In the 1860s, Gaspare Campari moved to Milan, where he opened a café and served his home-brewed invention, the Campari liquor. When mixed with soda and vermouth this drink came to be known as the Americano. Today the drink served with small snacks is what we call the Italian Aperitivo.
The Aperitivo originates from the Latin verb aperire which means ‘to open’; the idea being that the drink stimulates your appetite. The gastric juices flow by indulging in this pre-dinner drink with snacks because Italians believe that the appetite comes when you eat.
The idea of the aperitivo didn’t take off until the 1920s. But today you can find an aperitivo in Milan, the capital of the aperitivo, throughout the small metropolis in any local pub, restaurant, or hotel.
What to drink
For first timers I recommend experiencing the Aperitivo with a classic Italian aperitivo drink, an Aperol spritz, a Negroni or the Americano.
The Negroni is a mixed drink using Campari, gin, and vermouth. The Negroni came into existence in Florence in 1919 by Count Camillo Negroni.
The Americano is similar to the Negroni, but uses Campari, vermouth, and soda instead of gin.
The Aperol Spritz, which is said to have originated in Venice under the Austrian Empire, is a mixed drink using Aperol or Campari (depends on the area or the bartender), sparkling white wine, and soda. (my favorite!)
What to eat
In Milan the aperitivo has major competition. Aperitvio signs are often seen back to back along narrow corridors in the Navigli, Brera and Isola districts with an attractive Maître D’ chanting their food is the best. As a result the consumer has a wide selection. The menu offers different types of fresh pasta, Italian cheeses, grilled or sautéed vegetables, nuts, and lovely canepes.
The idea is to not make the aperitivo your dinner although it is easy to do so given there isn’t a limit in the number of times you can return to the buffet.
What to remember
It is important to remember that the aperitivo is a time to socialize and stimulate your appetite for food so take a friend. Have fun! What I love about the Italian culture is these types of traditions which at the essence is an excuse to hang out. In Italy you will find many traditions that simply bring people together, in a normal everyday form or fashion, to talk.
What it costs
The best thing about the aperitivo is the cost. For the price of one drink you will receive the beverage of choice and a snack buffet unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. Aperitivo prices usually range between 5 euros to 10 euros. Remember, the aperitivo is meant to stimulate the appetite for dinner so the hours for aperitivo are consecutive with what Americans know as “Happy Hour”, which is usually between 6:30-8:30pm. But unlike Happy Hour the aperitivo is 7 days a week!