The aperitivo tradition in Italy has a long and glorious past. But it’s not all about the drinks. Food is part of this love affair, and often taken very seriously indeed.
This pre-dinner ritual has conquered the world, but it all started in Italy more than 200 years ago. The aperitivo is the Italian way to “open” (Italian: aprire) the evening and to open the stomach too, by stimulating the appetite with a drink and often a bite to eat. There are rules here of course and, like all things Italian, nothing is done at random.
Which drinks to have as Aperitivi
Classic drinks that feature in aperitivi are Campari which is fairly bitter, and Martini which is sweeter, Both are alcoholic, and today form the basis of many favourite pre-dinner drinks. Sanbitter and Crodino are non-alcoholic versions.
Campari and soda It doesn’t get much more classic than this. A tasty and refreshing combination that opens the stomach and doesn’t leave you too tipsy. Garnish with a slice of citrus fruit.
Americano This is a popular cocktail made with 1/3 bitter campari, 1/3 red vermouth and 1/3 soda plus an orange slice. Relatively light and very tasty.
Negroni This is a stronger version of the Americano where gin is used in place of soda. It had its origin in Florence in the twenties, at the Cafe’ Casoni in via Tornabuoni (today owned by Florentine fashion designer Roberto Cavalli). One evening Count Negroni asked the bartender for something stronger – this was after a journey to London, where he had discovered the pleasures of gin – and the Negroni was born.
Spritz Prosecco with a splash of bitter liquer like Aperol, Campari or occasionally gin. Served with a slice of orange. The Spritz has become increasingly popular as an aperitivo.
Prosecco Now widely drunk outside Italy, Prosecco is a light, dry aperitivo that is often drunk in the summer.
The Aperi-cena – a new look at the Aperitivo tradition
A real aperitivo is made of a few light snacks or peanuts, but in recent times more and more bars have started offering “aperi-cena”, (cena means dinner). This is a much more substantial version of the aperitivo. There’s plenty of food on offer and it resembles a buffet-style dinner. Even if purists don’t appreciate the aperi-cena and prefer a light aperitivo before a proper meal, on occasions this becomes a way to save money and try different dishes in an informal way. You usually pay for drinks (€10-€12) and food is included. In some places you order small dishes individually.
Where to go for an Aperitivo in Florence
Aperitivo time is usually round about 6pm. People gravitate to squares where they’ll have a quick drink standing up, or sit outside in the summer.
In Florence the best aperitivo scenes are in the Oltrarno, around Piazza Santo Spirito Square and in San Frediano neighbourhood, or around Santa Croce. In Piazza della Repubblica you’ll find the more historic establishments like Paszkowski and Le Giubbe Rosse.
If you’re travelling around Tuscany, there are no shortage of opportunities to join in the aperitivo fun.
In Siena, people usually congregate in the bars around the edge of Piazza del Campo. Contemporary cocktails with a Medieval view. Try Liberamente Osteria, one of the local favourites.
In Lucca there is a lively cafe and aperitivo scene. The evening atmosphere in Piazza Anfiteatro is lovely, or you can head to the Antico Café delle Mura near the city walls.
In Pisa head to Lungarno Pacinotti, or the historic Borgo Stretto and Piazza delle Vettovaglie.
A taste of history: When was the Aperitivo born?
The aperitivo custom originated in Turin in 1786, when the creative wine seller Antonio Benedetto Carpano invented a wine aromatised with the bitter, spiced liqueur known as “china”.
The new drink with its slightly bitter taste was perfect for stimulating the appetite, and was given the name Vermouth. It became immediately popular as an aperitivo. The Italian king himself became a fan and the drink’s fame soon spread across Italy.