Italy, the country of traditions, has fairly recently adopted a new one. You guessed it – aperitivo! Although it’s more popular in the north than in the south, you can probably find some form of aperitivo pretty much anywhere.
In my last post I had you loading up on cheap drinks in the supermercato to be consumed with your brown-bag traveler’s lunch. In this post, I invite you go the more elegant route and “fare l’aperitivo” if you’re looking for a relaxing, usually alcoholic introduction to dinner. Or just an elegant, relaxing and alcoholic alternative to dinner. Let me explain.
Bella Italia has kept you busy sightseeing all day, and now the dinner hour has rolled around. Or so you thought… Because in Italy people eat dinner generally quite a bit later than we do over in the “New World.” So at 6 or 7pm you go sniffing around bars and restaurants hoping to find a morsel or two of food, and voilà! You come across this magical sign advertising an “Aperitivo con Buffet”, meaning before-dinner drinks with a buffet of munchies or appetizers! You thank your lucky stars and head inside. You buy your drink, load up your plate with munchies and sit down to enjoy one of Italy’s favourite times of the day. You observe tables full of Italians coming home from work, meeting friends and family and partaking in exactly the same ritual as you are. Beautiful.
You could say it’s like the North American “Happy Hour”, except it’s not. Whereas during “Happy Hour” drinks are often cheaper, during “l’ora dell’aperitivo” prices are sometimes bumped up by a euro or two to offset the cost of all the munchies. In the end, it’s worth it, and an excellent way to relax, people watch and nibble.
Now, different bars and restaurants do aperitivo differently, so don’t always go expecting the same thing. Some put out a buffet of things like small sandwiches, cheese, potato chips, grilled veggies and mixed nuts for you to help yourself and eat as much as your grumbly stomach desires. Other places bring a plate to your table or to the bar where you’re standing, and it’s a one-time deal, but it can also be more substantial. But no refills, no buffet. Both options are generally pretty good, and as my friends and I have found, your aperitivo can sometimes substitute your cena (dinner) completely. Doing this is what my friend dubbed “aperi-cena” although you won’t find that word in any standard Italian dictionary.
Liberamente Osteria, my absolute favourite haunt here in Siena, puts on an excellent, elegant aperitivo. Do like I do, and drop by around 7, order a glass of Prosecco or white wine, enjoy the best view of Piazza del Campo, listen to the music, chat with the friendly waiters and enjoy a yummy selection of aperitivo snacks. Your stuzzichini will depend on the imagination of the chef and waiters that day, but it never, ever disappoints. Different times I’ve feasted on meatballs, filled puffed pastry, fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, pecorino cheese with marmalade, mini-omlettes, panzanella, shrimp, lamb skewers and more… Take a look at the drink I tried there last night. Cin cin!