Apericena, Italy’s Favorite Tradition (and How It’s Different From Aperitivo)

When the day starts coming to an end, and you finally decide to sit down for a break from all that site-seeing, it’s the perfect moment to enjoy the Italian tradition of aperitivo. Aperitivo, or Apericena – however you might hear it called – is an essential moment of the Italian experience. A time to relax and enjoy the slow life, watching the life of the town pass by, while sharing a few laughs, and excellent tastes with friends. 

Group of people toasting with red wine around a table
Don’t forget to brush up on your apericena etiquette before your next trip to Italy.

The Apericena Tradition

You’ve probably heard of aperitivo from your friends who have studied abroad or visited Italy, but what exactly is it? If you think it is just the Italian version of a classic Happy Hour, you’re not totally wrong, but we like to think it is more than that. 

Aperitivo or apericena is an event to share a drink and a bite to eat, usually before dinner, between 4 pm and 8 pm. An evening aperitivo is the perfect way to wind down from a long day, as well as grab a little drink and snack to open up your appetite for dinner. Or in the case of an abundant apericena, it might even be a way to save a few euros on “dinner” and drinks.

Many often associate the aperitivo tradition with Veneto, as this was where the classic Aperitivo cocktail the Aperol Spritz initially became famous. But the true origin is actually in another region of Northern Italy

Before the Spritz, there was Vermouth. Specifically, Vermouth di Torino. An aperitif from the Piedmontese city of Turin, found in the Northwest, beneath the alps. Vermouth had long been a medicinal drink, but a new recipe by Carpano adjusted it to be much tastier. 

Local nobles took to mixing a bit of vermouth with soda water and lemon, enjoying it in the afternoon with light snacks. What locally became known as the “Vermouth Hour, quickly spread in popularity and took on the name “aperitivo.”

Close up of a person's hand holding a vermouth glass with an orange slice garnish
Vermouth, the original aperitivo drink, is still an excellent choice to this day.

What’s the Difference Between Aperitivo and Apericena?

While you might hear both of these used interchangeably around Italy, there is a slight difference. It all comes down to this: how much food is on your table?

An aperitivo is more commonly just a cocktail – like our favorite Spritz – with just a few stuzzichini. This means just a few table snacks, like chips, olives, and nuts. Just a little bit to get something in your stomach and counteract your drink.

On the other hand, apericena tends to be a bit more abundant. Including a buffet, or a plate of small snacks like pizzette, sandwiches, or other more filling snacks.  Usually, you’ll find that aperitivo costs just the same as a cocktail, while an apericena might cost a few euros more to cover the food. 

Every city has its own version, and you’ll find something different everywhere. While in northern cities like Milan the buffet apericena is a popular find, Venice might offer little cicchetti – like tapas – with your happy hour drink, and Rome bars might just stick to a classic aperitivo. 

woman eating bruschetta
How much you want to eat will determine whether you go out for apetitivo or apericena. Photo credit: Adrienn

What Are Some Classic Apericena Bites?

What you’ll be served at an apericena is a little different depending on where you are in Italy. You’ll find different classics in every city around Italy. Here are a few different bites you can expect when you sit down for an apericena.

Tagliere – The delicious charcuterie board made with the best tastes of Italy. Always a crowd pleaser, this is the most common offering at an abundant aperitivo – or apericena. A tagliere might be of just salumi or just cheese but is often a mixed plate.

Local cheeses and salumi are sliced and served with a cocktail, or glass of wine, sometimes with a local jam or honey for a final touch. Especially if you are in Florence, you will often be served a selection of local pecorino cheese with delectable honey to drizzle on top. 

cheese and charcuterie board next to glasses of red and white wine
What can be better that a wooden board of Italy’s finest? Photo credit: Aleisha Kalina

Buffets – Found all over Italy, but a true tradition in Milan. The most abundant apericena is marked by a delicious buffet. Usually, you’ll pay for a cocktail, plus a few euros, to have an endless buffet. 

Every bar serves it up a bit differently, but you are sure to find a mix of pasta and rice dishes, veggies, focaccia or bread, and much more. You’ll even find bars or restaurants that do themed buffets like sushi, Indian, or Mexican cuisine.

Cicchetti – The apericena of Venice, cicchetti are much like the Spanish tapas, with small bruschetta or focaccia served with various toppings. You’ll most likely find a few with tasty baccalà (codfish) as it is a local favorite.

Some bars might serve a selection with every evening drink, others, on the other hand, might charge per cicchetti.

Small bites served on little pieces of bread placed atop a wooden board, with a person's hand pointing to them
A delicious selection of Venetian-style cicchetti.

What Do You Drink for Apericena?

Sure, the photos of an apericena in Italy are filled with the bright orange glasses of Aperol Spritz, but this isn’t your only option. Aperitivo can come with any drink of choice!

The Aperol Spritz was designed to be something refreshing – with the bubbles of Prosecco and soda, light on the alcohol, with the addition of soda water, and open up your palate with an herbaceous aperitif. 

Other aperitif spirits that are popular to try in a Spritz are Campari, which is slightly more bitter, Select, which is a bit sweeter, or Saint-Germain for the popular Hugo Spritz.

The original Negroni cocktail calls for Gin, Vermouth, and Campari (or other bitter aperitifs) and was invented in Florence. If that seems a little too bitter for your taste, swap for the Sbagliato – which switches the Gin for a spumante (sparkling wine). This version comes from Bar Basso in Milan, where you can still visit and enjoy the historic aperitif.

Then of course you can always keep it simple with a glass of excellent local wine. Apericena gives you the opportunity to try something new and find your new favorite Italian wine. 

Aperitivo isn’t confined to classic drinks either – keep an eye out for excellent craft cocktail bars in the city. Here are a few of our favorites to save for your next trip to Florence!

You can’t go wrong with a classic Aperol Spritz. Photo credit: Markus Spiske

Join us to eat Florentine-stayle on our evening food tour in Florence! There’s no better way to discover the city’s incredible food and drink scene than by eating your way around the vibrant Oltrarno neighborhood in the company of fellow foodies.