The Perfect Italian Aperitivo

“I’ve come to think of aperitivo time as the fourth meal of the day, as important for my sanity, health, and social life as any formal sit-down dinner party of healthy lunch.” Elizabeth Minchilli, Eating Rome.



 Aperitivo in Chiavari


Is there anything more sublime than an Italian aperitivo? In my opinion, it’s one of God’s gifts to mankind, kissed by the angels. In fact, I remember my first time in Venice where I discovered the Cicchetti bars. My husband and I walked into a tiny bar where we became part of the crowd of locals standing together with tiny glasses of wine called ombre.’ On the countertop were trays of Cicchetti that were either complimentary or could be purchased for a euro.  Everyone around us enjoyed conversing with each other as trays of Cicchetti kept appearing, layered with the Venetian delicacies such as seafood on toothpicks, small rounds of bread or polenta topped with olive spreads, meats and cheeses, and hard-boiled egg halves. Typically, only a bite or two is consumed with a drink as it is meant to prime the appetite before dinner.


Cicchetti bar in Venice…photo credit

Just What Is An Italian Aperitivo?

An Italian aperitivo is quite similar to a tapas bar in Spain or Happy Hour in the U.S. But there are some differences. There are no food or drink discounts, usually. But snacks are often complimentary after ordering a drink. An aperitivo involves a pre-dinner drink to open or stimulate, the palate while nibbling and socializing. It is not meant to be a full dinner, although some use it as such. Dinner in Italy is usually eaten around 9pm, so a tidbit with a drink around 7pm can bridge the hunger gap.

When someone says, ‘pendiamo un aperitivo’ in Italy, it means ‘let’s go get an aperitivo.’ It is popular during the hours after work and before dinner so it is actually a cocktail hour. It is most popular in northern Italy where it originated. But central and the  southern regions are catching on as well. The term comes from the Latin word ‘apertitiuvum,’ meaning ‘open.’



A proper Venetian aperitivo in Venice at Luna Baglioni Hotel


A bit of History-

Aperitivi is actually a recent invention. Antonio Benedetto Carpano has been credited for initiating the idea of an aperitivo in 1786 Torino. He developed the vermouth, Carpano Antico, which is a fortified wine mixed with herbs, spices, and sugars to create a drink specifically meant to precede a meal. The word aperitivo meant the drink itself and developed into a ritual of meeting after work for a drink.

What do the Italians drink for aperitivo?

Each region in Italy often have their aperitivo specialties, but there are three traditional drinks that are typical of the aperitivo. These are all bitters, with a mixture of various herbs to stimulate your appetite.

Spritz– You many have seen the bright orange drinks in Italy at the bars or an outdoor cafe. Made from a blend of soda or prosecco and Campari or Aperol, it is as delicious and refreshing as it looks. Invented in the north of Italy by Gaspare Campari in 1860, the bright color originally came from the crushed shells of beetles. Thank goodness the recipe has been changed, and we can achieve the same bright color without the input of insects.

Negroni– My personal favorite, a Negroni is made of gin, vermouth and Campari garnished with an orange slice.

Americano– Everything the Negroni is except a substitution of soda instead of gin.


Wine is also a common aperitivo drink, especially the sparkling whites such as prosecco, spumante, fragolino, and brachetto. In Venice, the Bellini is popular and blended perfectly at Harry’s Bar, where it originated. It is a delightful combination of prosecco and peach puree.

There is a new type of aperitivo called an aperitcena, a combination term for an aperitivo and dinner (cena.) This ranges from a full plate of food to an all-you-can-eat buffet of usually left-over lunch items repurposed for meals and comes with the purchase of a drink. For me, this spoils the dinner as it’s too tempting to overindulge. However, if dinner is what you want, this is an inexpensive way to do it.

Ombre, the small glasses of wine served in Venetian bars, have an interesting origin. The name actually came from the shadow of the clock tower on Piazza San Marco. Wine sellers used to follow it to keep the wine cool.

The Martini was developed in Milan, the aperitivo capital of Italy, by the Martini family. They developed the vermouth drinks Martini Bianco and Martini dry.

Most people meet for an aperitivo like they would for a coffee, standing at the bar. It doesn’t last long like a dinner would, and the small bits of food can be as simple as nuts, chips and olives.

I personally love enjoying an aperitivo with a view, if possible, while sitting down. In Italy it will cost more, but the trade-off is worth it. There is no better way to unwind, recoup, and socialize a bit over a refreshing drink than this.

Tell me about your favorite aperitivo, whether in Italy or at home. I find sharing ideas or thoughts with others is not only helpful, but a lot of fun. So, please feel free to leave a message. I’d love to hear from you!




Categories: History

18 replies

  1. I have just returned from Italy and your blog helps to keep the memory alive until the next time.
    Especially this one. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very interesting blog post. I never knew of aperitivos when I was in Italy, but I definitely enjoyed trying different tapas in Spain. I loved the mix of history in your post it was very interesting. I look forward to learning more about Italy through your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a great Blog and full of interesting information. Thanks Susan

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love this post Susan. Of course it brings back memories for me of our time in Venice! I really enjoyed how you explained the different drinks and also how different regions in Italy serve aperitivo. It has certainly become very trendy now and for me is a great dinner replacement!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love aperitivo in Italy. Somehow it just isn’t the same when I go home.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I need a table or place at the bar with my name on it!!!
    and what a hoot—the napkin dispenser in the top shot if the Union Jack—reckon who they may be catering to 🙂
    As long as it’s inviting, tasty and refreshing…and Italians do all of that so very well…than life is truly
    la dolce vita 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. One of our favorite things about Italy – aperitivo time!! At home, during the summer months, we make a drink consisting of 1/3 Campari, 1/3 orange juice, 1/3 Prosecco. We call it a “Siena Sunset” . 😉 Enjoyed on the deck with a small plate of olives, cheese, perhaps some bruschetta – makes life just that much more civilized!!


  8. interesting Susan- I have always wondered where the word ombre came from in Venice and thought it was from the need to seek out a shady bar when the sun was too hot. I love to take an ombre at around 11 am under a shady tree in the garden and always think of Comissario Brunetti, the main character in Donna Leon’s novels set in Venice, who is partial to an 11 am ombre.
    Can’t wait for summer to arrive to seek that shade and some aperitivi.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I agree with Elizabeth. Quite often aperitivo time is my favourite time of the day. And yes Susan, there have been times when it has been my dinner.

    Liked by 3 people

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