CULTURE SHOCK: APERITIVO (NORTHERN ITALY)

Aperitivo? Does it mean appetizer in English? No, but you’ve almost got it…

An aperitif is “an alcoholic drink taken before a meal to stimulate the appetite.” The typical Northern Italian drink would be a Spritz Aperol, which is a bitter orange wine; however you can order from a list of pre-meal drinks.

An aperitivo is something I like to refer to as CHEAP EATS. When you order an aperitif, you can ask if the drink comes with an aperitivo (most pubs/bars host an afternoon as well as an evening aperitivo). If the waiter says that an aperitivo is available, there will either be:

  • A FREE buffet: Help yourself to a plate and start scooping as much as your heart desires… seriously, do not be afraid to approach the buffet AND feel free to go back for refills (unless told otherwise)
  • OR he/she will bring you plates of food to snack on at your table (whether you ask for it or not- food is included in the drink price)

I repeat, FREE FOOD with purchase of an ALCOHOLIC DRINK. 

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Personally, I discovered the meaning of ‘aperitivo’ by accident. It was my first week working in Italy, and I was totally unaware of the area as well as the local traditions… until a colleague invited me for a drink after work. We went to the local bar for Prosecco (Italian sparkling white wine), and she took care of the ordering because my Italian vocabulary consisted of “Ciao!” & “Grazie!”. 

When the Prosecco arrived at the table, a generous plate of pizza squares, a basket of potato chips and a few other snacks came along with it. When we went to pay at the register (yes, just assume you need to get up and pay at the cashier), I started to list all the things we ate in addition to the Prosecco… however, I ONLY had to pay for the Prosecco, which turned out to be 3,00 euro. 

Crazy awesome right?

Aperitivos have been a tradition in Italy since the 19th Century, so you can expect most pubs/bars to host an aperitivo (however, I heard the North provides more food than the South). Be wise, and be a bit choosy when it comes to picking your location. Some bars are more generous than others so do yourself a favor and try to take a look at the buffet before ordering a drink (especially if you have a specific diet). I’ve seen some bars offer a basket of potato chips (crisps), while the bar next door was serving up fresh plates of cous-cous, pasta, and grilled veggies! Normal aperitif prices range anywhere from 3,00-8,00 euro + special aperitifs featuring ‘All-You-Can-Eat Sushi’ can cost up to 15,00 euro; when you think about it, a drink (in general) will cost you that much alone so the food is a HUGE added bonus!

Keep in mind, most Italians wait to eat dinner with their family around 8:30-9:00pm or even later… so you’ll probably see me, other ex-pats and the rare Italian scarfing our faces from 7:00-8:30pm at the local pub/bar (I may or may not have substituted aperitivos for dinner the first month I lived in Italy…) while sipping on mojitos, strawberry caprioskas or a glass of wine.

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Recommended Aperitivo Places in Milan, Monza & Florence

Bar Cristal // Piazza Garibaldi 7 Monza: Located in the center of Monza, just behind Lion’s Bridge, you can order a drink for 8 euro and receive a variety of posh finger foods to snack on (featured slideshow photos were taken at Cristal).

Mono // Via Lecco 6 Milan: Mono hosts a good aperitivo, and they ALWAYS attract the hottest men in Milan. I’ve seen them overflow into the streets of Porta Venezia, but I’m sorry to report that they wont be interested in any of the ladies passing by… however, do stop by to appreciate the eye candy ;)

Officina 12 // Alzaia Naviglio Grande, 12 Milan: I experienced my first Milanese Aperitivo at Officina 12. It’s located right on the Navigli (river-front), just look for the red carpet… you can eat dinner inside, but I recommend taking advantage of their beautiful buffet while you enjoy your cocktail outside on the terrace.

Pacino Cafe’ // Piazza Bacone 9 Milan: Known to make the BEST mojitos in town, Pacino’s hosts parties outdoors, indoors and even in their large basement. I remember the food being good, but the drinks were even better :) Find them in Porta Venezia near Corso Buenos Aires.

Procacci, Via Tornabuoni, 64/r, Florence: I did not go here for aperitivo, but I heard they host one in the evening… and if that’s true, it’s definitely worth the visit. I found this hidden gem while shopping in Florence with my Mother. Found inbetween Tods & Ferragamo, Procacci is a beautiful wine/tea/sandwich shop. They’re known for their tiny truffle sandwiches which are priced somewhere between 1,00-2,00 euro each. If you can sample some of their treats during their aperitivo, with a glass of bubbly, you can consider it a steal…

Turnè Bistrot // Via Bergamo 6 Monza: Turne hosts an aperitivo every night, drinks cost around 5 euro, and they have tiny finger food (usually cold items) such as tiny ham sandwiches, egg fritters, pastry wrapped hot dogs, potato chips, pizza squares, etc. However, the BEST NIGHT for APERITIVO is SUNDAY because Turnè hosts a massive buffet. It features the cold plates (mentioned before) in addition to HOT bowls of pasta from Turnè Head Chef, GianPiero. It’s in your best interest to arrive as soon as they open their doors at 7:00pm to snag a seat. Snack on a couple of the cold items, however be ready for the pasta to come down to the bar around 7:30pm. The pasta dishes are the highlight of the night so make sure to keep an eye out for their arrival- I’ve pasta dishes scooped up and cleared in less than 5 minutes. It’s quite exciting to dine like this because you never know which pasta will come down next or how many pasta dishes are left… it’s a SUNDAY SURPRISE.

Wasabi // Via Solferino, 27 Milan: Just around the corner from Moscova metro, Wasabi offers an ‘All-You-Can-Eat Sushi’ aperitivo for 15,00 euro. They have a variety of sushi rolls, salmon sashimi, Japanese salads, chinese noodles, dumplings, tempura vegetables, meat skewers and fried sushi… yes, that’s right… FRIED SUSHI. It’s a unique buffet menu because it is prepared in courses and timed to perfection. Friendly staff members will bring you something that just came out of the kitchen if they notice that you did not get to try it!

Overall: These are some of the places I’ve tried and liked. I’ll be sure to update you if I stumble upon more aperitivo-worthy spots. Please let me know if you’ve ever had an aperitivo experience; and if you have a good recommendation for aperitivi… please share in the comments section!

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