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The return of the aperitivo PDF Print E-mail
Nov 17, 2008 at 04:51 PM

First published by Momondo.
Even though her studio is only three blocks away, I haven't seen my friend Gloria Argelés in ages. I don't really feel like going out to dinner (for most locals the 30 euro per person minimum you end up spending in a restaurant has gotten to be a turn-off) So what to do? Increasingly, I do as the Italians do. I call Gloria, an Argentine sculptress, and invite her to meet me for an aperitivo at Ombre Rosse, the nearby café where, as elsewhere in Rome, the aperitivo, a long-standing Italian tradition which for a time had sort of gone into eclipse, is back in swing, with the welcom addition of lots and lots of free food (you pay only for your drinks).

Here, as in cafés throughout the Italian capital, people are sitting sipping brightly-colored drinks, chatting and frankly appraising their neighbors, something that back in the U.S. would be considered unacceptable staring but here on the continent is a normal part of wordless social discourse.

The young and always pleasant servers at Ombre Rosse, say these days the aperitivo of choice chez eux is a "spritz" . which they make with white wine, soda and a splash of the orange-colored, non-alcoholic Aperol , or the house aperitivo, a delicioius concoction of orange juice, Campari and Aperol. Looking around me, however, I see many people are, like Gloria, opting instead for a plain old glass of sparkling "Prosecco", or have selected a Margherita or one of the more old-fashioned "aperitivi", such as the improbably bright-yellow non-alcoholic Crodino. I myself go for the more traditional stuff. No Brazilian Caipirinhas or Cuban Mojitos for me. If I'm not worried about staying up late, I'll choose a Negroni (vermouth, gin and Campari over ice) or else my alternative favourite, a Campari Bitter over ice with a slice of orange.

The idea of the aperitivo is supposed to be that of stimulating your appetite (although, you may ask, how many people visiting in Italy really need to make an effort to get their gastric motors going before dining) or, alternatively, breaking the ice (no pun intended) with one's fellow diners before actually sitting down to a meal. Some say the tradition goes back to ancient Roman times, but in more recent Italian times it's appearance in generally traced to Turin in 1796 when Anronio Benedetto Carpano invented his vermouth drink, Carpano, later rebaptised "Punt e Mes" by Italian King Victor Emanuel II.

Others insist the tradition is more Milanese, pointing to the fact that Milan is where the Ramazzotti brothers invented their "amaro", mixing 33 herbs and roots in an alcohol base and where the Martini family came up with their vermouth drinks, first Martini bianco and then Martini dry.

Whatever the history, the aperitivo tradition is now back in full swing especially because instead of the rather boring peanuts, pretzels and potato chips of yesterday, you are now more often than not offered a whole slew of nibbles to get your gastric juices in full working order. At Ombre Rosse in Piazza S. Egidio in Trastevere, the buffet runs from 7p.m. to 9 p.m. You only pay for your drinks, but if you are feeling peckish you head for the bar where the counter holds dishes of cous-cous, tomato, celery and bean salads, small pizzette, salami, breads, carrots and celery sticks etc etc etc. And you can fill your plate as many times as you like.

Every cafè in Rome, of course has it's own style and there are the more or less generous offerings at the cafés in Trastevere's very pricey Piazza Navona or the tourist-filled Piazza della Rotonda, facing the magnificent 2nd century Pantheon, where - it should be remembered - you can combine your pre-dinner (or pre-lunch drink) with an important visual experience. Some might like to join the in-crowd at Ciampini at Piazza in Lucina off the Corso or at one of the cafés in Piazza delle Coppelle, between the Pantheon and the Italian Senate. And if you prefer elegance, you can always decide to enjoy your aperitivo on the terraces of patios of luxury hotels such as the Raphael, the Minerva, the de Russie, the Eden or the Forum. And further a field, the Red Bar near the Auditorium, Rome's symphonic orchestra hall charges 10 euros and provides enough hot snacks for a small army.

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