Aperitivo in Italy is so much more than Happy Hour. It's an occasion to meet with friends, enjoy fresh drinks and delicious food. In this guide, you can find all the information about the real Italian Aperitivo, plus tips and recipes to organize the perfect Aperitivo at home!
If anybody asks me what is the thing I miss the most about Italy, I would definitely reply Aperitivo. When I'll start thinking about all the delicious ingredients and food I cannot find here and the list will start growing fast. But Aperitivo, in a summer evening, in a local cafè with your favorite friends, is one of the best things in this world.
Where did Aperitivo come from
The Italian Aperitivo started in Turin more than 200 years ago, in 1786, with the invention of Vermouth. People started enjoying this sweet wine before dinner with a few snacks. The food's role is to increase the appetite and soften the effects of alcohol.
During the years, this habit started to expand throughout Italy. Nowadays you can find people enjoying Aperitivo in every cafè of every Italian city (even in small villages).
This habit is loved by Italians, not only to break the hunger before dinner but mostly as an occasion to chat and meet with locals. That's why people usually have Aperitivo always in the same cafè. So they know they'll meet always the same peers, almost as a rite.
How does it work and when does it start
In Italy we usually have dinner between 7.30 to 8.30 PM (even later in the Southern regions). So between 6 to 8 PM, cafès will start bringing out snack and finger foods. Either on a large table or on the bar counter. Between that time, you can order a drink and enjoy the food for free along with it.
Some bars will let you pay the usual price of the drink (usually 3-4 euros), some instead will have a fixed rate (between 7 and 10 euros) which includes one drink and the food buffet. You then pay separately for every extra drink. This difference in prices usually depends on the type of cafè (the fancier, the higher is the price) and the food offer.
In some cases, so much food is available that young people will just have it for dinner. This is called "Apericena" ("cena" meaning "dinner"). Some buffets will offer an unlimited variety of food, from pasta salads to pizza, focaccia, crostini and so much more. In this case, you can just grab a plate and fill it with as much food as you want (sometimes you can even take seconds). You can then enjoy it with your drink at the table with your friends.
Is Aperitivo the same as Happy Hour?
Basically yes, but with some differences. Happy Hour is usually between 5 and 7 PM, so a bit earlier than Aperitivo. This is mainly because in Italy we have dinner later compared to other Countries. Also, often Happy Hour is only on weekdays, excluding Saturday and Sunday, while Aperitivo in Italy goes every day of the week.
Another difference is that usually Happy Hour only offers a discount on drinks and maybe if you're lucky you get chips and peanuts. But with Aperitivo, even if you pay the same price or a bit higher, you get nice food with it!
How to organize an Italian Aperitivo at home
Since moving to the Netherlands a few years ago, we only got to enjoy Italian Aperitivo during our Summer holidays in Italy, but we really miss it when we're home.
So often, either by ourselves or inviting friends over, we enjoy a classic Aperitivo at home. It's also perfect with Dutch friends because we're not used to having dinner at 5-6 PM. So instead of letting them starve until 7 PM, we can entertain them with the Aperitivo. This way they can start eating at their usual time.
There are only a few things to organize:
- Have a few selections of drinks. 3-4 alcoholic drinks and a couple of virgin options
- Have a nice selection of finger foods and snacks. At least 5-6 different foods, including vegetarian/vegan options if needed, and of course chips and peanuts
- Set up a buffet table with all drinks and food so people can help themselves choosing what they prefer
- The best Aperitivo is enjoyed outside, in Summer (just a recommendation)
- Invite some friends and put some nice music on
Best Aperitivo Drinks
The right drink for Aperitivo is very important. It shouldn't be too strong, nor too sweet. See below a list of the most common drink choices:
- Prosecco, the famous sparkling Italian wine it's perfect for Aperitivo
- Wine, either white or red
- Aperol Spritz, probably the most famous Aperitivo drink, and my absolute favorite
- Campari Spritz, similar to the above but with Campari instead of Aperol
- Americano, an Italian cocktail made with Campari, Vermouth, and Soda
- Negroni, another Italian staple, with Campari, Vermouth, and Gin
- Gin Tonic, the same says it all, this classic drink is famous worldwide
- Moscow Mule, a refreshing drink with Vodka, Lime, and Ginger Beer
Aperitivo Recipe Ideas
Food is probably the most important part of Aperitivo. Without food is just a drink with friends. You can go crazy with options, but keep in mind a few characteristics:
- Choose only food that is good room temperature or cold
- Food that can be easily eaten standing up as well (nothing that needs cutting)
- Simple food that doesn't fill you up too much, unless you opt for Apericena (aperitivo-dinner)
Here are some of my favorite options:
- Salted Peanuts
- Puff Pastry mini Pizza
- Pesto Caprese Pasta Salad
- Potato Rosemary Focaccia
- Mushroom Goat Cheese Pinwheels
- Grilled Vegetables Farro Salad
- Potato Cheese Tarts
- Mushroom Patè Crostini
- Sweet Potato Goat Cheese Quiche
- Pappa al Pomodoro (bread and tomatoes)
- Spinach and Ricotta Quiche
- Caramelized Onion, Goat Cheese, Tomato Tart