The aperitivo and the Spritz–two Italian staples

In Food, Life in Italy, Trieste on November 14, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Perhaps you’ve noticed I haven’t written as much as I hoped (and promised) to. The reason: I’ve been having quite a few aperitivos and quite a few Spritzes.  For those of you who have been to Italy, you know that the aperitivo is the Italian equivalent to Spanish tapas, and a vague friend of the American cocktail hour.  It varies a bit in every city, but all versions involve meeting up with friends at the start of the evening for a drink and a nibble at a favorite bar.

In some Italian cities, you go inside the bar and sit or stand near the counter; you pay for one drink and eat the delicious appetizers that are served up ’til your heart’s content.  Trieste, however, is filled with outdoor terraces–so it’s more common here to grab a table outside one of the many bars that fill the city. In this pedestrian-friendly strolling city, people have their aperitivo outside regardless of the temperature (they bundle up or turn on outdoor space heaters) and the weather (huge umbrellas as big as 9 square meters protect you from the rain).

We especially frequent a place called “Bar Russian” in the Borgo Teresiano part of the city, which is composed of wide pedestrian-only streets and is one of the key shopping districts in town–a perfect place for an afternoon or evening stroll, and a common spot for the aperitivo.

Here, you sit down at a table, and for the price of a drink (3-4€) they also bring you a wide variety of food to nibble on.  Each place is different, and some are more generous than others, but it’s common to find items from simple staples (olives, potato chips, peanuts, pistachios, or grissini–long, thin Italian breadstick-crackers, often with different seasonings or toppings) to elaborated spreads or spreadables (artichoke and olive dips, delicious salsa; once we even were served a truffle dip!) and warm foods (pizzas, foccaccias, pastries, mini-sandwiches, and more). If you are inside, you just mosey up to the bar to munch away; places lay out snacks for the patrons who stand at the bar (and in some places, the spread is a smorgasbord filled with tons of different dishes!)

Perhaps the most famous cocktail in this part of Italy is the Spritz, a bright orange drink which, unsurprisingly, also has many variations.  The “classic” Spritz is a mix of sparkling wine (often Prosecco; in some places they also use dry white wine), seltzer or other very fizzy water, and Aperol (the distinctive bitter-orange-and-rhubarb alcohol produced by the Campari company), in approximately equal proportions. Serve over ice cubes in a medium-stemmed, medium-bulb wine glass, dressed with a large green olive or an orange slice (or both!).  Since I’ve come to Italy, the humble Spritz has become my go-to pre-dinner drink.

Spritzes come in many variations, and here, you can’t order a Spritz without specifying which kind you want. The most common seem to be the classic Spritz-Aperol or its darker companion, the Spritz-Campari; Campari is a much stronger, more bitter alcohol, and makes for a darker red color in the cocktail. Then there’s the “Padova-Milano,” which mixes Aperol and Campari–theoretically in recognition of the differing traditional preferences in each of the cities–or the Spritz Bianco–a light, summery Spritz which omits the stronger alcohols–basically just white wine with water here! And these are just the most common variations in Trieste–there are lots of variations.

So: sorry for my absence, but I’m sure you’ll understand–the Italian cocktail cultures comes calling regularly at the best blogging hours!

  1. […] future, as soon as we’ve nailed it perfectly!). Of course, the drink of the evening was the spritz. And the night also saw two new dishes: a delicious sweet tahini dip and some stuffed […]

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