When l'aperitivo becomes dinner.
Aperitivo Time has been part of Italian food culture since (traditionally men) workers would leave work and stop off at the bar on their way home. Seeing as la mamma would always cook dinner at the 'usual' time, a daily ritual was born where inevitably the same people would gather at the same road-side spot and the 'aperitivo' soon became a 'thing'.
But it was always a pre-dinner 'thing' because as a nation, Italians are notorious for opting to eat at home. Creature comforts, wholesome food and time spent together around the table mean culturally Italians choose a home-cooked meal for 'la pausa pranzo' and if not their home, then someone else's. This habit has changed in the last decade due to a generation of freshly qualified youths travelling further afield to find work, drawing them outside their immediate community and inevitably into larger cities where traditional meal-times begin to shift. With change comes opportunity - so let's meet our new food trend!
It's a glorious one - a sumptuous marriage of pre-dinner snacks and dinner itself - the Apericena. Thanks mainly to the students.
In popular student cities like Padova and Bologna - Italy's gastronomic capital, the sun sets and Aperitivo Time takes over cafés and bars with vibrant conversation, flowing spritzes and tasty snacks spilling into the streets and piazze. The daily ritual of a pre-dinner get-together inevitably stretches further into the night and students stay out instead of heading home with no mamma's cooking on the table, so la cena (dinner) falls by the wayside but still the question remains: Ma cosa si mangia? What to eat?
Where a pizza or street food would satisfy a thrifty student's hunger (and budget), the establishments offering l'aperitivo have caught on to a better idea - Apericena - an aperitivo that becomes dinner. Aperi + cena.
In cities where dinner tables are booked for 8 or 9 PM, the gap between the end of aperitivo time and the beginning of dinner can be filled with an array of appetising aperitivo-style foods spread out in a delectable buffet tempting any of us to stay...
Aperitivo foods are snacky things such as tramezzini, small bruschette, fried bits and bobs like olive ascolane (deep fried olives stuffed with pork mince) or polpette (meat/veggie balls) - they're meant to keep you going until your main meal but not fill you up. Back in the day, l'aperitivo was intended to 'creare un buco allo stomaco' (to create a hole in the stomach) with drinks based on digestive 'bitters' to incentivize a sense of hunger. Don't know about you but I've never needed to incentivize hunger... Nevertheless, to this day Aperol and Campari Spritzes are mixed from a 'bitter' elixir of herbs and plants and meant to be drunk before dinner.
See our blog post for more on the 'Bitter Sisters'.
Apericena foods go and take apertitivo foods up a notch: Italian affettati (cold meats) and cheeses perhaps piled onto un tagliere, open panini and pickled antipasti, arancini, focaccia and thick pizza with even a bowl of pasta or risotto brought out man-mano (as it comes). Beautiful foods, that Italy serves best simply and deliciously and a feast not only for the eyes.
Maybe the best thing about the apericena taking eateries by storm, is the casual, unexpected air to it all - just turn up between 6 and 8 PM, find a table, order drinks and help yourself. Unless in a particular restaurant, there's no need to book.
You're sipping Aperol and Campari spritzes, glasses of prosecco, Spritz Hugo or un litro di vino (carafe of house wine) accompanied by a flow of gorgeous, freshly-prepared food from the kitchen and it's all set at a standard price to suit even a student's pocket, between €10–€20.
Once again, in line with Italy's character, a foodie ritual that started as 'slang' has already been taken to refined culinary heights - expect some of the most prestigious of restaurants to have jumped onboard. And why not? It's a favoloso idea! A way to sample many things, to nibble and sip your way through the early evening and a way for establishments to free up their kitchens, Remember though, there's no dessert - you're done by the time the place needs its tables back and everyone just stops for gelato on the way home.
To sample l'apericena next time you're in Italy, have a wander through the city streets at dusk and drift towards where the locals flock - you'll know where by the bunches of people standing with orange Aperol Spritzes in their hands. A good place to start is always the main piazza of any city or town but beware of bars cheekily charging for you to sit down especially in Florence, Venice, Rome or Pisa. If you're not sure you've picked a good spot, order a spritz, birretta (small beer) or prosecco and peruse the offerings... places that offer tasty aperitivo snacks tend to offer an excellent apricena too or here's a TOP TIP: look out for curbside, chalk boards with all the information.
If you find a good apericena spot do let us know in the comments below.
In tanto, I'm raising a glass to the students...
Viva i studenti!