One of the best things that I’ve discovered about Italy is the “aperitivo.” It’s such a civilised way to spend some time with your friends, and experience some of the Italian ‘la dolce vita.’
For Italians, aperitivo is when they can relax with friends post-work over a drink and some snacks. Since most people eat lunch around 1pm or 2pm, and dinner around 9pm, it’s also a good way to start the appetite for dinner.
For visitors it’s also a great way to wind down after a long day’s sight-seeing, to do some people watching, and to keep the hunger at bay until dinner at 9pm.
The aperitivo is associated more with Italy’s industrial north that the agricultural south. It’s city-drinking. Something that is bitter-sweet to start the juices flowing before dinner, or to wind down after a long day at work.
Depending on where you go, the price of an aperitivo usually varies between 5 euros to 10 euros, and the hours for a dinner aperitivo are usually between 6:30-8:30pm.
Every English tourist wanting to pretend to be Italian will tell their friends about when they were relaxing with an Aperol spritz in the Italian sunshine. However, the modern Aperol spritz was created in Venice as late as the 1990s . It was such a success that Aperol have based their global marketing strategy around this. However, there is so much more to the aperitivo than just an Aperol spritz.
For me, the perfect aperitivo drink is a Negroni. It’s so easy to make, it’s become a classic. Pour equal measures of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth into a heavy bottomed glass with some ice. Stir to blend and garnish with a slice of orange zest. Hey presto, you become like Gregory Peck or Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday; the epitome of cool and sophistication.
Your tipple of choice may also be a prosecco. However, not all Italian sparkling white wine is prosecco and vice-versa. It’s a wine named after its region, just like Chianti. Also, not all prosecco is sparkling and, in fact, there are three different levels of fizz . Firstly there’s ‘spumante’ which is the fizziest, ‘frizzante’ which is about half as fizzy and ‘fermo’ or ‘tranquillo’ which is flat.
Some small bars will give you a bowl of crisps and some nuts with your drink, but others go to town with the food and offer a buffet. However, remember that this supposed to whet your appetite for dinner, not replace your dinner! The general rule is one plate of food for one drink. If you load your plate like you’re at an English buffet, you may get some disapproving looks from the locals!
If the bar that you’ve chosen doesn’t offer a buffet then the classic food that is served with your drink for an aperitivo is some Italian antipasti. What could be more effortless than some ham, parmesan cheese, olives, and artichokes to nibble on when you’re passing the time of day with your friends, or whetting your appetite for your meal later that night.
Depending on where you are drinking, you may also get ‘tramezzini.” These are Italian sandwiches that remind you of the ones you would have had for afternoon tea in England, in that the sliced white bread has no crust. If this sounds a little underwhelming, don’t worry, as with all Italian food it works!
Then of course there are the classics bruschette and crostini. The only difference I can tell so far is the size in that bruschette are larger.
Good bread is essential for both. For me there is nothing more Italian than toasting a slice of fantastic Italian bread, ideally where the meat has just been cooked. All you then need to do is drizzle over some extra virgin olive oil, and sea salt. Perfection!
You can obviously then add your own toppings to this basic ‘recipe.’ However, as with everything Italian, less is more!
In Italy, the aperitivo is not just the food, or the drink, or the place. It remains quintessentially Italian and follows their pursuit of ‘dolce vita’ and the spirit of connecting with family and friends.