Different cultures have found creative ways to extend the joy of sharing food and drink across the day beyond the basic breakfast, lunch or dinner. Ireland has mastered the art of the afternoon tea, and brunch has quickly become a weekend must-do; the Swedish have “fika”, a mid-daybreak to share a pastry and a cuppa among pleasant company; and when in the US, you can’t miss a good Happy Hour after work.
Mediterranean countries have of course, highly enjoyable additions to the list and one of the simplest yet most pleasant to incorporate into your life is the moment known as aperitivo or, which a French accent, l’aperó. The term, which originates in the Latin word “aperire” meaning “to open”, is used to refer to an early evening occasion in which a drink and some nibbles are shared. This can be as simple as a glass of table wine and olives or as sophisticated as Champagne and carefully made canapés.
In principle, portions are frugal as the plan precedes dinner and is meant to open the appetite for the main event, however, it it not unheard of an aperó that just keeps going until the soirée turns into nuit.
What to Eat and Drink?
France, Italy and Spain rule the aperitivo triumvirate and while in the big scheme of things the occasion is the same, each tradition adds its own particular flavour to it. While a glass of your favourite wine (or two), would be a valid companion to your aperó, if you want to enjoy it like a local, try some of the classic tipples for the occasion.
Embrace it the French way with a Kir Royale (9 parts Champagne, 1 parts Crème de Cassis, or skip the crème and have the Champagne!), . For another very traditional sip, you could go Provençal and share an ice cold Pastis (to serve it the right way, mix it with cold water to taste, ice cubes optional).
As for the food, think a French cheese board, slices baguettes, and a fresh tapenade to dip. You can also add a bit of substance with cured meats like saucisson or take it up a notch with an indulgent serve of foie gras or a homemade terrine.
Be ready for an stimulating contrast between bitter and sweet if you choose the Italian path of aperitivo. A good Prosecco might be the safest bet to get la festa started, but if you fancy a more distinctive taste, there are three mixed drinks you should keep in mind: the first and easiest, is a Campari Soda (exactly what it says on the tin), but if you want something more complex, you can have a Negroni (one part gin, one part Campari, one part sweet vermouth).
A lighter alternative is the trendy Aperol Spritzer (3 parts Prosecco, 2 parts Aperol, 1 part soda). For another cool mixed drink, you can offer a tasty Negroni Sbagliato, which replaces Negroni’s gin for Prosecco, and offers a very pleasant lower alcohol alternative.
Nibbles-wise, pesto with crostini will only get you so far. Focaccia, olive oil, Parma ham and Pecorino are some of the tasty Italian specialities you should have at hand. If in Dublin, a quick trip to Little Italy would give you all you need as the shop is filled with authentic Italian food and drinks and the knowledgeable staff would help you put together the perfect board.
If you fancy doing it a la española, your fizz of choice can be a crisp Cava or perhaps a glass of dry Sherry (a well chilled Fino or Manzanilla ideally). Another option would be to sip on a vermouth (call it vermú) with plenty of ice and a slice of orange or… you’re gonna like this one… a gin tonica, which is simply a G&T. Let us remember that Spain was the epicentre of the Gin & Tonic revolution and one of the places where the minimalist tipple has taken a new level of coolness.
Simpler than tapas, the bites for an aperitivo shouldn’t get you too full. A few slices of jamón, Manchego, olives and salted almonds are a great place to start.
Apero in Dublin
Whether you’re staying in or gathering for a pre-dinner glass and conversation, hosting an aperó at home is great, but you can also enjoy it in the comfort of a wine bar or restaurant. If you’re very lucky, you might even get an evening sunny enough to experience it al fresco.
One of the best places to go for aperó in Dublin is Piglet Wine Bar on Cow’s Lane (lovely any time, but keep an eye on the French Wine Evenings page to know when they’re hosting the next Aperó there, for a more authentic experience). Another great option is to go to The Church, in City Centre (again, keep an eye on them as they frequently run events with a French accent).
For an experience with an Italian twist, try Bellucci’s, a modern and inviting venue in the heart of D4 and Il Posto Restaurant by St. Stephen’s Green. If you are planning to extend your aperitivo, you can’t go wrong in George’s Street NoLIta, where your evening will smoothly progress from a relaxed get together with a continental flair to a full on night out.
Other cool places to drop by for pre-dinner sips and nibbles in town are Cavern on Baggot Street, Bagots Hutton on Ormond Quay, Café en Seine on Dawson Street, Coppinger Row on the namesake address and the ever so lovely Las Tapas de Lola.
Slow Down and Enjoy
At home or out, Champagne or vin de table, the most important thing about aperitivo is to relax and enjoy not just the food and drink, but the moment and the company. Give it your personal touch and take inspiration from the cultures who have mastered it but don’t be afraid to mix and match and host the apero that your heart desires!
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.