What Is The Italian Aperitivo

The word Aperitivo stems from the latin word ‘aperire’ which means – to open, and the original function of Italian Aperitivo, was a drink and light nibbles served before a meal in order to open or whet the appetite.  The Italian Aperitivo has become a daily occurrence ingrained in the culture. It has developed into a time to relax and socialise with friends either on their way home from work, or on their way out to lunch or dinner.

I say the original function was to whet the appetite before a meal, that’s because nowadays the aperitivo may even replace the meal altogether, a bit like a Spanish Tapas. Also, in tourist areas such as here in Lake Garda the aperitivo is not restricted to the hours just before meal times but is served at any time of the day (although some places that actually serve meals stop serving the nibbles with the drinks when they start serving lunch and dinner).

Different establishments will serve the ‘aperitivo’ in different ways. Most places around the lake will  serve you an individual selection of nibbles with your drink, but some bars serve  an ‘aperitivo and buffet’. In these places when you purchase your aperitivo you are entitled to help yourself to a buffet that’s spread out on the bar or a buffet trolley. Be aware that some places might charge you depending on what you eat! Although I haven’t come across any places around the lake that do this, I have been caught out on a day trip to Venice. The Bacari, the traditional Venetian Osteria’s where the Cicheti (Ventian style Tapas)are delicious, can be rather expensive if you are unaware and treat them like the ‘aperitivo buffets’ around the lake.

What you’d expect to eat with your Italian Aperitivo

Well as with most things in Italy the diversity from village to village is enormous and from region to region you could think you have gone to a different country; so let’s stick to the Lake Garda area for now as that is where I presume you will be heading if you’re visiting Love Lake Garda.

In a lakeside café/bar you can expect to be served a selection from the following:- Olives, pickled vegetables, pepperoncini (mild round chillies) in oil, mini pizza’s, tramezzini (tiny soft sandwiches with the crusts cut off), mini pastries, bruschetta, crostini, mini mozzorella balls or/and other cheeses, patatine (crisps ) and/or tortillas with or without dips.

If you are brave enough to visit one of the locals bars in the towns just off the lake you will have different experience and probably leave with a full tummy. In these establishments it seems they just want to feed you(or at least the ones I’ve been to), as well as the nibbles mentioned above , they serve up plates of freshly sliced crudo (cured ham such as Parma Ham), salami, pizza’s, cheeses, big toast, pasta salads or hot pasta dishes and often specialities of their own. If you are lucky enough to stumble across one of these places between 6.30 and 8.00pm and you will experience the true Italian Aperitivo.

What Drink To Order For An Aperitivo

If you go to one of the locals bars I just mentioned you could probably order any drink you like, a coffee, a water, a coke or a beer and they wouldn’t mind you helping yourself to the buffet/nibbles. If you were expecting to be served the nibbles in one of the bars around the lake you’d really need to order something off the cocktail list (it doesn’t need to be alcoholic), or off the wine list, or in some places a beer will be enough. Popular ‘aperitivo’ drinks include Campari based cocktails such as the Negroni or the Americano, the very light and refreshing Hugo, which is a combination of prosecco, elderberry syrup, mint and sparkling water, or a glass of wine or prosecco. The most popular aperitivo drinks here in Lake Garda are Campari or Aperol Spritz.

Aperol Spritz – The Ultimate Aperitivo Drink

The Aperol Spritz, which inspired me to write this blog post, is fast becoming the most popular aperitivo. It is immediately recognisable because of it’s fantastically bright orange colour. Walk through any lakeside town and you will see hundreds of them being sipped by tourists and locals alike.

Aperol has a unique flavour thanks to the secret recipe which includes bitter and sweet oranges, rhubarb and herbs. The Aperol Spritz is a cocktail of Aperol, prosecco and a shot of soda water, poured over ice with a slice of orange. When mixed at exactly the right ratio it is an extremely refreshing drink and the perfect aperitivo.

For a Campari Spritz, which is red in colour, you just replace the Aperol with Campari. Campari has a much more sour/bitter flavour, and although Campari has been around a lot longer and is more well known,  it has a more acquired taste and doesn’t seem to be as popular, especially among the tourists.

Aperol Spritz Or Pirlo

In some places the Aperol or Campari Spritz is given the name Pirlo, but in other places a Pirlo is almost the same drink but the prosecco is replaced by still white wine. This is also a nice drink but in my opinion not quite as refreshing.

In Café Bloom in Salo (my favourite lakeside bar), the Aperol Spritz is called a Pirlo and this has lead to a new phrase in my Italian word bank; aperitivo time has become Pirlo’clock.

Click the image to see the video!

How To Make An Aperol Spritz

Just a couple of years ago Aperol was unheard of in the UK but it’s becoming much more available, you can purchase it in some supermarkets or to save you the hunt you can purchase it by clicking on the images in the left hand panel or clicking on the button below.

I’ve created the infogram above as a quick guide to making an Aperol Spritz. Maybe you’ve visited Lake Garda and you want to re-live your aperitivo with your friends back home, or if your due to visit and you may want to see what’s in store for you and check out and Aperol Spritz before you come. If you’re still unsure then click here or on the image to see a video.

It’s Pirlo’clock so see you for the next post.

Buy Your Aperol Here!