The Complete Guide To The Aperitivo In Italy

Italian Aperitivo Drink

Italians are famous for knowing exactly how to enjoy their food in style but this concept is taken so seriously that it’s even considered vital to prepare for a meal in advance! For the expats and tourists, Aperitivo is a great opportunity to mingle with the locals at a local restaurant or bar.

What Is An Aperitivo In Italy?

An Aperitivo is an alcoholic drink that is consumed in the hours before you have your main evening meal. It can be considered to be a sort of ‘liquid appetizer’ but you usually allow yourself a little time for your stomach to settle before starting the dinner.

An Aperitivo is a herbal based bitter drink that has a low alcohol content; although in the modern world it can also be a cocktail or a small glass of sparkling wine. Traditionally though, the Aperitivo is a bitter drink because in Italy it is thought to help to stimulate the appetite for the upcoming meal.

Aperitivo’s are often served to guests who are mingling at a dinner party before they sit down or can be bought in cafes throughout Italy at ‘Aperitivo Hour’.

The word ‘Aperitivo’ originates from the Latin word ‘aperire’ which literally means ‘to open’. This may sound like an odd root for the word but it denotes that way that the Aperitivo ‘opens’ your appetite or ‘opens’ the doors for the start of the main meal!

The Aperitivo is sometimes accompanied by small dishes such as cheese, mortadella, prosciutto and fried snacks after which a small glass of sparkling wine can be used as a palette cleanser before the meal proper.

The History Of The Aperitivo.

It’s difficult to trace the precise origins of the Aperitivo but the most likely creator of the practise was Antonio Benedetto Carpano from the Northern Italian city of Turin. In 1796, Carpano, an Italian inventor and distiller, created a mixture of herbs, spices and muscat wine to make the drink we now call Vermouth.

Carpano began by selling his new drink from his shop to people of all classes in Turin who stood, or sat, outside and socialized after their day’s work. And so began the Italian tradition of Aperitivo and the customs that surround it. Soon, people began eating a few small snacks with their Aperitivo, a habit which has survived to the present day.

In the 18th Century, King Vittorio Emanuele II, of Piedmont, adopted the habit of drinking Vermouth before his dinner and so the popularity of Carpano’s creation began to spread among the ruling elite.

In the 19th Century, Count Camillo Negroni, of Tuscany, is said to have accidentally invented another type of Aperitivo, which came to be known as a Negroni. This soon became the Aperitivo of choice for Tuscans.

It wasn’t long before the fame of Vermouth, and the aperitivo in general, spread throughout Italy and by the 19th Century all the most fashionable restaurants and cafes in Florence, Rome, Venice and Milan were serving their own Aperitivo’s.

However, the spread of the aperitivo didn’t end in Italy! By the 1900s the aperitivo, or ‘aperitif’ as it became known in English, was being served in Europe and the United States. By the 1970s, particularly in the USA and Northern Europe, the aperitif was replaced by the ‘Happy Hour’, when cheap drinks were sold along with snacks for an hour or two at the end of the working day.

Differences Between The Aperitivo From The North And The South Of Italy.

In many ways there are major differences in perspectives and outlooks between the North and the South of Italy, and the aperitivo is no different!

This means that there are significant differences in the style of the aperitivo in the North and South of Italy, with the various regions producing their own types of aperitivo from local ingredients using highly secret recipes that are often passed down through individual families.

One of the best places to enjoy the culture of the aperitivo is in Milan where many bars and cafes serve excellent snacks and Aperitivo’s. Of course, the aperitivo originated in Northern Italy and as the capital of the wealthy province of Lombardy, Milan was ideally positioned to lead the way in perfecting the art of the aperitivo.

Naturally, you can find an aperitivo in any major town or city in Italy but one thing that you’ll notice is that the further South you go the less common the practise is. In fact, in certain Southern provinces, the locals may even look at you with surprise if you ask for one!

For instance, unlike Northern provinces, it’s much harder to find a bar that serves a buffet at aperitivo hour in the Southern states although the practise is slowly catching on and more places are offering the full aperitivo hour to their customers.

