There’s long been a saying that dusk is the bewitching hour, the most magical time of day. A time of light quality appreciated by photographers, poets, romantics and the generally observant.
A small gift from the universe, to manage the transition of time from light to dark.
Sitting, writing from Italy, I’ve reflected over the last few months on how Italians have taken appreciation of this bewitching hour, and found a way to express it in a beautiful, every-day activity – the Art of Aperitivo.
Aperitivo is an honoured time in northern Italy, and a tradition that has slowly crept into all corners of the country (and is starting to pop up in Australia). The intent of aperitvo is to open your appetite, in fact the word aperitivo is derived from ‘aperto’ – to open, and it marks the transition of the work-day to home life. It is the simple but delightful act of partaking in a drink or two at one of the many local piazzas, always accompanied by small plates of food and generally in the company of your friends or family.
Importantly, it is a unique and valued time in its own right. It is not a dash from work to home, or an excuse to get drunk on cheap drinks. Aperitivo is the bewitching hour (or two) with its own purpose and intent.
How do you practice the Art of Aperitivo?
After work, and before going home, head to the local bar and meet your friends over a drink or two. Preferably sitting outside. A typical aperitivo drink is a mixed drink (you could say cocktail – but not the sweet, alcohol laden cocktails of your misspent youth) instead think a little bitter and dry.
Good choices are a Spritz (Aperol is common, but I prefer Campari), a Negroni or an Americano. A glass of wine is also an acceptable aperitivo drink. Beer not really. Remember, a traditional aperitivo beverage is meant to be palate opening.
And here’s where the magic happens. You take your seat, start to chat, order your drink, continue to chat - and when your drink arrives so does a selection of food. Gratis.
What food comes depends on the venue. It can be a simple as a bowl of chips (crisps) but in the true aperitivo style of Northern Italy you’re more likely to receive bruschetta, prosciutto, frittata, salami, focaccia and other such delights.
Sometimes there will be a buffet where you can help yourself – however, a word of warning, don’t go committing a cultural faux pas (or passo falso in Italian)! One reasonable plate of food per drink only. That’s what the locals do and expect, and you will stand out if you pile your plate as high as possible and go back for seconds. This isn’t dinner, the experience is meant to be gentle and palate opening, not a rush of consumption.
Is it like Happy Hour?
Sometimes us non-Italians don’t really get it. I’ve heard aperitivo referred to as the equivalent of ‘happy hour’ in Australia or America, but I think there’s a vast divide between these concepts. The driver of aperitivo is not cheap drinks that happen to have some free food along for the ride. It is about taking the time to luxuriate in the bewitching hour and connect – with your friends, your local bar, your community – and be in the moment.
Interestingly, as we increasingly pursue wellness messaging around mindfulness, maybe the Italian’s have understood it all along and embodied it in aperitivo. In my experience, the process is a beautiful opportunity to be in the moment. Creating ritual and space, and giving yourself over to the pleasures of food, drink and community – never an abundance of consumption, but always a wealth of connection.
And if that’s what mindfulness is about, let’s all celebrate the Art of Aperitivo.