The Italian tradition of aperitivo

A group shares plates of aperitivo food and drinks at Al Racanà in Fano. Photo by Krishaun Burns.
A group shares plates of aperitivo food and drinks at Al Racanà in Fano. Photo by Krishaun Burns.

By Krishaun Burns, senior in public relations and event management

If I could tell you a way you could get free food, would you do it? I’m not talking about a one-time offer; I’m talking about something you can do often and get the same response each and every time. The only requirement is that you (or someone who goes with you) order a drink at a cafe in Italy. I promise you, that’s all you have to do! Italy has become the country that knows how to bring customers into a food establishment. This great cultural phenomenon is called aperitivo. At the end of the day in Urbino, my fellow students knew it was time to head to a cafe, order a drink and enjoy the free food that we didn’t order.

According to Charming Italy, aperitivo is “an alcoholic drink taken before a meal to stimulate the appetite.” While you can begin enjoying aperitivo as early as 6:30 p.m., it’s typical for people to partake after work and before dinner. It’s a great way to get your stomach ready for a delicious home-cooked meal.

Depending on where you go, you can buy a 3 to 5 euro drink and get mini sandwiches, pizza bites, potatoes, peanuts and chips in return. The more people who purchase drinks (or the more drinks you buy), the more food you will get. The only warning I have for you is to be careful, or else you might get full and not want dinner. However, if you’re a college student looking to eat on a budget, your favorite word might become “aperitivo.”

One of my favorite places for aperitivo in Urbino is Sugar Café, which is run by Giovanni and his brother. The aperitivo menu is never the same at Sugar. It consists of leftover food from earlier in the day that the brothers are trying to get rid of. They turn the food into fun concoctions, making aperitivo a fun event whenever you go. The only thing that I could come to expect are their well-known potatoes; almost everyone has come to admire the crunchy and salty taste of them. Even Giovanni believes that the best aperitivo is when you “have a drink, preferably a very good glass of wine (either red or white), and then you have some crunchy things, such as potatoes, pizza, or little servings of pasta.”

Food, friends, and family seem to be the way of life in Italy. It is more common to see friends meeting up for this before-dinner event than it is to see people enjoying aperitivo alone. Giovanni explained how aperitivo time is a common way of living in Italy: “It starts around 6:30 until 8, or 8:30. After work, before going back home for dinner, you just stop at your favorite place with some friends.” He also explained to me that aperitivo is not always planned out.

Many people contact their friends using social media, such as Facebook Messenger or Whatsapp, to plan when and where they are going to meet for for the evening. When they finally get together, it’s a relaxing time where they plan out activities for the next day or upcoming weekend, such as playing sports.

Aperitivo was one of my favorite parts of studying in Urbino, and I’ll always remember enjoying delicious food while surrounded by old and new friends.

Photo of Krishaun BurnsKrishaun Burns is a senior double majoring in public relations and event management. Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, she came to Iowa State for its abundance of majors and opportunities. She loves anything involving content creation, animals and nature.

This post is one in a series of blog posts written by Iowa State University students who studied abroad in Urbino, Italy, in spring 2018 with Deni Chamberlin, Greenlee School associate professor. The program focuses on mobile image making, Italian language, Renaissance art history and literature and the history of food and culture. The Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication will offer the program in collaboration with LAS Study Abroad in spring 2020.