If you have read my blog before, you know that I love aperitivo in Italy. Getting an aperitivo in a bar or hosting aperitivo at home, it’s one of my favorite things about living in Italy, especially in Milan which I proclaim the “Capital of Aperitivo in Italy.”
If you’ve ever wanted to know more about Italian aperitivo, or Italian aperitif in Italy, or to host one in your own home, this series is for you.
- What is Aperitivo Italiano in Italy
- Ordering an Aperitivo Drink in Italy
- How to Host An Italian Aperitivo at Home
- Where to go to Aperitivo in Milan
Today I’ll be talking about What is Aperitivo Italiano in Italy and Ordering an Aperitivo Drink in Italy.
What is Aperitivo Italiano in Italy
Note that aperitivo italiano is NOT a “Happy Hour” in the traditional sense. In fact, if I ever see an Italian bar advertising “Happy Hour,” I know it must cater to a lot of tourists. Aperitivo is best not translated while in Italy, and usually isn’t. One should practice saying, “Let’s go get an aperitivo” or “Prendiamo un aperitivo.” Happy Hour in the U.S. is a concept about getting a drink “discount” and drinks and/or appetizers are usually discounted or bundled together.
Not so in Italy. Aperitivo in Italy is plain and simply aperitivo: A pre-dinner drink, meant to “open” the palate and it gives you a chance to socialize, relax, and nibble as dinner approaches or is overlooked altogether. Aperitivo is more popular in the north of Italy, though you’ll find a form of it throughout Italy. Ask a local for the best aperitivo restaurant or bar to find the one in the town you’re in.
Drinks during aperitivo are not only not discounted, but often they have a supplement added to them to compensate for the refreshments being offered alongside. How much supplement will depend on the reputation and location of where you are. I’ve had an aperitivo with fresh mozzarella for 2.50euro and a cocktail with potato chips for 15 euro. Cocktails in general will be more expensive than the classic aperitivo drinks listed below, though some bars will charge you “a consumazione” and charge the same price for all drinks. A good aperitivo ranges from 6 to 10 euro and can be a good meal replacement if the buffet is plentiful.
A good rule of thumb for evening aperitivo is from 7-9pm. Lunch aperitivo can be offered from 12pm on and you can even find a mid-afternoon aperitivo. Make sure you check with your particular bar because there are some hours which will be “peak” offerings and potential buffets will be more plentiful, usually in the evening.
What is offered with your aperitivo drink really depends on the bar. A few olives and potato chips are the classic offering, though some get very elaborate with fresh pizza, fruit salads, roast, hot pasta, cold cuts like prosciutto and bresaola, fresh savoury pastries and even fresh mozzarella in some bars!
Ordering an Aperitivo Drink in Italy
Aperitivo drinks are divided into two categories: alcolici (alcoholic), and analcolici (non-alcoholic / “virgin”) drinks. Analcolici drinks can range from a soft drink like Coca Cola to delicious fruit juice cocktails (aperitivo analcolico alla frutta – pictured below) to a non-alcoholic bitter like Sanbitter.
If the aperitivo’s liquor selection is extensive, a wide selection of cocktails will be available as aperitivo drinks and you can find anything from Manhattans to Cosmopolitans to Mojitos. For many Italians, Campari is their drink of choice for aperitivo, and it forms the base of many traditional Italian aperitivo drinks.
A Negroni is gin, vermouth and Campari, and garnished with an orange peel as in my picture.
There are other ways to make a Negroni, too. A Negroni sbagliato (“wrong”) substitutes the gin with spumante brut (dry, sparkling white wine). Sometimes they can really get it wrong. When I ordered a Negroni sbagliato recently, I realized it was a Negroni sbagliato sbagliato as instead of spumante he had added vodka, which made it a Negroski.
The Americano starts out like the Negroni but instead of using gin, soda is added to the cocktail in a tall glass that lightens up the cocktail quite a bit.
Many regions have their own aperitivo specialty (when I was in Palermo, Zibibbo was the drink to try) and a drink that is popular in the Veneto is starting to get popular elsewhere, too.
The Spritz. Soda, prosecco / sparkling white wine and usually Campari or Aperol make this aperitivo drink unique.
Wine is always an acceptable aperitivo drink, and sometimes much cheaper than a cocktail. If you like sweet or sparkling wines, aperitivo is the time to drink them: Prosecco (sparkling white wine), Spumante (a sweet or dry sparkling white wine), Fragolino (a sweet sparkling red wine), Brachetto (sweet, sparkling red wine) are all excellent aperitivo drinks.
The Bellini, invented at Harry’s Bar in Venice, is a good choice if you like prosecco and peaches but it is not always widely available if the bar doesn’t stock peach juice or puree.
Do you like aperitivo Italiano? What’s your favorite drink?