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Aperitivo: The Art of the Italian Pre-Dinner Ritual

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Picture this: a balmy evening in a bustling piazza, the sun casting golden hues, and you, sipping on a delightful drink, awaiting a sumptuous dinner. That, my dear friends, is the magic of the aperitivo.

 

What, per favore, is an Aperitivo?


In the simplest terms, an aperitivo is a pre-dinner drink. But oh, it’s so much more than that! It’s a ritual, a celebration, a social gathering. Originating from the Latin word ‘aperire’, which means ‘to open’, the aperitivo is designed to ‘open’ your appetite. But let’s be honest, it’s also an excuse to chat, laugh, and bask in the beauty of la dolce vita.

 

The History of The Aperitivo


Legend has it that the aperitivo was born in the 18th century in Torino. This aromatic, slightly bitter drink was believed to stimulate the appetite. And thus, the tradition of sipping on a drink before dinner was born.

 

What is The Difference Between an Aperitivo and a Digestivo?


Italians might bask in the ‘dolce vita’ sunshine, but mess with their dinner rituals? That’s where they draw the line! 

In Italy, you will often have your dinner ‘book-ended’ by two unique rituals: the ‘aperitivo’ and the ‘digestivo’. While they may sound like distant cousins, they serve distinct roles in the Italian culinary theatre. 

Aperitivo: Think of the aperitivo as the overture to an opera. It sets the stage, whetting your appetite for the acts to come. Derived from the Latin word ‘aperire’, meaning ‘to open’, an aperitivo is a light, often bubbly or slightly bitter drink, served before a meal. It’s the Italian way of signaling to the body, “Prepare, deliciousness is on its way!” Typically enjoyed between 7 and 9 pm, it’s accompanied by small snacks like olives, nuts, or crisps. The goal? To stimulate the appetite, not satiate it.

Digestivo: Fast forward past the pasta, the main course, and even the dessert, and you arrive at the digestivo. As the name suggests, this drink aids digestion. It’s the curtain call, signaling the end of the culinary performance. Typically stronger and often aromatic, digestivos are sipped leisurely, allowing the body to process the hearty Italian meal. Limoncello, grappa, and amaro are popular choices, each with its unique flavour profile and regional roots.

In essence, while the aperitivo gently nudges your appetite awake, the digestivo lovingly lulls it back to sleep. Together, they encapsulate the Italian philosophy of dining: a journey to be savoured from start to finish.

 

What Time Is Aperitivo Hour?


Typically, it’s from 7 to 9 pm. But in Italy, time dances to its own rhythm. So, when the sun dips and laughter fills the piazzas, you’ll know it’s time to raise your glass.

 

How to Order An Aperitivo in Italy


If you are one of the lucky souls who gets to ‘winter in Italy’, we will, despite our jealousy, equip you to ‘do as the Italians do’. 

When in Italy, ordering an aperitivo is an art! Start with a confident “Buonasera!” as you slide into a bustling bar. Gesture to the bartender and say, “Un aperitivo, per favore.” Want to fit in even more? Specify your drink: “Uno spritz con Aperol!” Don’t forget to ask for “stuzzichini” – those delightful little snacks. As you wait, soak in the ambience, the chatter, the clinking glasses. When your drink arrives, raise it high, make a toast to la dolce vita, and savour the moment. 

 

How to Drink Aperitivo


The spritz, with its bubbly prosecco and bitter Aperol, is a favourite. For those who prefer something lighter, a chilled glass of sparkling water with a splash of Aperol will do the trick.

 

And What About the Snacks?


You can’t have an aperitivo without some nibbles! Traditionally, olives, nuts, and crisps accompany the drinks. But in some places, especially in the north, the aperitivo has evolved into a mini feast. Think bruschetta topped with fresh tomatoes, delicate slices of prosciutto, and creamy mozzarella bites. Some bars even offer a buffet of pasta, risotto, and other delights. It’s a pre-dinner that could almost replace dinner!

 

How to Serve the Perfect Aperitivo at Your Event


If you’re inspired to bring this Italian tradition to your home, here’s how to do it:

  1. Setting the Mood: Play some Italian classics in the background. Think Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore” or anything by Andrea Bocelli. Set your table with colourful plates and glasses, and don’t forget the candles!

 

  1. The Drinks: Offer a spritz for those who love bubbles and perhaps chilled sparkling water with a splash of Aperol for a lighter touch.

 

  1. The Food: Keep it simple and fresh. A bowl of olives, some toasted bread with olive oil and garlic, and perhaps a cheese platter. If you’re feeling fancy, whip up some mini bruschettas or meat skewers.

 

  1. The Company: The aperitivo is all about relaxation and socialization. Invite friends, family, or even neighbours. The more, the merrier!

 

  1. The Conversation: This is the heart of the aperitivo. Share stories, laugh, debate, and dream. Let the conversation flow as smoothly as the bubbles in your drink.


The aperitivo is not just a drink; it’s an experience, a slice of Italian culture that you can savour and share. So, the next time you’re planning a dinner, start with an aperitivo. Cin cin!


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