Travel bites: The Italian tradition when food comes free with drinks

Travel News from Stuff - 15-05-2023

Happy hour; it’s the magical time between afternoon tea and dinner when beverages flow at discounted prices. But the cheap and cheerful tradition is so much more than just having a drink after a long day at work.

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Italy’s version of happy hour dates back to the Roman Empire when people would sit down for an appetiser with a glass of sweet wine.

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Taken from the Latin verb ‘aperire’, which means ‘to open’, the Italian custom of aperitivo is essentially the whetting of one’s appetite in anticipation of a larger meal. With the popularity of the apéritif - herbal and spicy vermouth from Turin and the bright and bitter Campari from Milan - rubbing shoulders over aperitivo hit its stride in Italy in the 19th century, when bars and other establishments would serve the palate-stimulating drinks with finger food.

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From bars lined with bowls of olives and paper-thin prosciutto to free-for-all buffets, food is the second element to aperitivo culture as the usual 6-7pm starting time effortlessly transitions into the later European dinner. It’s a sneaky way to score yourself a free and delicious dinner - provided you’ve bought a drink - and a brilliant way to mingle with the locals.

It's worth noting that you’re likely to pay more if you choose to sit down at a table, rather than stand at the bar.

Head straight to the motherland in the warmer months as the longer days invite comfortable al fresco dining.

Birthplace of vermouth, Turin, is considered to be one of Italy’s hotspots to enjoy aperitivo. Visit Turin’s old-school caffés during golden hour for bitter-sweet cocktails like the Americano and negroni. Located in Turin’s baroque city square Piazza San Carlo, Caffè San Carlo is a go-to for its bustling vibe and selection of help-yourself meats and cheeses, while Caffè Rosso is known for its fresh and reliable buffet.

Milan is another location with a strong aperitivo scene where patrons are served snack plates and can load up on complimentary buffets with the purchase of a drink. With the city’s position to Campari’s first production plant, apéritifs here lean into the bitter liqueur, from goblets generously filled with the blood orange Milano-Torino or Aperol spritz.

Founded in 1947, Bar Basso claims to be the first bar in Milan to introduce the aperitivo and is the home of the popular negroni sbagliato - the “wrong” or “broken” negroni made with sparkling wine. Milan’s Navigli canal district is another failsafe option to while away the evening.

In Venice, look out for bacaro watering holes offering apéritifs and small tapas-style bites called cicchetto - although it’s more common to pay per plate.

In Auckland, head to the Britomart precinct for Bar Non Solo’s aperitivo hour which offers a selection of complimentary canapés with spritzes, digestifs, Italian wine and negroni on tap every Tuesday to Saturday from 4-7pm

SkyCity Italian restaurant Gusto at the Grand also honours the ritual of aperitivo daily between 4-8pm. Guests (minimum two) purchasing beverages from a select list are invited to make the most of complimentary nibbles including pork hock terrina, whipped cod on polenta, bruschetta, deep-fried gnocchi, and marinated olives.

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