We were once told they’d spoil our appetite, but today they’re the whole meal, writes Maeve Galea
When anthropologists look back on the dinner tables of 2023, they’ll see a random and heady assortment. Halfeaten packets of Pringles, pretzels and peri-peri popcorn. Pickles wrapped in prosciutto and fat strawberries dipped in burrata. Two-minute noodles tossed with salty capers and sweet pickled ginger. Peanut butter on everything. Rat snacks, hype snacks and lazy dinners will come to define this era’s day on a plate, and it might be indicative of more than just our attitudes toward food.
Snacking has become such a pillar of modern life that in the US it’s a $282 billion industry. It is, by definition, the grazing, picking and nibbling that happens between ‘real’ meals – breakfast, lunch and dinner – but these days they’re increasingly used to replace them altogether, and we’re delighting in the joy of food that’s low effort, high reward. Why spend hours wrestling with a recipe or slaving over a hot stove when you can simply throw together a Girl Dinner? The trend – which has spawned more think pieces than the US government’s alleged UFO coverup – sees women sharing artfully arranged piles of sliced cucumbers, cheddar blocks, potato crisps and scattered olives on a plate to constitute a meal.
There’s something deliciously freeing about the snack revolution, especially for women, for whom cooking has long been tied up with expectations and ideals around domesticity and womanhood. The normalisation of meals as snacks and snacks as meals gives licence to opt out of the kitchen, to escape the tyranny of pots and pans and indulge in a simple but stunning baked bean toastie. It lends itself to making dinner for one, without pomp or ceremony, and throws old conventions out with the dishwater (not that you’ll have much to wash up). Cereal for dinner? Sure. Pasta for breakfast? Why not? Or, if you’re a girl on the go, why not smother some cottage cheese, fresh figs and honey on a rice cracker to chow down as you head out the door?
“We’re the generation who killed the sit-down meal,” jokes millennial Andrea Hernández, founder of Snaxshot, a fast-growing digital platform and newsletter that serves up trend reports, product spotlights and just-snide-enough cultural musings on the current state of snacks. “As a behaviour, snacking fits well with our busy lives and demanding schedules. Snacks provide an accessible and affordable boost, a reward or some much-needed fuel as we power through the day.” On top of this, snacks can now have status. As Hernández explains, “When our parents’ generation went to the supermarket, they had two options:
whether it was home brand or a private brand. Now we have snacks that say something about who we are, or who we want to be.” Trend forecasters at WGSN predict that the standing of snacks as ‘edible accessories’ and the proliferation of ‘hype snacks’ (snacks that feel rare, and are therefore extremely covetable) will only grow over the coming years, with more of us buying into the online trend of pantry porn and rising interest rates fuelling our desire for ‘affordable affluence’. In South Korea, influencers and cool girls have taken to posing with oh-so-sweetly illustrated boxes of Hergry, a meal replacement cereal, the same way they would with the latest It bag.
But the real kicker is that this trend makes a case for joyful eating. Until now, snacking has been equated with junky, guilty indulgences and spoiling your meal – or, at the other end of the spectrum, with diet culture and deprivation via airy, lowcal ‘health’ bites and bars. The new state of snacking, in all its colourful, flavour-filled glory, is about satisfying and satiating oneself (and eating lots of good nutrients too, if that’s your MO). It’s an offshoot of treat culture, a very 2023 phenomenon that sees us indulging in small pleasures to appease the stresses of, well, 2023. In short, it’s about having your snack, and eating it too.
What constitutes a hype snack? We analyse Bonilla a la Vista Patatas Fritas, the gourmet-iest of gourmet crisps
1 The packet is in a foreign language
English is so howdoyousay … common?
2 Must have featured in a pivotal piece of pop culture
In the case of Bonilla, this was during a scene in the Oscar-winning Korean thriller Parasite (a cameo that resulted in a 150 per cent surge in online sales).
3 Costs more than $25
The above will set you back around $45 for a 500g tin. Chump change, really.
4 Should be feted by influencers and those in the know
Bonus points if they post on social media with the product inconspicuously
5 The packaging can be re-used as chic storage
Bobby pins, loose change, old lip balms – it doesn't matter what’s in there, as long as the label is always on display.
“For the best at-home toastie, use day-old bread (or older) to achieve the crunchiest golden brown crust. Combine grated cheddar, gruyere and mozzarella (or whatever you have in the fridge; I even use excess cheese rind to reduce wastage) for marvellous melting. Forget about butter on the outside, use cheese instead (yep, you read that right) and finish it off with a sprinkling of Olsson’s smoked salt.”
“Adapted from an Alison Roman recipe, I whisk two eggs with a dash of mirin, a drop of sesame oil and a splash of soy sauce. Gently stir in a greased pan over low heat and you’ll get the most delicious eggs ever (no milk or cream needed). It’s perfect as a snack, WFH lunch or even solo dinner – when I first discovered this I was so obsessed I ate it minimum once a week.”
“When I can’t be bothered to cook dinner, I always make pan con tomate. It’s essentially a Spanish snack consisting of bread (preferably sourdough in my case) toasted in olive oil and then topped with freshly grated tomato pulp (strained through a sieve) and a really good quality anchovy (or two). Top it with lashings of olive oil and salt and pepper for the perfect crunchy, salty snack meal.”
It’s not just in our homes (or lunch boxes) that snacks are thriving. Many of the buzziest recent restaurant openings are built around the idea of long, drawn-out ‘meals’ that consist of picky bits – a win for those of us plagued by choice paralysis and an in-built enthusiasm to try it all. At the same time, European-inspired aperitivo hours offering cheap drinks and snacks post-work and pre-dinner, are popping up at some of the nation’s coolest venues. Try: Jane in Sydney’s Surry Hills ($2 oysters, $6 snacks, plus martinis and Americanos that’ll leave change from a tenner); Amarillo in Melbourne’s Fitzroy (a neighbourhood bar with negronis, anchovies and olives available during an extended happy hour); and Vermuteria in Sydney’s Potts Point, which has an expansive and enticing $10 menu every day from 4-6pm.
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