The Italian Aperitivo
There is a custom in Italy that is not practiced in the United States involving unlimited appetizers 2-3 hours before dinner. It’s called the “Aperitivo”
In Italy, dinner is served around 8:00pm or 9:00pm, but between 5:00pm and 7:00pm, Aperitivo is offered at various bars throughout every city. It works like this:
You arrive at a bar a couple hours before dinner, and if you see numerous plates of appetizers sitting at the bar where people are helping themselves, you know you’ve found a bar that serves Aperitivo. You can simply inform the waiter that you are there for the Aperitivo.
Prices typically range from 5 Euros to 20 Euros, and they always include one drink. The great thing about the Aperitivo, however, is that you can typically eat an unlimited amount of appetizers; it is perfectly acceptable for someone to fill their plate with appetizers, and then go back for seconds, and even thirds, all for a small set price.
The most common drink for the Aperitivo is the Aperol Spritz. The “Spritz” (an alcoholic beverage) is the drink to have during an Aperitivo, and all Italian Enthusiasts are encouraged to try it (so long as they do not have a problem with alcohol). It is a bitter drink, but after getting used to it, can be quite refreshing. The Spritz is by far the most popular Aperitivo drink all across Italy. Other common Aperitivo drinks include Negroni and Americano, which are similar to the Spritz, except that Campari is used instead of Aperol. If a non-alcoholic beverage is preferred, Crodino, Bitter Rosso, or Bitter Bianco are typically the drinks of choice during Aperitivo-time.
The types of snacks vary. At larger bars, the following snacks are common: rice, pizza, pasta, salami, prosciutto, cheese, tomatoes, and chicken wings.
The Aperitivo is also offered in some places before lunch, and the concept is the same, although the pre-dinner Aperitivo is certainly more popular, as it allows many people to meet friends after work and relax in preparation for dinner. Indeed, the Aperitivo drinks are supposed to open a person’s appetite.
I personally enjoy the Aperitivo. Unfortunately, it is not offered in the United States. One weekend a couple years ago while I was in New York City, I searched online for Italian restaurants offering Aperitivo. I actually found an article where a handful of restaurant owners claimed to maintain this Italian custom; however, when I called them to confirm, the staff had no idea what I was talking about. I have never found an Italian restaurant in the United States that comes close to offering a real Italian Aperitivo with unlimited appetizers for the small price of an Aperol Spritz. I can only imagine that this is due to the American mentality that people must pay for every piece of food they order, even if they are small bite-sized snacks. In Italy it is so different.
Indeed, some Italians do take advantage of the Aperitivo. It is not uncommon for Italians with a limited supply of money to substitute dinner for the Aperitivo and eat plate after plate. If you are hungry, I say go for it. The worst that can happen is the waiter comes up to you and asks you to buy another drink. As long as we are all reasonable, I think it’s a win-win situation for everyone. Most importantly, however, the Aperitivo is so authentically Italian, that it is essential for all Italian Enthusiasts to experience while traveling in Italy.
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