Aperitivo: Rome’s low-cost drink and food extravaganza

In Rome, most bars practice an early evening food-and-drink phenomenon called “aperitivo“.

Is an aperitivo the same as an aperitif?

The name is indeed derived from the French aperitif, but in Italy it has a somewhat different connotation. Whereas in France un aperitif refers only to the drink you take before dinner, in Italian culture, it’s almost unheard of to serve an alcoholic drink without also serving some food. 

Therefore even though aperitivo originally started out in as a drink before dinner, when it was first adopted in northern Italy it simply had to be served with a snack. Over the years the practice has spread throughout Italy, and the size of the snacks offered has grown, and grown, until now the custom of aperitivo has become far more about the food than about the drink – though a drink is always included.

What time is aperitivo served in Rome?

These days all over Rome, aperitivo happens between around 6.30pm – 8.30pm in almost every bar you can find.

If you walk into a bar during this time and ask for a drink, you may be asked if you’d like aperitivo with it. The implication of this usually only means a little supplement of between €1 and €2 on top of the cost of the drink.

A typical drink to have with your aperitivo is the famous Aperol spritz, but most bars also serve beer, wine, or other cocktails as part of the deal. If you don’t drink alcohol, try an amaro – a non-alcoholic bitter: Crodino (a sweet and bitter short drink) or a chinotto (a drink made from Sicilian oranges that loks like Coca Cola).

What sort of food can I expect with my aperitivo?

Some bars just provide a few nibbles such as peanuts and potato chips, others serve savory pastries brought to your table, but others offer a buffet of increasing levels of sumptuousness – and all for the cost of a single drink plus coins.

In some places, the buffet is simply enormous, and very often all-you-can-eat. In this case it’s sometimes called apericena (aperitivo + cena: dinner). Incredibly good value, particularly if you have a big appetite.

Where should I go for the best aperitivo in Rome?

While there are literally thousands of places to have aperitivo in Rome, the place in Rome with the best reputation for aperitivo and apericena is Momart near Piazza Bologna (the nearest Metro station is Bologna on Linea B).

Momart has a slightly irritating door policy of making you wait in line outside for up to half an hour. It is, however, worth the wait. Inside, the spread of food is mind-boggling, with heaving piles of pastas, vegetables, savory pastries, cakes, a wood-fired oven serving freshly made pizza, and a guy whose sole job it is to make you a fresh tiramisu straight into your bowl. The total cost of this feast, including a drink, is currently a tiny €12. Not to be missed.

If you can’t make it out to Piazza Bologna, don’t fear: there are branches of the chain “Aristocampo” all over Rome, whose aperitivo buffet is also very good value, generous, full of variety, and inexpensive.

Buon aperitivo!

Now make sure you don’t miss out: plan your visit in advance:

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Photo credit: AFP

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