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One of the Italian traditions I yet have to fully understand is the "Aperitivo" / "Apericena". It basically is a (pre-)dinner buffet that comes included when you buy a (slightly higher priced) drink around the evening hours in many bars.

The best English-language description I could find here sheds some light on it and has great illustrative pictures. It matches with my observations there and have had great "dinners" for as little as 4€ including a drink.
Edit: I have further stumbled upon a great description of aperitivo in the Lonely Planet.

However I still have some questions:

  • How can I find out whether a specific bar offers an aperitivo?
  • How can I find out which places in the city I am in offer aperitivi?
  • How much should I expect to pay for the drink / aperitivo?
  • What should I say when ordering to make sure I actually get this aperitivo deal? (In Italian and/or English)
  • What type of drink should I order to blend in with the locals? Can I order any kind of drink to get the aperitivo?
  • What type of food can I expect?
  • What are the aperitivo hours?
  • Is it an all-you-can-eat? Will I make a bad impression if I take multiple servings? Will someone stop me and scream at me in Italian?
  • Is there a difference between "aperitivo" and "apericena"?
  • How do I avoid tourist traps related to aperitivo?
  • What else should I be aware of?
  • 2
    I doubt buffet is the right word here. You get a small plate of snacks to enjoy with your drink, it's not enough to count as your average 'dinner' like you describe it. In theory you could fill your evening with aperitivo's only, though. – Summer Jul 19 '16 at 10:47
  • I have not seen this thing in Italy, but my last trip to Italy was 8 years ago, when I was still a minor. Is it new or simply confined to bars? – Belle-Sophie Jul 19 '16 at 15:05
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    @J.Constantine I have no idea whether it is new but it is happening right now and it is happening in many places that call themselves a "bar" in Italy and is open in the evening. – mts Jul 19 '16 at 15:20
  • In Venice, there are cicchetti bars which is more like a spanish pixto bar; maybe this is what you are looking for ? – Max Jul 19 '16 at 18:00
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    Apericena is a slang term. It's meaning is something like "I go out to have a drink and also a full dinner with it, planning to stay out until late hours". It also sounds childish and posh. Please don't make my ears / eyes bleed again :-) – Alessandro Da Rugna Jul 20 '16 at 7:50
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Aperitivo? Apericena? Aperiwhat?

In the traditional sense, an aperitivo is a pre-dinner drink, where pre-dinner means that it is usually consumed before having dinner. It can be either alcoholic or non-alcoholic and its purpose is to open up one's appetite before the meal. In order to fully open up one's appetite, the aperitivo is usually accompanied by a light snack - crisps, olives, peanuts, salty pretzel thingies, small cheese cubes, sliced salame, etc. If one goes to a bar for an aperitivo, this will usually be served between 18:00 and 21:00, with times varying depending on geographical region, establishment and/or both.

Now, the apericena is a practice which boomed in the last few decades. It extends the concept of the aperitivo to a full size meal aimed at replacing dinner. During an apericena establishments typically offer actual food, as opposed to small snacks, to their beverage-consuming customers. Apericene are usually served at similar times as the aperitivo, so between 18:00 and 21:00. Some establishments might extend this into the evening, other will clear the buffet as soon as the clock ticks over the end hour.

To make matters more confusing, these terms are often used interchangeably. Some places call aperitivo the apericena, others use apericena, some don't say anything and just serve food along drinks.

How can I find out whether a specific bar offers an aperitivo?

Look. Before sitting down look at the counter and at what other customers are having. Is there a food buffet anywhere? Then it's likely to be an apericena. Are customers munching on olives along with their drink? It's likely to be an aperitivo. Is there a sign saying "happy-hour 18:00-21:00"? When in doubt, ask.

How can I find out which places in the city I am in offer aperitivi?

Word to mouth work wonders. Every aperitivo aficionado will have their own favourite aperitivo place. Ask. Don't want to ask? Internet is your friend. Search for something like "i migliori aperitivi di XYZ" where XYZ is the city you are interested in.

How much should I expect to pay for the drink / aperitivo?

This is a hard one, and borderline unanswerable. There is extreme variability between geographical regions and establishments that it is impossible to define how much you will actually pay. The only way to know for sure is to ask the establishment. "Quanto costano le bevande durante l'aperitivo?"

