The Best Italian Bar Snacks: All About Aperitivo

August 1, 2023

If you hear “aperitivo,” you might think “happy hour.” That’s almost right. But it’s not the whole story. True, aperitivo means enjoying delicious Italian bar snacks. But it’s so much more than that!

Aperol spritz in a wine glass with lemon along with olives and fried potatoes served outside at a restaurant

Discover what you need to know about the glorious tradition of Italian bar snacks – and why the aperitivo tradition is much more than a happy hour. Photo credit: Dennis Schmidt

Sure, aperitivo is somewhat similar to a cocktail hour. But it’s one where the food tends to involve much more than the peanuts or potato chips you’d get back home. And, unlike American “happy hours,” it has nothing to do with discounts (there aren’t any) or getting drunk with coworkers. For those reasons, if you ever see an aperitivo in Italy advertised as “cocktail hour,” run the other way. Those words mean it caters to tourists, not locals!

Instead, for Italians, aperitivo is a glorious couple of hours—generally between 7pm and 9pm—when they can relax post-work over a glass of wine or Campari and some snacks. Since most people eat lunch around 1pm or 2pm, and dinner around 9pm, it’s also a good way to re-start the old metabolism to work up an appetite for dinner.

For visitors, hitting up an aperitivo can be just as useful. It’s a great way to experience local culture, to people-watch, to unwind with a drink after a long day of sightseeing… and to “take the edge off” of hunger while waiting for that 9pm meal.

Want to enjoy an aperitivo in Italy? Here are some things you should know!

8pm snacks with drinks in Italy – it must be aperitivo time!

Aperitivo is mainly a northern Italian tradition

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Italian food customs are very regional. That goes for aperitivo, too! Milan is, hands-down, the best place for aperitivo in Italy. This is where the bars are buzzing and the selection of both food and drinks for aperitivo is excellent.

The further south you go, the harder it is to find a “proper” aperitivo—but the trend is catching on. Rome, Florence, even Naples all now have aperitivo scenes, even if the Milanese might scoff at them, and some of the establishments are very lively and great for people-watching in the evenings!

Aperitivo, with Italian bar snacks, is just one of many reasons to explore Milan at night.

There aren’t discounts with aperitivo, but you do get bang for your buck

You don’t get a discount on drinks during aperitivo. Instead, you usually get a little “bonus,” like a plate of snacks brought with your drink, or access to a buffet of food. Prices range, of course, but in general, an aperitivo including food and a glass of wine costs between 8 and 10 euros in Italy’s major cities.

What food you’re served depends on the place

Every bar differs. Although we wouldn’t really consider this a proper aperitivo, some places bring just some olives and potato chips with your drink. More commonly for aperitivo will be a plate of small nibbles like bruschetta, focaccia, or even meats and cheeses.

Our favorite, though, are the aperitivo buffets, where you can choose yourself from an array of food that might be everything from light pastas to salads. Especially when serving yourself, though, just remember that…

Italian bar snacks can be anything. And, as a rule of thumb, one drink means one plate of food. If you want more food, buy another drink!

The food for an aperitivo is not supposed to replace your dinner

Seeing an aperitivo buffet, it can be very tempting—especially if you’re hungry, or on a budget—to load up a couple of plates and tuck in as if you’re at an early dinner. If you do, be prepared for some strange, or even dirty, looks.

When faced with an aperitivo buffet, Italians will generally start with a small plate of nibbles. They will slowly eat them over the course of the next hour, sometimes even managing to leave a bit behind. Taking too much food, or tucking into it like it’s your last meal, is seen as somewhat rude—and not really the point of aperitivo.

Another option? Save room to enjoy a delicious Milanese dinner after your aperitivo!

Diner squeezing lemon onto their cotoletta alla milanese, with cucumbers on the side of the plate

Save room for dinner later so you can try some regional dishes, such as cotoletta alla milanese! Photo credit: Michela Simoncini

by Walks of Italy

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