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A Guide to The Italian Ritual of Aperitivo

Nothing embodies the concept of “il dolce far niente” quite like the beloved Italian ritual of aperitivo. Often likened to the concept of “happy hour” in the US, aperitivo comes from the Latin word “aperire”, which means “to open ''. Its linguistic origin highlights the purpose of aperitivo, as it is quite literally meant to whet your appetite before dinner with pre-meal drinks and savory snacks. Since Italians tend to eat dinner much later than we do in the States, aperitivo is usually served anytime between 6:00 and 7:30 pm. 

The origins of what we now know as aperitivo can be traced back to the late 18th century in the northern Italian city of Turin. Distiller Antonio Benedetto Carpano is credited with initiating this tradition with his creation of vermouth. Already home to a thriving café culture, Turin and its residents quickly adopted the habit of drinking vermouth in the late afternoon and evening preceding dinnertime. Their vermouth was always accompanied by a small snack, as it was seen as taboo at the time to drink alcohol on an empty stomach! Eventually as various bitters and liqueurs were invented and sold in Italy, the trend of aperitivo spread like wildfire across the country and eventually became a cherished national pastime woven deeply into the fabric of Italian culture.

Aperol Spritz

Today, drinks continue to be an essential element of the aperitivo experience and the go-to alcoholic beverage that Italians tend to order is a classic spritz. Here are some popular spritz varieties that are commonly ordered in Italy:

  • Aperol Spritz: club soda, prosecco, Aperol (a bitter orange liqueur), and a slice of fresh orange
  • Campari Spritz: club soda, prosecco, and Campari (spicy and bitter red liqueur)
  • Limoncello Spritz: club soda, prosecco, Limoncello (a sweet lemon liqueur), and a sprig of fresh mint
  • Hugo Spritz: sparkling water, prosecco, elderflower liqueur, fresh mint, and lime

Although the societal norms surrounding drinking on an empty stomach have eased since the 18th century, aperitivo is still almost always accompanied with tasty snacks. While some aperitivo arrays may be simple and include only chips or peanuts, if you order a drink during the aperitivo period in Italy, it will often come with a diverse spread of finger foods, including charcuterie meats, cheese, bruschetta, olives, and grissini (crunchy breadsticks).

Whether you have a trip to Italy on the horizon or want to incorporate a taste of “la dolce vita” into your lifestyle, adopting the custom of aperitivo into your routine is a great way to enjoy the ambiance of your surroundings and savor quality conversations with friends or family. Cin cin!

Emily Rascon

Emily Rascon is from San Diego, California and is currently in the process of completing her Masters in Human Geography through the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz. She has always had a passion for traveling and learning new languages, having lived in Germany and now Italy. Emily loves reading books, going hiking, and of course, practicing her Italian! In addition, Emily enjoys creating content on TikTok, where she documents her life abroad and encourages people to find the confidence to pursue their inner wanderlust.