There is so much to love about Italy and its culture. The food and the wine. Beautiful art and ancient ruins. Crazy driving down narrow streets and laid back coffee culture in impressive piazzas. Gardens, the weather, the language and the friendliness of locals all feature highly. But my favourite thing? Italian aperitivo time.
I love the idea of the Italian aperitivo. A pre-dinner drink to whet the appetite for dinner. A way to unwind after work or a simple way to catch up with friends, it’s a concept I can totally get down with. And whilst it may not have quite made it over to the UK, Italian aperitifs are starting to feature heavily on bar menus across major UK cities.
So what actually is it, and how can you get a piece of it?
Not to be mistaken with the happy hour that we hold so dearly in the UK and US, aperitivo time at its heart is enjoying a cocktail and having some snacks. But it’s origins go far deeper. Whilst there are many versions of how the aperitivo became big news in Italy, it was in the 1920s that this trend really started to take off in Milan. It’s not just any cocktail before dinner – it’s a bitter drink served with small foods like olives and crackers and Milan have led the way in cementing this into Italian culture.
On my food tour in Testaccio, I learnt that the word aperitivo has Latin origins which literally means to open – or in this case to start your appetite. Italians believe pretty strongly that the best way to whet your appetite is by partaking in a bitter drink with a few snacks so that when you eat you are fully ready for what is to come. Pre-drinking and eating? Oh Italy I love you.Have you heard of the Italian aperitivo? Here's why you absolutely need to get on it!Click To Tweet
So what do you actually drink? Typically drinks would include some sort of bitter liqueur like Aperol and Campari mixed with other things and if you are not used to them they can taste a little hard – or bitter! You’ll usually find an Aperol Spritz (my one true love) which is a mix of Aperol, prosecco and soda over ice. Also on the menu will be a Negroni which is a mix of Campari, gin and vermouth (and kind of blows my head off so I definitely have to be in the right mood) or an Americano (Campari, vermouth and soda). It’s also common to find wine, prosecco or indeed other more common cocktails on the menu, but the aperitivo should be bitter and dry to experience it at its fullest.
On my food tour I discovered that actually Italy are not great producers of spirits such as gin but Aperol and Campari are all the way Italian so you can be sure you are having an authentic experience.
Whilst aperitivo culture is said to have originated in Milan, you’ll find an aperitivo pretty much everywhere in Italy. I’ve partaken in a pre dinner aperitivo in Rome, Pisa, Florence and Naples (and as I said, even London) and whilst the concept is the same there have been differences in the snacks provided or the mix of drinks. For example I ordered a spritz in Florence and it was made with Campari instead of Aperol as I hadn’t specified. Much of it can be down to the bartenders preference.
Depending on where you are, you can expect to pay anywhere from 6EUR to 13EUR for an aperitivo, which is usually one drink and one selection of snacks. If you are in the high tourist areas for example in Rome you’ll pay the higher price, but in Naples it was much lower.
Whilst you are not supposed to fill up on all the snacks, in some places you are provided with rather a lot for this all in cost, so if you are trying to keep things cheap in Italy whilst still partaking in a drink or two, I have to tell you it’s entirely possible. But given the fact that in Italy it’s unusual to start eating dinner before 8.30pm, if you are anything like me you have room to indulge in both!
I definitely want to make Italian aperitivo time part of my culture at home, so as the weather gets lighter you may find me in the garden with a Spritz an olives as my dinner is cooking!
Have you got into the aperitivo culture yet?