Some places charge a flat rate for all drinks, others charge the normal menu price, others increase the price slightly to cover for the food costs. I have personally paid prices ranging from 5 to 15 EUR. My own personal favourite bar in Milan charged the same as always (5EUR for a pint of Hoegaarden) but offered food during the aperitivo hours. Their business plan was to make you stay longer and thus consume more, rather than charging more and you consuming just one drink. The skyline fashion bar facing the main tourist attraction in your home town is obviously likely to charge more.

What should I say when ordering to make sure I actually get this aperitivo deal? (In Italian and/or English)

I would simply ask for information on how the aperitivo/apericena works. "Fate l'aperitivo oggi?", "Come funziona l'aperitivo?"

What type of drink should I order to blend in with the locals? Can I order any kind of drink to get the aperitivo?

This is an easy one. Whichever drink you want. I've seen people drink beer, cocktails, non-alcoholic beverages, juices, and even plain water. Nobody around you cares what you drink. What might happen though is that you will get charged a flat rate whichever drink you order. Consider it might sting to pay, say, 10EUR for a 500ml bottle of water. Some places might offer the food deal only to customers consuming certain specific drinks. If this is the case then you'll be given a menu stating this. When in doubt, ask. "Posso ordinare qualsiasi bevanda per approfittare dell'aperitivo?"

What type of food can I expect?

At a snack-type aperitivo you will usually be served small snacks - crisps, olives, peanuts, salty pretzel thingies, small cheese cubes, sliced salame, etc. At a full size apericena anything goes. I've seen pizzette, focacce, cheese, ham, lasagna, pate, insalata di riso, you name it. Again, the goal is for you not to eat dinner after the apericena. An apericena will typically look like this:

Apericena Milano Apericena Milano bis

Some might even consider this to be a small apericena. I've seen buffets which were much more majestic than this. Note that some establishment take pride in offering the largest and tastiest selection of food in the city. Make sure you take advantage of this. Don't settle for olives and crisps.

Is it an all-you-can-eat? Will I make a bad impression if I take multiple servings? Will someone stop me and scream at me in Italian?

You can take as many servings as you wish. Come back for seconds, thirds or even twentieths. You can order one more drink if you want, but are not even obliged to do so. The implicit agreement is that since you bought one drink you are entitled to consume the food too. Just be considerate and avoid wasting food.

How do I avoid tourist traps related to aperitivo?

You don't. If you know enough about a location to know that they offer an aperitivo/apericena then you can be sure that you won't be falling in a tourist trap. Tourist traps in Italy are the overpriced rubber-coated pizzas restaurants serve in touristy places. At an aperitivo/apericena you will have a drink and get some food too. What could go wrong?

If you want to make sure that you are getting treated exactly like other customers just look around you. What are others doing? What are they drinking? What are they eating? How much? When in Rome, do as the Romans do and have an aperitivo.

What else should I be aware of?

Do not confuse the aperitivo/apericena with the happy-hour which is typically a time frame in which establishments offer discounted rates on drinks. Sometimes the aperitivo and happy hour do overlap. Sometimes they don't. Sometimes happy-hour is used as a synonym for aperitivo/apericena. Once again this depends on geographical region, establishment, and/or both.

16

Note: I am Italian, and travelled my homeland peninsula from north to south, and from west to east.

Sorry to contradict some of the previous answers, but no, aperitivo/apericena are not limited to the Milan area. Maybe it started as a cultural movement in the north of Italy, but I can assure you that nowadays (well, it is since I can remember - that would be at least 25 years) it is widespread across the Italian territory.

How can I find out whether a specific bar offers an aperitivo?

Simple: ask. If you go to aperitivo hours to whatever bar you want, and ask for an aperitivo (including a drink - from beer to cocktail), they will ask you what you want to drink (you can choose from beer to wine, from analcoholic - try Crodino - to a cocktail), and eventually bring you something to eat (chips, peanuts, etc.)
But I guess you want to know where to find good aperitivoes, with better food to eat.

How can I find out which places in the city I am in offer aperitivi?

Places who offer a decent choice of food to eat with your drink do advertise it. Keep an eye for their signs ("Here aperitivo" for example). Ask any Italian if he/she knows a place to get a good aperitivo, they know for sure.

How much should I expect to pay for the drink / aperitivo?

It is common to pay 6-10€ (depending on the place and on the city). In Rome I'd normally pay 7-8€, in Milan I would expect 10€ or more. In the southern part of Italy I would expect 6-7€.

