“The food of aperitivo hour is the one thing that really transports me to Italy,” says Missy Robbins, chef and owner of two popular Italian restaurants in Brooklyn and author of the forthcoming book, Pasta: The Spirit and Craft of Italy’s Greatest Food. “While I love so many things about Italian lifestyle, this ranks at the top of the list.”
As a tangible concept, aperitivo refers to both the occasion and the drink itself, which is often bittersweet and low-ABV, and sometimes even bubbly. But there’s also the intangible element: the laid-back atmosphere, the in-between moment of daytime proper and imminent evening.
“What I feel is special about it is that it’s very democratic,” says Sara Porro, a food and travel writer based in Milan, of the Italian cultural cornerstone that is aperitivo. “People of every age and social group do it. You can take Grandma out for aperitivo, unless she’s already there with her friends.”
“Aperitivo is the daily occasion for Italian people placed before dinner,” says Fabio Raffaelli, the North American brand ambassador for MARTINI & ROSSI®, who grew up in Milan. “And a kind of social occasion for us, too.” For him, the single rule of the occasion is quite simple: You should drink something with herbs and spices that will open your stomach; not a digestivo, but rather its opposite.
(The concept can confuse the uninitiated. Porro recalls an American friend who would propose going for an aperitivo after dinner. “That’s a nightcap, my friend—or what here in Italy we’d call a bicchiere della staffa, or the ‘stirrup cup.’”)”