The Italian Tradition of aperitivo is more or less familiar to most of us. In Italy however, aperitivo is more than just grabbing a drink after work and it’s more of a tradition and mindset. Aperitivo allows you to get some social life after work, before going back home to your chores. During weekends, it’s typically the go-to beginning of an epic night out and often substitutes dinner, more or less on purpose. It’s also a great, informal way to meet your date or get to know new people after classes at the university.
What’s interesting as well is that aperitivo is common for people from all walks of life. Students and workers, big company managers and employees, old and young people, rich and poor, everybody enjoy aperitivo. It’s a great occasion for socializing and it is gaining popularity worldwide, kind of like the Spanish tapas and the American happy hour. Many cities outside of Italy have incredible aperitivo spots such as Mercato Italiano in Madrid and Aperitivo Yerevan in Yerevan.
As a native Italian, I thought it would be nice to do some research on the origins, and show you where our Italian Spotters go for their aperitivo!
The History of Aperitivo
Aperitivo involves drinks and nibbles, key ingredients of the recipe for the perfect, laid-back Italian lifestyle. Indeed, this hour of the day is for relaxing, unwinding, and taking it slow, or as Italians say it, “piano, piano”.
Its origins go back to the Ancient Romans Times: this habit can be traced back to the traditional roman banqueting habits. “Gustatio” (tasting), the aim of this was to allow socialization before meals and banquets. During gustatio the members of the roman society gathered for alcoholic drinks and stuzzichini (nibbles) to eat.
Nibbles consisted of focaccias, small pizzas, and flatbreads as well as cheeses, fruit, and cured meat. It’s interesting to see this isn’t much different from the current food choice! A popular drink at the time was mulsum, a wine mixed with honey and spices. This, along with other interesting eating habits, can be found on De Re Coquinaria (a collection of Roman cookery recipes).
The concept of modern aperitivo remained more or less the same through the years. However, there are some regional differences, due to Italy’s strong regional character. A main difference with the past is aperitivo becoming pre-drinks on nights out, especially in lively cities like Milan and Turin. Originally, its role was instead that of a starter, to stimulate hunger and prepare for a big, shared dinner on special occasions.
The first aperitivo was served in Turin in 1786. Later, with the mass production and commercialization of Seltz and Soda in the early 1900s aperitivo became the big trend it is now, as more cocktails options were possible. Right now, the main trends are to either have an aperitivo that’s about drinking, or one that’s about eating. In some places, we even saw the beginning of apericena, an aperitivo with lots of food to substitute dinner (cena in Italian). This is a funny one, as Italy is pretty much divided between lovers of apericena, and haters that believe alcohol should be the main focus of aperitivo. The debate is still open and raging!
Aperitivo in Turin
Turin is the home of the modern concept of aperitivo. In 1786 Antonio Benedetto Carpano (a distiller) created the Vermouth. He made it from Moscato wine, to which he added a mix of 30 herbs and spices, and got a similar texture to that of liquor. Due to its ingredients and affordable price, it got very popular and became the official aperitivo.
Nowadays, Torino is one of the places where apericena tradition is strong. Being the lively city it is, a typical night out consists of apericena followed by clubbing or bar hopping for some cocktails and dancing. In general, aperitivo is a bit fancier here. Some people even created the InBarcaTo, a luxury aperitivo on a boat floating on river Po in the earth of Turin.
Aperitivo in Milan
Milan is one of the trendiest cities for aperitivo, where it literally becomes a lifestyle. Apericena is the norm here, and another common habit is doing a brunch drinking aperitivo cocktails on Sunday. Milan’s aperitivo is even fancier than in Turin, and most people tend to meet in trendy lounge bars to drink expensive cocktails. Usually, aperitivo is an event you plan in advance and dress up for.
As for food, you can really get full meals, sometimes including fruit and desserts as well. Recently, some places even started offering sushi. Indeed, sushi became a huge trend in Milan a few years ago, when everybody started going crazy about it. Now, it’s the go-to dinner for fancy night outs for rich people – or people who like to pretend they are wealthy (another big trend in Milan…).
