When visiting Italy do not miss out on the Italian culture of enjoying an aperitivo or apericena. Aperitivo simply means pre-dinner drink and is generally from 12pm at lunchtime and between 7 – 9 pm in the evening but can vary across Italy especially in cities such as Milan, the aperitivo can be even earlier as the after work business crowd gather. The distinction between aperitivo and apericena is a little confusing, Aperitivo is when a standard drink is accompanied with more than just the traditional nuts or crisps and an apericena traditonally is an all you can eat buffet but aperitivo is also quite often used for both.
The history of aperitivo goes way back to Egyptian times but in Italy it is generally thought that Antonio Benedetto Carparno who invented Vermouth in Turin in 1786 is credited with starting this Italian tradition. The Vermouth was infused with botanicals, herbs and spices and considered to be a good digestive before a meal and over 200 years later it is still very much part of Italian culture and life.
Generally an aperitivo costs between €7 – €12 but this turns out to be good value once the delicacies start to arrive. As well as the usual olives and crisps, bars will offer tasty morsels such as cold cut meats, small savoury pastries, pecorino, pizza and even extensive buffets. What you are likely to get often depends on where you are in Italy.
If it is a buffet you will be given small plates but please do go back for seconds or thirds even though you haven’t bought additional drinks as this is not considered to be impolite in Italian society. At some bars the food is so good and plentiful it can replace a meal, which if you are on a budget is a good thing to know and it is easy to find the most popular. A popular area in Milan for instance is the canal or Navigli District where bars line either side of the banks which were used to bring in the marble for the beautiful Duomo. I do remember that at one of these bars the buffet was positioned around an old soft top Fiat 500 and the DJ was stood inside.
The drink you choose is up to you but keep it light if you are eating. Wine, Prosecco, Bellini (Prosecco and peach juice or puree, created at Harry’s Bar, Venice), an Aperol or Campari Spritz (my personal favourite) or maybe a negroni cocktail. I do especially enjoy a Negroni Sbagliato, a lighter, slightly less alcoholic version where the gin is replace with Prosecco to add a little fizz, in equal quantities to Campari and sweet vermouth and served with ice & a garnish of orange.