Every culture has its rituals—teatime for the English, the siesta for the Spanish, that morning cup of Joe for the Americans. For Italians, the daily ritual most sacred is that of the evening meal. It’s a waltz of food and drink: plates of primo (first course) and secondo (second course) gliding around the table, cutting in with the insalata (salad) and the penultimate bow with a sip of café. But the overture of the dinnertime dance is the aperitivo. Designed to beckon hunger and induce good digestion, the pre-dinner drink has a philosophy and a history as rich as the food it precedes. Here The Roman Guy reveals the truth behind the Italian aperitivo!
The slightly bitter (but never decadent) tones of the Italian aperitivo are meant to encourage hunger and prepare the palate for the incoming feast. According to Italian food expert Marla Roncaglia, her article in The Huffington Post highlights that these pre-dinner beverages are usually paired with a complimentary salitini (a snack like peanuts or finger-sandwiches):
“Usually, from about 4-7 p.m., especially in northern Italy and the larger cities, café bars have the Italian equivalent of happy hour called aperitivi, offering a selection of small bites to go along with your drink.”
Embracing this tradition in Rome, The Roman Guy suggests trying the aperitivi at Caffé della Pace. Near to Piazza Navona, this bar is a favorite for both locals and international celebrities such as Robert De Niro and Al Pacino! If it’s a younger crowd you’re looking for then Freni e Frizioni in the Trastevere neighborhood is definitely your place for a tasty aperitivo.
The concept of an Italian apertivo is not a new one. Flavored wines and spirits have been around for centuries as medicine and drink, but by the twentieth century the idea of a liquid stimulant before dinner was common around the world.
Italy has had a special chapter in this history, as Turin has been churning out vermouth globally since the 1800s. Cocktail Times says: “During the 1840s, Gaspare Campari and the Cinzano family sold their aperitifs throughout Italy. Other aperitif brands available are Cynar, Lillet, Pernod, Angostura, Absinthe, Ouzo, Unicum and Fernet-Branca”. This tradition has made certain parts of Italy synonymous with the production of pre-dinner drinks.
Want to mix it up yourself? It’s very simple and here are the instructions.
The there is no one aperitivo; the title is given to most drinks imbibed before dinner, so anynumber of cocktails qualify. Common choices are Prosecco, vermouth, and particularly the aperol spritz. This cocktail of proseco, sparkling water, and Aperol (a liqueur of roots and herbs) hails itself as: “undoubtedly the most widespread and commonly drunk aperitif in Italy”.
Although there are any number of excellent aperol spritzes to be found (or you can even make a batch yourself!) the home to one of the best spritz in Rome is Pimm’s Good in Trastevere. A bar that will make you feel welcome and pour you a good spritz with a healthy amount of prosecco and Aperol.
The Other Side
Like most works of beauty, Italian dinners are symmetrical: meaning a pre-dinner drink should have an after-dinner counterpart. This is called the digestivo, a drink usually a bit stronger than the light aperitivo. Believed to settle the stomach, common choices are usually grappa, brandy, and liqueurs (like the famous limoncello). These drinks are the final bow, and are meant to help digest a typical Italian meal of many courses.
Want to get more Italian Aperitivo?
Check our Food Tours in Rome.