What should I say when ordering to make sure I actually get this aperitivo deal? (In Italian and/or English)

"I would like an aperitivo, please" - "vorrei un aperitivo per cortesia".
You will be asked for the drink that you want. That's it.

What type of drink should I order to blend in with the locals? Can I order any kind of drink to get the aperitivo?

My favourite question! Yes, you can get whatever you want, but make sure you try at least a "Prosecco" (sparkling dry wine) or a "Spritz" (Aperol, Prosecco, sparkling water and a slice of orange).

What type of food can I expect?

This varies a lot from place to place. I've seen bars offering only chips and peanuts to others preparing tiny pizzas ("pizzette"), finger food (olive ascolane, mozzarelline, croquettes, chicken wings), or even complex stuff (pieces of pasta-omelettes, salads, dice of chicken with sauce, cold pasta).

What are the aperitivo hours?

Depending on the part of Italy you are, it can be from 17.00 (south) to 19.00 (north). Apericena is also offered during dinnertimes (a little bit later).

Is it an all-you-can-eat? Will I make a bad impression if I take multiple servings? Will someone stop me and scream at me in Italian?

It is mostly all-you-can-eat. No, you won't make a bad impression, and most likely no one will mind. Especially by apericena, people are expected to eat more, in order not to have a "cena" (dinner).

Is there a difference between "aperitivo" and "apericena"?

"Aperitivo" implies that you are having dinner later (even if after it most people are so full, that they don't), "Apericena" doesn't. My experience is also that apericenas (aperitivo + cena) are offered in a later timespan in comparison to aperitivoes.

How do I avoid tourist traps related to aperitivo?

Ask the locals. I do the same even being an Italian.

What else should I be aware of?

You may be asked to pay in advance. An aperitivo is not shareable (if you are with a friend, and only you order aperitivo, then only you may eat).

  • 2
    +1, this is a great answer and an addition to the already existing answers! Thank you! – mts Jul 21 '16 at 8:50
  • 3
    Very often you can see whether or not the bar is offering an aperitivo deal: the food will be on display. – JoErNanO Jul 22 '16 at 8:55
  • The happy hour / apericena concept may be strictly connected to Milan (and probably originated from there) as it allowed people to dine out after work. Since most people get out of the office around 6 PM and the "real" dinner is eaten around 8-9 PM, one would need either to loiter around waiting, or go back home for a change of clothes and then go back downtown -- which is not optimal in a metropolis with long commute times. Instead, one can eat at the happy hour just after work and then go home for good. – Ouroboros Aug 16 '16 at 13:42
  • @Ouroboros yet I don't think that's a "Milan thing" at all. I'm aware, for example, that the legendary "Spritz" (which is simply loved by aperitivoes) has roots in Veneto. A "lunch" aperitivo was also common in the southern Italy since I was born (that would be 32 years ago)... – Noldor130884 Aug 22 '16 at 13:39
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The question is rather broad, I'll try to answer each point. Each answer is based on my experience and can be very subjective. Aperitivo experience greatly vary. It's about meeting with friends or colleagues after work, having a couple of drinks which come with something tasty to eat.

How can I find out whether a specific bar offers an aperitivo?

Some places clearly state it on a billboard while others do not. Try to peek customers, whether they receive food with their drinks or not.

How can I find out which places in the city I am in offer aperitivi?

Usual sites may help, better to ask a local, hotel staff or taxi driver.

How much should I expect to pay for the drink / aperitivo?

Prices greatly vary. Under 5 euros you get a drink with some finger food. Between 5-10 euros you can grab whathever you like from the buffet. Take this as a general guideline.

What type of drink should I order to blend in with the locals? Can I order any kind of drink to get the aperitivo?

Aperitivo usually involves alcoholic beverages, as they ease socialization. Typical drinks are spritz Aperol (aka spritz Veneziano), regular wine, beers, negroni. Lately, spritz Hugo (italian only link) is gaining popularity. Ingredients are prosecco wine, sparkling water, Elderflower syrup and decorated with mint leaves.
I wouldn't expect finger food if I order non-alcoholic drinks (this may vary, a buffet aperitivo may have same price for every drink).

What type of food can I expect?

Totally depends on the place. From crappy re-heated leftover pizza to slices of piadina, slices of tramezzino, frittata with truffles, all kinds of pasta (small portions), smoked salmon, shrimps in pink sauce....

What are the aperitivo hours?

I think generally from 6 pm to 9 pm.

