After a long day exploring the endless shopping and historical sites in Milan, there is truly nothing better than sipping a bright refreshing Spritz or a delightfully complex Martini Rosso while enjoying an array of tasty finger foods. Like so many things, Italians have taken the concept of the happy hour and elevated it to an art form with the aperitivo, and you would be seriously remiss to not participate during your visit.
Of course, indulging in cocktails and snacks before dinner is not exactly a novel concept. The rich and privileged in ancient Rome would indulge in a rather extravagant array of amuse-bouche and drinks to encourage socialization and open up the palate before a banquet called a gustatio. The modern aperitivo, or aperitif, began to be marketed as a drink and concept after the invention of vermouth by Antonio Benedetto Carpano in Turin in 1786. The claim was that the fortified white wine, combined with herbs and aromatics, would stimulate one’s appetite and aid in digestion. The Milanese may dispute the origins, as many there claim that the real aperitivo did not really start until Gaspare Campari created his famous bitters in 1860.
Whatever the history may be, today aperitivo is a time to unwind after a day of work with friends and prepare for the night to come. The ambiance can be a quite bar, a table outside on a plaza, or a bustling and noisy space, so you have many options to choose from. Peak times are anywhere from 6 pm to 9 pm depending on the city, day and time of year. You can expect to pay 8-15 euros for a drink, which will come with some small plates of food ranging from chips and nuts to cheese, breads, cold cuts, and hot items. The days of self-service buffets during aperitivi are likely gone due to Covid, but perhaps that concept will return in some fashion in addition to serving individual plates with each drink.
It is easy to think the aperitivo is just an indulgent snack before dinner but that is missing the spirit of the tradition. Derived from the Latin word for to open, the aperitivo is exactly that, an opportunity to open yourself up to the meal and everything else ahead. It is a moment to reflect on the day and a chance to connect with friends and even bond with strangers over good food and drink. While you are next in Italy take advantage of this moment, it will make your trip truly special!