The Italian APERITIVO – What is APERICENA?

By Manu Venditti | Advanced

Podcast #40 : The Italian APERITIVO

Shall we go and have an aperitif? If you’ve ever heard an Italian talking about “aperitivo” and you didn’t exactly understand what they meant by this, in this episode, in this podcast, you will now get it because this a podcast dedicated to the “aperitivo” in Italy and also the “apericena”. 

Welcome to Italy Made Easy Podcast: a free learning tool created specifically for you as a student of Italian who is looking for interesting materials to practice your listening and comprehension with. How so, you ask? 1) There’s a real Italian native speaker who talks to you in Italian, speaking in clear Italian and not at a super-reduced speed, but still quite fast, anyway let’s get started… As I said, today I would like to talk to you about this very Italian thing known as the “aperitivo” and now also the “apericena”.

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But what exactly is the “aperitivo”? If you’re an English speaker, as we assume most our audience at Italy Made Easy is, you probably know the word “aperitif” or something of the sort, but very often you might confuse the concept of the “aperitivo” with the beverage, which is what we drink during the “aperitivo”, but that’s not what we mean. For us Italians, the “aperitivo” is an opportunity to come together and, yes, we do have a drink and we do have a bite to eat, but the idea of the “aperitivo” is conviviality, coming together as a group and being social. 

The origins of the “aperitivo” as an Italian custom are relatively old, more or less since 1700, but it was a ritual of the Italian aristocracy, those who could afford to relax and have a drink together, and it was one of the favorite activities of Vittoria Emanuele II, the first king of Italy. More recently, however, the real trend of the “aperitivo”, as we know it today, has only existed for about 40 years. Born in Milan, in the famous Milan drinking scene , Milan being a city that even today is noted for being a more sophisticated city, a city of fashion, a city of trends, it’s also a city of people with money, so all of this together has led to the vast popularity of the “aperitivo” custom. So, initially, it was limited to just the area of Milan, then limited to north Italy, but now it is definitely a trend that is completely Italian, from north to south, with just small variations in style and customs, but now people meet for the “aperitivo” both in Milan and in Catania. 

So what exactly is the “aperitivo”? Well, traditionally, the “aperitivo” is that time at the end of the work day, when a worker, instead of going home for dinner, goes to the bar with his colleagues to have a drink, an alcoholic beverage accompanied by a light snack, something simple like potato chips, nuts, olives… simple enough things like that. This is the original idea. 

Nowadays, the “aperitivo” is much more than that: there’s no need to finish work to go and just have an “aperitivo”, we Italians especially like the idea of going to the bar together to have a drink and a snack so much, that now the “aperitivo” has extended to not only being something before dinner, but something that lasts even longer, so much so that we now talk about “apericena”. There was a transformation from a classic “aperitivo”, where you drank a spritz or a Negroni - which I’ll talk about later - and you ate a few potato chips and some nuts, to now where you have a much more elaborate and expensive version of the “aperitivo”: crispbreads, sandwiches, vegetable dips of all different varieties, olive tapenade… I dunno… vegetables in “pinzimonio”... if you don’t know what “pinzimonio” is, it’s a very simple Italian condiment made mostly from a very high quality olive oil, salt, pepper is an option, lemon, balsamic vinegar… everyone has their own version… and you dip the fresh raw vegetables in the “pinzimonio”, it’s such an incredibly delicious thing and healthy too. And, as I said, this “apericena” doesn’t finish at 7 o’clock anymore before going home, but rather becomes more of a small dinner. We could say that it’s similar to the idea of tapas in Spain, even though that’s different but anyway… 

Let’s talk about drinks! What do you drink for an “aperitivo”? For example, for me as someone who doesn’t drink alcohol, if I have an “aperitivo”, I have a Sanbitter, it’s a bitter orange drink… obviously one of the non-alcoholic ones… it is possible! But generally we can point out two big trends: in the north, especially in the Triveneto area, they tend to drink more Spritz, which is nothing more than prosecco, Aperol, soda water and a slice of fresh orange. In Milano, on the other hand, the drink in fashion at the moment is a cocktail called “Lo sbagliato”, which is a Negroni with sparkling wine. In the south, however, the most popular, most widespread “aperitivo” is the Negroni which is made… I have to read it ‘cos as I said I don’t drink, I don’t know anything about alcohol! - The Negroni is: Gin, Campari, Vermouth rosso and a slice of orange. 

So, my experience with the “aperitivo” in Italy is a bit mixed. In the sense that, being a person who doesn’t drink, I don’t really like to go… to go and have an aperitivo with friends, but I do go anyway as I can drink… drink some kind of interesting beverage, and I can snack on something… generally I for the things based on vegetables and so, apart from the vegetables with the “pinzimonio”, but… I eat olives, I don’t really like chips that much… chips… I’m talking about the commercial ones, in Italy there are the famous “San Carlo” chips… that’s a brand, but they are chips that come in a bag. If they’re real fries, then I’ll eat those too, but that’s not very common. 

The thing that I’ve observed from the “aperitivo” or “apericena” in Italy is that it costs quite a bit but it doesn’t fill you up which is frustrating for me because I love to eat and snacks are good and all, but if I’m gonna pay €10 just for some nibbles, I’d prefer to go and get a pizza to eat and then have a full stomach. 

This is my opinion, but you who’ve travelled and been to Italy, have you ever had an “aperitivo” with your Italian friends? Or perhaps not, and you haven’t done it with Italians, but you’ve done it with your family or with your friends on vacation in Italy. I invite you to share with us your experience with the Italian “aperitivo”. Did you like it? Did you not like it? Was it a nice experience or not? Did it cost too much, was it just right, or did it cost hardly anything at all...? Maybe you went, I dunno, to Sicily or Campania... where everything costs less and you had a great experience... I don’t know. 

I’ll leave it there for today, I invite you once more to go to Italy Made Easy Academy and have a look at what we have to offer, maybe there’s something that will help you even more with your Italian. I’ll see you next time! Ciao ciao!

Looking for a Structured, Ongoing program to Learn Italian? Check out 'From Zero to Italian' then!

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