A classic drink here is Campari. In 1860 Campari was invented by Gaspare Campari in Novara (not far from Milan). Davide Campari launched the first bar in the city shortly after and this led the city to become the city of aperitivo. Classic cocktails and Campari creation were here born and are now served during the popular ritual of aperitivo.
Aperitivo in Florence
Count Camillo Negroni is the man behind the invention of the popular aperitivo cocktail “Negroni”. Living in the 19th Century, Count Camillo had travelled a lot and knew the Americano cocktail very well, a mixture of sweet vermouth, Campari, and soda water. Once back in Florence, he asked his bartender friend to replace the soda water with gin for the famous Americano cocktail, and the Negroni was born. Later, Milan adapted the recipe by changing gin for spumante brut, an Italian sparkling wine, creating the Negroni sbagliato.
So, aperitivo in Florence: in general, here it’s a bit more casual than Milan and Turin, so no need to dress up that much! As for food, Florence likes eating in a more traditional, Italian way, so you’re normally getting a classic Italian starter. This includes bread, olives, pickled vegetables, and a big selection of cured meats. Cured meat is a strong tradition in this part of Italy, it’s very tasty and of good quality and there are plenty of different types. I recommend you try some of the different cuts, spices, and meats – there’s endless choice!
Our favorite spot to experience some Italian lifestyle is Kitsch Bar, the best aperitivo spot in Florence!
Aperitivo in Venice
The Spritz (splash, sparkling), a famous Italian aperitivo drink, originated in Venice under the influence of the Austrian Empire. It consists of Prosecco, Aperol, and soda water.
Its origins begin with the Austrians military troops during the Habsburg domination in Veneto. The Austrians started mixing local wines with sparkling water since they found them too strong. In 1919 Aperol, an alcoholic drink, was invented and people started adding it to their Spritz. The idea gained huge popularity and in the 1950s Aperol Spritz substituted the water and wine mix. Nowadays the recipe is as follows: 3 parts of Prosecco, 2 parts of Aperol, a dash of soda, and a slice of lemon or orange.
In Venice and its region Veneto, aperitivo is totally different. It’s not fancy at all, and it’s much more about drinking than eating. Apericena is not really a thing (indeed, here’s where you’ll find most haters of that concept!), and aperitivo is basically pre-drinks. Also, you pretty much have no fixed timing, after 11 pm aperitivo is fine at any time. It’s often very casual in a way that most of the time, you just ask your friend for a quick aperitivo after work, without necessarily planning a night out or an event. Even though a quick aperitivo often ends up becoming a night out, without anyone especially planning it – it just happens.
The positive outcome is that Aperol Spritz is dirty cheap here, as you’re supposed to drink several of them. So, the only acceptable price for locals is between 2€ and 3€ – the latter being considered too expensive already. However, food is usually not included or limited to a few chips or olives.
(Yes, pun intended). There are few rules to the aperitivo but the most important one is to relax and unwind! If you are visiting Italy and want to act like a local or if you just want to nail your next aperitivo, here we listed some key rules:
When: the usual start time is after 6 pm but there are exceptions. During the weekends, it is common to see more people gathering together to enjoy an Aperitivo before lunch.
Where: in Northern Italy, aperitivo is common everywhere, big cities and small villages alike. In the rest of Italy, it’s not a common tradition and you’ll mostly find it in bigger cities and main touristic destinations.
What: anything you like from the drink menu! Alcoholic or not, doesn’t matter, what’s important is socializing and having a good time. However, make sure you try a Campari based drink at least once.
Food: every place has a different selection of food. Almost all bars offer chips, olives, breadsticks, but many really specialize in homemade aperitivo nibbles. I really recommend you find a place offering a great selection of food for the best experience!
I hope that by knowing a bit more about this tradition you’ll enjoy aperitivo even more! If this concept is new to you, I really recommend trying it out. I bet this “ritual” will quickly turn into your favorite new habit!