There are notable exceptions though, including Florence and other parts of Tuscany where you can always find a good Negroni aperitivo with snacks available at most good cafes and restaurants.

Ideal Time For The Aperitivo In Italy.

It’s customary in Italy to eat the evening meal at a far later time than in most other parts of the world, including the United States. The evening meal usually starts at about 9 PM although sometimes it can be even later than that.

Therefore, the traditional time for the aperitivo is between 5 PM and 9 PM. You can have your aperitivo at home while you’re cooking your dinner or in a cafe on your way to a restaurant. It’s a time to relax after a long day and enjoy a small glass of rich flavored herbal bitters; and if you’re in a cafe, it’s also a moment to simply watch the world go by.

What Do You Typically Eat With The Aperitivo?

Aperitivo is frequently accompanied by small dishes that are served from a buffet or individually, depending on where you’re eating. In Italy, a small plate of food that is served with your aperitivo is known as a ‘cicchetti’.

Most Popular Cicchetti To Accompany An Aperitivo

Cicchetti can vary depending on the region. The following are some of the most popular ones:

  • Crostini: Small slices of crispy bread are called ‘crostini’ and can be served with any number of delicious toppings including soft cheese, cured meats or regional vegetables that may be fried or roasted.
  • Arancini: Arancini are fantastically tasty little balls that look like oranges, taking their name from the Italian word for oranges, ‘arancia’. Arancini are made from risotto that is then coated with breadcrumbs and flash fried. Originating in Sicily, they are also sometimes filled with vegetables or meat.
  • Polpette: These tiny meatballs are a delicious side dish for your aperitivo. Polpette are much smaller than the standard spaghetti meatballs and are usually served on wooden toothpicks so they’re easy to snack from.
  • Tramezzini: Tramezzini are triangular sandwiches made with white bread. They usually have their crusts cut off and can be filled with anything from cured meats to grilled vegetables.

Other popular accompaniments for your aperitivo can include a bowl of potato chips, olives, crusty bread with cured meats or cheese, dipped in olive oil.

The real key to getting the accompanying food right for your aperitivo is to keep it to a minimum. The last thing you want to do is to fill up before you even start your main meal so the food should just be a few tasty bites to get your digestive juices flowing and help to ‘open’ up your appetite for the coming feast!

Most Popular Aperitivo In Italy.

There are many different Aperitivi cocktails and drinks to choose from:

  • Negroni: First created in the 18th Century by the Tuscan Count, Camillo Negroni it’s made with gin, Campari, Vermouth Rosso and is usually garnished with a slice of orange peel. The Negroni is traditionally shaken instead of being served and is poured over ice in an ‘old fashioned’ glass.
  • Aperol Spritz: This is probably the most popular aperitivo among local Italians and is perfect for the summer months as a result of its fun bright colors and relatively low alcohol content. It’s made with Aperol Campari, soda and prosecco and is traditionally served with a slice of orange.
  • Hugo: This elegant aperitif was created in German speaking South Tyrol and consists of Prosecco, elderflower syrup, mint leaves and seltzer. It’s served in a wine glass over ice and is garnished with mint.
  • Americano: Despite its name, its ingredients are all Italian and include Campari, Vermouth and soda; which is served over ice and garnished with an orange slice. The Americano is also known as a ‘Milano Torino’ because these are two cities from which Campari and Vermouth originate from.
  • Bellini: Invented in the 1930s by Giuseppe Cipriani, the Bellini is surprisingly named after the toga of a saint in a 15th century painting by Giovani Bellini! This is because the toga in the painting is a similar color to the Bellini drink. It consists of Prosecco that is mixed with peach puree, served in a champagne glass and garnished with a slice of fresh peach or mint.

The Aperitivo – An Italian Way Of Life.

The aperitivo is more than just an alcoholic drink because it is also a central aspect of a cultural phenomenon in Italy, giving people the opportunity to relax while preparing their digestive system for the main evening meal.

Aperitivo hour is a time when people can meet with friends, watch the world go by and snack on a few light dishes at the end of the working day. Of course, you can also enjoy an aperitivo at home when you’re preparing your evening meal so you don’t necessarily need to head out to the local cafe or bar!

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