Italian culture is characterized by local festivities, seasonal foods, and, more importantly, a hassle-free life. When you go to Italy, do as the Italians do, you’ll not regret it. Don’t leave without adopting some Italian traditions. 

One such practice is the aperitivo, a drink and light meal that you have after work as you get ready for dinner.

Even though the Italian culture is regional, the aperitivo is among the cultures practiced in almost all towns and cities in Italy. When you visit, don’t miss out on this archetypal cultural practice. 

You must be wondering what this aperitivo is. And how do you enjoy it? Well, relax, as you read on, you’ll find out what the aperitivo is, its history, and how you can partake in it.  

Table full of snacks and drinks, Italian Aperitivo – What is it and how to enjoy it - The Proud Italian

What is Italian Aperitivo?

An aperitivo is a drink taken before meals to stimulate your appetite. It is usually portrayed as being like the American Happy Hour in some quarters, but there is more to it. 

The idea of taking alcohol as an appetizer has been around since time immemorial.

The term aperitivo is derived from the Latin word “aperire,” which translates to open. This describes the essence of the Italian aperitivo, which involves coming together with friends and sharing Italian drinks as you unwind and whet your appetites. 

The aperitivo has minimal alcohol content and is typically taken with a soda.

The aperitivo falls into two categories: bitter liqueurs and aromatized wines. The most common bitter liqueurs are usually red or orange. Examples are Aperol, which is orange in color, and Campari and Cynar, which are red. Aromatized wines include Americano, Vermouth, and Chinato. Read on to discover how you can enjoy this drink.  

Campari aperitif, Italian Aperitivo – What is it and how to enjoy it - The Proud Italian

History

Antonio Benedetto Carpano is believed to be the Founding Father of the modern aperitif. The distiller is reported as being the first to create the initial types of Vermouth back in 1976 in Turin. 

Carpano asserted that his unique blend of enriched white wine and several spices and herbs whetted the appetite. He also suggested that his secret recipe was more appropriate for ladies than red wine. As a result, it became one of the first well-liked aperitivo drinks.   

The legend states that Carpano presented his concoction to King Vittorio Emanuele, who instantly fell in love with it. The King defined the drink as Punt e Mes, translated meaning a point and a half, of the bitterness he tasted in the beverage.

The King’s comment spread like a bushfire in the circles of Italian upper classes. Over time having the Punt e Mes before dinner became the norm in social pre-dinner meetings in the lavish houses and sleek hotels in town.

The drink’s popularity attracted more manufacturers, making the market to have a variety. Non-alcoholic beverages were also created. The drinks started being served together with a tiny plate of olives, which grew into a platter of elaborate snacks, and gradually resembled a buffet. Despite its transformation, aperitivo preserved the lightness and upper-class kind of indulgence.

Wooden barrel of Vermouth, Italian Aperitivo – What is it and how to enjoy it - The Proud Italian

What is Aperitivo Hour in America?

The Americans have also embraced the aperitivo tradition. Some have even taken it beyond the evening pre-dinner sessions to spending hours sipping their aperitivo with plenty of snacks. The aperitivo hour usually ends up being aperitivo hours.

Minimal alcohol content makes it possible for them to enjoy the drink for longer hours. The popularity of the aperitivo in America has given rise to various aperitivo products. The popularity of the Italian drink is partly because of its simple preparation process. 

An original aperitivo must contain Vermouth and other spirits blended to make a nice cocktail. Popular cocktails include Negroni, Americano, and Spritz. The aperitivo hour is made complete by light snacks.    

Spritz Aperol with cicchetti, Italian Aperitivo – What is it and how to enjoy it - The Proud Italian

How to enjoy it

Traditionally, it would be best if you had your aperitivo between 7 pm and 9 pm. Depending on the location you’re enjoying it from, you can have it fast with a drink and some snacks like crisps and peanuts, or with a complete Italian buffet. 

In most regions in Italy, the aperitivo menu has wide-ranging foods like Italian tapas, grissini col prosciutto, crostini, among others. Usually, someone will show you to a seat,  then take your order. It is not a must to consume alcohol for you to take part in the aperitivo. However, you must order a beverage before you can eat your meal. 

A little heads up, please don’t order a typical soda. Here are some popular alcoholic drinks you can order:

  • Spritz –  which is a blend of Soda, Prosecco, and Aperol or Campari.
  • Bellini –  a cocktail of spumante and peach puree.
  • Negroni –  made of gin, vermouth, and Campari.
  • Negroni Sbaliato, a blend of Spumante, Vermouth, Campari.
  • Dry Martini – made by mixing Gin, Vermouth, orange zest, green olive.

Negroni, Italian Aperitivo – What is it and how to enjoy it - The Proud Italian

If you want a non-alcoholic drink, you can select from:

  • Campari soda- contains Campari and Soda.
  • Aperol soda – Made with Aperol and Soda Water.
  • Crodino – contains Crodino and Soda Water.
  • Sanbitter Bianco or Rosso – a blend of Sanbitter and Bianco.

If Italy is far away from you, you can still enjoy your aperitivo at home. When you create them, make sure to keep the aperitivo spirit alive. Make some bite-sized portions and an Italian buffet. 

Get a blend of your usual drinks with original Italian drinks. In the end, aperitivo is all about gathering together with friends and enjoying similar cocktail foods.

Here are foods you should consider for your aperitivo at home:

  • Roast peanuts
  • Crisps
  • Cold frittata
  • Italian sausage roll
  • Pasta salad
  • Pizzette

Frends with aperitivo, Italian Aperitivo – What is it and how to enjoy it - The Proud Italian

Summary

The aperitivo meaning is lost whenever it is done without the spirit of the tradition. Even with the English’s aperitif definition, it has to have the Italian touch to be enjoyable. 

How you enjoy your aperitif is wholly dependent on your tastes and preferences. Originally, there must be Italian drinks, especially alcoholic beverages. But if you don’t consume alcohol, you can still enjoy your aperitivo with friends sipping on non-alcoholic beverages. 

Finally, if you can’t go to Italy, you can bring it to your home by enjoying aperitivo hour with friends. To keep it real, ensure it has the Italian touch.