One of the great things about traveling in Italy is that you can always find a new and exciting tradition to explore. Aperitivo, a pre-dinner drink enjoyed by Italians, is a perfect example of this. If you want to experience a little bit of Italian culture, here’s what you need to know about aperitivo!
When it comes to food and drinks, Italians do it better than most. It is a communal bonding experience that brings together friends, family, and even strangers.
Each time I’ve gone to Italy, I’ve met fascinating people at local cafes and restaurants. There’s something about enjoying a meal or a glass of wine together that makes conversation flow more easily.
If you don’t take part in enjoying apertivio while vacationing in Italy, you are missing a cultural touchpoint. So, grab a glass and “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
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What is an Aperitivo?
Aperitivo has a long and storied history in Italy. The aperitivo as we know it today is believed to have been invented in Turin, Italy in 1786. A local businessman named Antonio Benedetto Carpano created a new type of aperitif wine that was a mix of white wine, herbs, and fruit.
Carpano’s aperitif was a hit with local Turinese, specifically women, and it wasn’t long before aperitivo was consumed before every dinner. Carpano’s new drink became popular and was soon imitated by other businesses. The explosion in popularity spread to other parts of Italy and became a trend and eventually a tradition throughout Italy.
While we’re not sure who came up with the name for aperitivie, we do know that it comes from the Latin word for “opener.” This is meant to signify the opening of a meal, which makes sense as aperitivo is meant to stimulate your appetite and prepare your stomach for delicious Italian dishes.
Is There Alcohol in Aperitivo?
Aperitivo usually contains a small amount of alcohol, enough to stimulate the appetite but not enough to get you drunk. The most popular aperitivo drinks are a spritz (white wine and sparkling water) or a negroni (gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth).
My personal favorite is the classic Aperol spritz, which consists of prosecco, digestive bitters, and soda water. It has a fantastic orange zest that makes the flavors pop.
While most Italians I’ve met prefer negroni or spritz, a select few also enjoy Campari, Cynar, and Lillet Blanc (the latter is French).
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How Do You Enjoy Apertivo?
In Italy, aperitivo is typically enjoyed in a bar or cafe. Italians will gather with friends after work and enjoy a drink and some snacks before heading home for dinner.
However, when it comes to ordering an aperitivo, there are a few things you need to keep in mind.
First, aperitivo is typically served after 6 pm, so don’t order it too early in the day.
Second, aperitivo is meant to be enjoyed with friends, so make some time to sit down with friends or family.
Finally, aperitivo is usually served with a small snack. The food served with aperitivo is not meant to replace your dinner. Like a light drink, the snacks are meant to whet your appetite. Whatever you do, don’t be an aperitivo amateur like me and fill up on dinner before you head to a bar!
What Do Italians Eat with Aperitivo?
Aperitivo is a great opportunity to try out some new and interesting dishes.
Many bars and cafes will offer a buffet of small appetizers, called stuzzichini (or cicchetti if you are in Venice), for customers to enjoy with their drinks. These can range from simple snacks like olives or cheese to more complex dishes like bruschetta or fried calamari. Yum!
If you don’t like the stuzzichini the bar has available, you can always order your own. Most places I’ve been to offer some combination of the following:
- Bruschetta (toasted bread with tomato and basil)
- Olive (olives)
- Pane, schiacciata, focaccia, grissini (bread snacks)
- Insalate (salads – typically served in tiny bowls; often pasta salads, tuna and bean salads, or rice salads)
- Salumi (cured meats) – prosciutto crudo, salame, capocollo, lardo, soppressata, bresaola
- Formaggi (cheeses, both fresh and aged – pecorino toscano, pecorino romano, grana padano, parmiggiano reggiano, taleggio, robiola, formaggio di capra) cheeses
- Pinzimonio (fresh vegetables dipped in oil)
- Cetrioli freschi (cucumbers sliced lengthwise and sprinkled with salt and pepper)
- Sott’oli or sottaceto (foods preserved in oil or vinegar, like sundried tomatoes, zucchini, pearl onions, pickles, capers)
- Crostini (toasted bread with a topping like liver, explain different topping ideas, liver, olive oil and tomatoes, basil)
- Pizzette (little mini, bite-sized pizzas)
- Taralli (crunchy, ring-shaped cracker)
- Arancini (stuffed, deep-fried rice balls)
- Fichi (figs, often wrapped in prosciutto crudo with cheese)
- Patatine (potato chips)
- Fritte (fried foods – fish, vegetables, cheese, polenta, etc)
If you’re looking for a true Italian aperitivo experience, head to a bar or cafe in the early evening and enjoy a spritz or negroni while nibbling on some stuzzichini. You’ll surely work up your appetite and have a great time!
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Aperitivo is more than just a drink, it’s a lifestyle. It’s an opportunity to relax and enjoy the company of friends before dinner. The next time you find yourself in Italy during happy hour, don’t miss out on this amazing experience. And now that you know all about aperitivo, what are you waiting for? Invite some friends over, pour yourselves some drinks, and enjoy! We want to hear from you: what’s your favorite drink for aperitivo? Let us know in the comments below!