Aperolspritz. Photo: Anna KuceraItalians certainly aren’t above criticism (Silvio Berlusconi, anyone?), but when it comes to eating and drinking – and the rituals associated with eating and drinking – they lead a fairly blameless existence.
Take aperitivo for example. The word, which comes from the Latin ”aperire”, meaning ”to open”, describes a particular type of drink imbibed before dinner to help stimulate the appetite. Usually dry and crisp like prosecco or slightly bitter like Campari, these types of drinks can also be found in other cultures (the French Lillet, for example, or fino sherry in Spain), but only in Italy does aperitivo operate as a verb as much as a noun.
The phrase ”prendiamo un aperitivo” is an invitation to participate in a post-work, pre-dinner ritual that involves having a drink and tucking into a variety of snacks that are often included in the price of the drink (though drink prices are often jacked up a little to cover the cost).
Some of these snacks are as prosaic as potato chips and bowls of nuts, but it varies from bar to bar and might also include grissini, pizza, little pasta dishes, fresh mozzarella, grilled vegetables and salumi.
Whatever the offer, the atmosphere of the aperitivo is innately civilised and convivial, leagues away from the idea of ”happy hour” or an all-you-can-eat buffet.
The drinks are targeted to the purpose of the aperitivo – getting you primed for dinner – with the most common being the Spritz (most commonly a mix of Aperol, prosecco and soda water, served over lots of ice with a slim wedge of orange) and the Americano (Campari, sweet vermouth and soda water either shaken with ice and strained or served on the rocks, both garnished with an orange wedge). Drinking prosecco, champagne or table wine (as long as it’s on the crisper, drier end of the spectrum) is also perfectly legit.
Aperitivo is widespread across Italy but is more common in the north, with places like Milan and Venice elevating it to a kind of art form.
It’s a little harder to come by in Australia but it does exist, though often you’ll have to pay for the snacks as you go. It may not be quite in the spirit of true aperitivo but, as the Italians know, even the idea of aperitivo is better than no aperitivo at all.