Meals in Italy are quite different than in other parts of the world. Breakfast and lunch are much smaller, and dinner is usually eaten later than what vacationers are used to. So what is a traveller to do when your “normal” dinner time comes around and you can’t wait a few hours to eat again? Enjoy aperitivo, of course!
Aperitivo is an Italian term that translates to “appetizer” in English. It is not, however, quite the same as the chicken wings or nachos that Americans would commonly enjoy as an appetizer. In Italy, aperitivo revolves around a simple concept: you buy a drink, and the restaurant gives you some finger food with it. And this is at no additional charge to the cost of the drink! Pretty great deal, right?
Aperitivo is not to be confused with American Happy Hour. In fact, if you see a restaurant offering a ‘Happy Hour’ sort of deal, you should run the other way… sure sign of a tourist trap! You will not find discounts on drinks during aperitivo; if anything, prices are hiked up to include the cost of food. Even so, you are certainly getting a good value.
A drink can cost anywhere from 5 to 15 euro. Restaurants often have a drink menu particularly designed for aperitivo, which usually includes a variety of wines and cocktails with a lower alcohol content. Popular drinks include the spritz (aperol and prosecco), the Negroni (gin, vermouth, and Campari) and the Americano (similar to a Negroni, with soda water instead of gin). The food served at aperitivo widely varies from place to place. Some restaurants keep it simple by offering plates of olives or potato chips. Others feature lavish buffets that will leave you wondering if you should skip dinner altogether. One drink generally equates to one plate of food.
As is the case with many Italian customs, aperitivo makes a social activity out of eating. It is a time to unwind from the day and visit with family and friends. The drink and light snack help ‘open the palate’ (in other words, stimulate your appetite) before dinner. Aperitivo is not meant to be rushed, and the purpose of the event is not solely to eat and drink. The meal can be considered the setting in which conversation and company are enjoyed.
Aperitivo is a great way to truly experience the culture of Italy. It embodies the Italian way of life: it’s a laid-back event, it brings people together, and there’s food involved. So when you feel some pre-dinner hunger arising and you walk by a lively restaurant advertising aperitivo, be sure to grab a seat and settle in for a little while.