Italians love their drinks and food and aperitivo is the prelude to our rich meals. Aperitivo is meant to whets your appetite by “opening” your stomach for the feast that’s about to take place.
This is a must do when in Italy and you can bring your kids too, because nowadays you can have it also non-alcoholic !
Aperitivo was born in the late 18th century in Torino with Antonio Benedetto Carpano who created the first aperitivo drink: vermut.
Vermut is a herbed flavored white wine that Carpano started serving as a pre-meal drink in the central square of Torino, Piazza Castello. Soon afterwards the Martini & Rossi company started a mass production of this white and spiced wine, that we all know now as Martini, but is no longer classified as vermut because not strong enough.
Aperitivo started to spread all over Italy in the 19th century and has reached us to this days, with changes and evolutions. The traditional drinks are: vermut, Negroni, Americano, Spritz, Prosecco. On the non-alcoholic side you can have Sanbittèr or Cordino, strong and bitter in taste, but soft for those who want to enjoy the happy hour without the dizziness!
As said before, the alcoholic drinks are meant to “prepare” your stomach for the meal, but don’t overdo it, you wan to have some wine with your meal too!
Did you know that Negroni was born in Florence? It happened in the 1920s thanks to Count Camillo Negroni, who used to drink Americano in his favorite bar until one day, bored with the same drink, asked the bar-tender to add a sprinkle of gin – instead of the seltzer – to give it a twist. As we know now, it was then renamed after the count itself.
Americano is another usual aperitivo drink, that was actually born in Italy despite the name. It’s composed with Italian beverages: Campari Bitter, Vermut and seltzer. Apparently it’s named after a popular Italian boxer, Primo Carnera, who used to have matches mostly in the USA and was himself called “The American Boy”.
Spritz is a most famous drink, originated in Veneto and quickly spread in all north-east Italy. It descend from a custom of the Austria soldiers that couldn’t handle the strength of the Venetian wines and therefore added a part of soda to their wines.
This practice turned into a popular drink, especially from the 1970s when Aperol Soda started to promote the “Spritz Macchiato” (stained or dirtied Spritz) which is the original base of prosecco and soda, plus a hinge of Aperol that adds a touch of reddish to the otherwise pale Spritz and a little taste of orange. Now is called simply spritz.
You might not get the blur from the fumes of the alcohol, but this drinks have sugar just as well so don’t exaggerate with this either.
Sanbittèr is the first non-alcoholic Italian “cocktail” mass produced and became famous quite immediately; it’s a sparkling infuse of fruits and herbs, with a bitter taste that recalls quite well an alcoholic drink. Another famous non-alcoholic drink is Crodino whihc is an infuse of spices. The recipe is kept secret, it’s know that is has coriander, cloves, cardamom and nutmeg and also this is quite bitter in taste.
Don’t think that you’ll drink on empty stomach! Aperitivo is always accompanied by some delis.
Maybe it wasn’t this way since the beginning: just a few years ago during aperitivo you’d drink and nibble on olives, chips or crackers. But this is no more, aperitivo has evolved itself into a more complex snack with crostini, cold cuts (ham mostly), cheese, bruschetta and so on.
The latest and ultimate form of aperitivo is AperiCena: you drink aperitivo while eating on a “buffet dinner”, which varies from bar to bar, but basically you get all sorts of pasta dish, meat dishes, crudité with dips, along with the classic aperitivo food mentioned above.
Apericena is more expensive than aperitivo - around 10€ per drink, food comprehend – but you eat almost as much as on a meal, that’s why it became so popular among youngster. In the past years it spread all over Italy, even if is still more common in north-center of the country, and within all ages and kind of people.
Aperitivo happens later than happy hour – without excluding happy hour itself
Now, the apericena or aperitivo time starts from 7pm more or less, but you can still get a drink starting from 6pm, so you can start by “opening” your stomach in preparation for the aperitivo. Between 9pm and 10pm, apericena ends.
If you’re on holiday in Italy and want to try it, know that you can’t start eating before 7pm and check also the prices, because if you don’t want to eat you have to specify it to the waitress when ordering your drinks. In some places during aperitivo time it’s mandatory to have also food therefore pay full price.
Santo Spirito, Oltrarno, Firenze
If it’s spring or summer, you have to seat outside, most bars don’t have tables outside and you might end up sitting on a curb, bench or wall, with a plate in one hand and the drink in the other, wondering how you’re going to eat or drink without resting your plate or glass on the ground. After a couple drinks it gets easier. Or you can practice beforehand at home.
Worst part of apericena, are the smurfs-size plates: you can’t get much to eat at one time and have to keep refilling your plate, but the trays of food are stock up continuously and you won’t miss anything.
Now you know all that you need to know to have a proper Italian aperitivo, it is a must do when visiting Italy so make sure to plan it in your visit! And if you need a closer insight on Italian food a guided food tour is always a good start.
So enjoy your Italian holidays and be Italian for one night having Aperitivo or Apericena.