Is it an all-you-can-eat? Will I make a bad impression if I take multiple servings? Will someone stop me and scream at me in Italian?

All-you-can-eat aperitivo is more common in big cities like Milan. Again, take a look around and see what the locals are doing. Most probably, no one will tell you anything.
If food is served by a waiter, then it's not a self service buffet. You may ask for more servings, though.

Is there a difference between "aperitivo" and "apericena"?

Aperitivo is the official italian word, go for it. Apericena is a neologism, loaded with poshness. I strongly discourage its use.

How do I avoid tourist traps related to aperitivo?

Central and tourist places are more expensive. If the place is filled with locals, then it's ok. Expect the price to be in the range of 5 - 12 euros.

What else should I be aware of?

Aperitivo is more common in northern Italy and big cities in the center and south (like Rome). Don't expect aperitivi in small villages or hotels' bars.
Drinking age in Italy is 18.

7

You're asking a lot of questions, and I can answer a few of them.

First, I was under the impression that the aperitivo was something more of the Milan area, but perhaps it has grown into a much wider phenomenon. When I first encountered it, I definitely thought it was a phenomenon.

There does not seem to be an online resource to find out about places offering aperitivo, but Google lists plenty of articles that tell you what they think are the best places for one.

From my experience, the price varies a lot from place to place. 4 euros sounds a bit on the low side to me, and I've seen places charge 8 euros, but the price generally is also indicative of the variety and amount of snacks/buffet on offer.

From my understanding, in principle, when a bar offers aperitivo, which often is limited to certain hours, any drink consumed during that time comes with aperitivo. That said, I've seen some bars offer it explicitly on the menu. Just point, or you can try something like "Questa bevanda viene con aperitivo?"

The drink to get to blend in depends on the bar. Crazy as it may seem, student bars can also offer aperitivo. No surprise, they're immensely popular, with all patrons more typically drinking beer. In other words, drink what you feel like drinking.

The food on offer varies a lot from place to place. I've seen full scale mouthwatering buffets, and 'just' a wide range of salty snacks. As the food is often on display, you can typically check it out before ordering your beverage.

Hours also vary from place to place, but it's fairly typical to run 'before dinner', so starting times could be as early as 4pm, going on to perhaps something like 8pm, though your mileage will vary.

Most likely, no one will scream at you in Italian (or any other language) if you indulge yourself. But, the aperitvo 'works', because virtually no one is a huge glutton while taking part.

I've never seen an apericena. Sounds like it could be more of a meal?

I can imagine that, by now, some aperitivo tourist traps indeed exist. The same applies to all other tourist traps: follow the locals, stay away from the busiest streets.

  • +1 nice answer and matches my experience! 4€ is totally the low end, typically I pay 5-6€ and only once payed north of 10€ for a full-grown pizza buffet that was defs worth it (in Rome, which matches with the article I cite). "Apericena" is an expression I sometimes hear used in the same sense as "aperitivo" but Italians keep telling me it's different things. – mts Jul 19 '16 at 13:23
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FWIW My experience in Milan is that it varies from place to place. Sometimes it is complimentary if you are drinking, sometimes you pay extra with your first (or second...) drink to have food as well. The food might become free at the end of the evening if you have been there for a while and there are leftovers.

Sometimes it is a modest mid-evening snack, sometimes there is a big spread from early evening. The food is finger foods and salads, usually there are little plastic party bowls.

Generally the person behind the bar will tell you what the deal is. Drinking Aperol Spritz is probably the way to blend in, but I have had food while drinking beer.

I did notice one woman getting her money's worth by making several trips and totally loading up her bowl each time. Nobody said anything. HTH

  • HTH? What's that – MastaBaba Jul 20 '16 at 14:12
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The 'buffet' style this article you mention talks about is not common. In general you can expect a plate of small snacks, not a full meal.

The buffets will definitely be more expensive than 4 euro, so I doubt if it'll really be that 'cheap dinner' you talk about. But I guess that depends on how much you eat.

  • 4
    I disagree with this answer. I have lived in Italy for years and encountered aperitivi from the north down to Rome that were decent buffets (and not talking about the south because I haven't ventured there as much). I am also not lying about 4€ that I saw just yesterday with a non-alc drink, usually I pay 5-6€ and get the buffet style. However you do have a point that sometimes you do not get a buffet but a plate of snacks. – mts Jul 19 '16 at 11:33

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