It’s early evening, you’ve finished work and are ready to wind down. Perhaps you’re also a tiny bit hungry, or, at least, are at that point where you start imagining what you’ll be eating for dinner. You’re on your way home and perhaps it’s a place on the way, your regular, where you know you’ll bump into a friend or two and a drink is in order, along with some nibbles. Nothing that will ruin your appetite for dinner, of course, anzi (quite the contrary), something that will help it along. That’s the aperitivo.
The word “aperitivo” is the name for both the ritual of going out for a pre-dinner drink, as well as the sort of drink that you would probably have at such a ritual. “Aperitivo” comes from the Latin word meaning “to open” and in Italian you still describe the effect of something appetising – that sensation you get when you smell garlic sizzling in butter or your favourite cake baking in the oven – as something that literally “opens your stomach.” That’s the idea behind the Italian aperitivo, a little something to encourage you to feel hungry, to get the juices flowing, if you will, so you can fully enjoy your upcoming meal.
Unsurprisingly, the people credited with inventing the aperitivo ritual were also the creators of the ideal aperitivo beverages – Antonio Benedetto Carpano, the creator of Vermouth, in Torino in 1786 (and later, Joseph Dubbonet brought the aperitif to Paris). Good marketing ploy? Perhaps. But the habit of taking an aperitivo in the evening before a meal became an enormouslypopular one in a short amount of time and soon the classic bars and cafes of the big Italian cities were serving up aperitivo to their fashionable nineteenth century clients. Today aperitivo still plays an important role in Italian social life and is as much about the food and drink as it is about socialising.
There are, as with anything to do with eating and drinking in Italy, rules.
Certain beverages are seen as appropriate aperitivi, “stomach-opening” liquids that will have your tummy rumbling as they’re thought to help kickstart your digestion. They’re usually relatively low in alcohol content and dry or even bitter rather than sweet – things like prosecco, vermouth (of course), Campari or Aperol. In the beginning these were often served straight up or on the rocks, but now more commonly they are mixed – see below for the classics. Their non-alcoholic counterparts include drinks such as Sanbitter (bianco or rosso) and Crodino, bittersweet, slightly medicinal tasting soft drinks. Then you have drinks that are known as digestivi, or sometimes known as an amazzacaffe (a “coffee killer” for the fact that you take it after you’ve had your after dinner espresso), after dinner drinks, to help you digest your heavy meal after a particularly indulgent eating session – things like grappa, sambuca or any number of amari (called so for their characteristic bitterness) such as Averna or Montenegro. Some are even considered both aperitivi and digestivi, sharing those much-appreciated digestive properties. The retro artichoke liqueur, Cynar, is an example of a herby, bitter drink that was marketed as both.
While traditionally a small, complimentary offering of nuts, olives, perhaps some grissini, cheese or salumi, may accompany your drink, you can find more and more elaborate meals being offered. It’s become (annoyingly) popular now for bars to do an apericena, rather than a traditional aperitivo. Apericena is a made up word (a combination of aperitivo and cena, dinner) to describe a richer, larger buffet of food, an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of (usually) lunch leftovers that are repurposed and revived for the aperitivo-goer to dine on, all included in the cost of one drink. I personally find this goes against the whole idea of what an aperitivo is and it unfortunately has become the rule rather than the exception.
What to drink.
The classic aperitivi are simple and although they have originated in very specific places, they are now found universally around Italy and beyond – the spritz, whether Campari or Aperol based, is a mainstay of the Venetian aperitivo but as beloved in other cities now too. There’s nothing else I’d rather have on a summer evening: roughly 3 parts prosecco, 2 parts Aperol or Campari (I’m of the Aperol camp personally), a splash of soda and lots (and I mean LOTS) of ice. Garnish with a half slice of orange.
Equal parts of gin, vermouth and cherry-red Campari, the Negroni is, like the spritz, served with plenty of ice and a half slice of orange. It’s a little stronger than your average aperitivo, the bitter, cough-syrup-like Campari giving it its distinct ruby hue as well as its mouth-watering quality – exactly what makes it a perfect aperitivo. Your mouth waters, stimulating your appetite and letting your digestive system get prepared for dinner. James Bond drank it when he wasn’t ordering martinis, and when Orson Welles tried his first Negroni in 1947 he observed, “The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you. They balance each other.”
What to eat.
If you’re replicating your own aperitivo at home (something we love doing), a simple starter is what you’ll need to accompany your aperitivo, a plate of cheese and salumi, some crostini, olives and various dips are just the thing with a spritz or a glass of prosecco.
Where to ejnoy your Aperitivo.
Every week Monday to Friday between 4pm at 7pm @ Ra-Ft Cafe' you can enjoy complimentary Aperitivo with the purchase of any beer or wine. Salute! :)