In Greek: μεζέ, plural μεζέδες (mezethes, pronounced meh-ZEH-thes)
A word with its roots in antiquity, the word and usage came to Greece from Turkey. A meze is not a meal course like an appetizer (although meze dishes can be served as appetizers), but rather a dish, hot or cold, spicy or savory, often salty, that is served, alone or with other mezethes, as a separate eating experience.
The purpose of the meze is two-fold: to complement and enhance the taste of the drink (wines, ouzo, raki, etc.), and to provide the backdrop for a social gathering.
Unlike appetizers (orektika in Greek) which are intended to whet the appetite for the meal to come, it is common for groups of family and friends to gather or go out for mezethes, share several of these delightful dishes, a drink, conversation, and laughter. The little plates are shared by everyone at the table, which not only provides a wonderful variety of flavor and texture sensations, but also creates the kind of happy, convivial (perhaps noisy) atmosphere for which Greeks are well known.
There are many dishes traditionally served as mezethes, however there's a great deal of flexibility in what's included on the table depending on personal preference. Greek restaurants often have a separate meze section of the menu, and dishes that might otherwise be served as an appetizer, a salad, or even a small portion of a main dish can be included. Mezethes are great choices for parties and buffet meals.