Words By Zu Anjalika Kamis Gunnulfsen

I am obsessed with my aperitivo hour.  What is aperitivo? It is that brilliant couple of hours between 6pm and 9pm, a very social and functional way of meeting up with friends, having a cocktail, and enjoying nibbles or hors d’oeuvres. This is pretty similar to Spanish tapas or happy hour everywhere else, however, aperitivo is an event itself and often taken pretty seriously by the Italians.

The word aperitivo comes from the latin verb ‘to open’ and what it means is to whet your appetite and open up the stomach before dinner. It is a very lengthy but relaxed affair, not meant to replace dinner instead to make you hungry. Nibbles can range from olives, peanuts, mini pizza-like pastries, cold cuts and crostini.

Regardless of which variation of drinks and snacks appeal to you, recreating the ritual of Italian aperitivo is no different from gathering  good snacks and good friends, pouring Aperol, prosecco and soda water into a glass over ice and simply letting your hair down.

Let’s talk about the main highlight – drinks. They are supposed to stimulate appetite therefore sweet cocktails are usual no-nos. The classic Italian aperitivo drinks differ by region but usually include a mix with Aperol or Campari liquors. Most often people will order a glass of wine or an alcoholic drink like the Americano, Spritz, or Negroni.  The Negroni is a mixed drink using Campari, gin and vermouth. The Americano is pretty similar to the Negroni except it uses Campari, vermouth and soda instead of gin. The Spritz, which is said to have originated in Venice under the Austrian Empire, is a mixed drink using Aperol or Campari (depends on the bartender or area), sparkling white wine and soda. These classics are served in a glass with ice and usually garnished with an orange peel. 

Although other cocktails such as Mojito or Cosmopolitan are on the menu, aperitivo drinks should be low in alcohol content and bitter or dry to ensure soft start and get your pre-dinner juices flowing. 

While it is pretty likely that aperitivo was born in the 18th century Turin, home of Vermouth, the Milanese might not agree that this idea originated any further south than Rome. 

So what nibbles should you serve alongside aperitivo?

While I love to keep it simple at home during our aperitivo hour with drinks, olives, nuts and perhaps some feta cheese in olive oil,  some bars and restaurants go all out with their food spread, offering fresh pasta, assortment of Italian cheeses, grilled or sautéed vegetables and sandwiches. While it is nice to be snacking on some food while enjoying sips of your drinks, try and keep your nibbles easy and simple because the main purpose of those few hours is to stimulate your appetite for dinner. 

You can also create your own aperitivo while at home, while hosting friends or family, just before heading out for dinner. Open a bottle of wine,  bring out some light snacks of whatever you have from your larder,  gather everyone around and enjoy the time together. 

My ultimate favourite is while at the beach – a casual aperitivo on the sand. I’ll collect some wild flowers, spread out a mat, arrange drinks and nibbles. The evening is just spent sitting, chatting enjoying the lovely air of togetherness.

In Italy, aperitivo remains a quintessential Italian lifestyle – it is very much their dolce vita.