how we know how much is enough. Well, that’s the beauty of small plate dining; you can simply order more until you are satiated, as it’s also about the experience of the meal. Waiting for the food to arrive gives you more time for conversation. 

Having established the benefits and overall enjoyment of small plates, here are a few restaurants in Manchester you can visit with your friends or family and see if the experience brings you closer!

  1. Porta, Salford – I highly recommend it as the food and atmosphere were positively memorable. Between the three of us, we ordered their tortilla, Croquetas de Jamón (ham croquettes), patatas bravas, albanico Iberica, and grilled wild Atlantic prawns with ajillo dressing. My personal favourite was the patatas bravas, of which we ordered a couple of plates.
    Photo: Mitali Shylesh @ The Mancunion


  2. Glamorous Chinese Restaurant – This is where I went to celebrate Chinese New Year this year with my friends. This place is an underrated gem. Tucked away in Ancoats, it can be spotted from its towering palace-like structure.
    Photo: Mitali Shylesh @ The Mancunion


  3. Tai Wu – The first time I visited here was in my first year of university and it cured my homesickness. Make sure to look at the dim sum menu, as they also have regular plates, and go with at least a group of four for the proper experience so you can try more dishes. I recommend the har gau (prawn dumplings), shui mai (prawn and pork dumplings), char siu bao (roast pork filled steamed buns), and king prawn cheung fan (steamed rice rolls).

    Photo: Van Thanh @ Unsplash
  4. Indian Tiffin Room – Situated right next to Junkyard Golf, you can stop by either before or after a game to feast on some delicious chaat options. It has a vibrant, casual, and friendly atmosphere, leaving you satisfied.


  1. Chit and Chaat – I’m sure most Indians in Manchester are regulars here, and now with their new branch in Deansgate, there’s all the more reason to try it. Chaat is a testament to India’s culinary creativity. It’s the result of simple ingredients found in every Indian household being transformed into a delicious culinary experience. I recommend the chicken kottu roti, papri chaat, samosa chaat, and non-veg momos.
    Photo: Mitali Shylesh @ The Mancunion


  2. Comptoir Libanais – It offers a taste of Lebanon with its diverse menu and vibrant atmosphere. You won’t be disappointed as it offers a promising culinary journey through Middle Eastern flavours.

    Photo: Mitali Shylesh @ The Manunion

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