L’aperitivo… Cultural Comfort and Girls Night Out!

Girl’s night out is a celebration and a reason to celebrate!  It always includes an aperitivo and in the summertime when it’s hot and we feel like eating light, it can be turned into an apericena.  Heavy appetizers, drinks and my expat girlfriends makes for a happy evening.  Living in Italy I have learned to speak Italian fairly fluently but English is my first language.  While it comes easily enough to me; I can switch back and forth while speaking and dream in both languages, I still have to think about the words I am putting together, especially when I am tired.  English flows automatically and being able to communicate in your native tongue when most of your daily communication is done in a foreign language is a luxury I truly appreciate.  After a busy week, or more likely a busy month, there is nothing better than catching up with my girls over un aperitivo.

My girlfriends come from a many places: South Africa, Canada, England and America. IMG_0505Some of us were raised bilingually, read Italian parents but not in Italy, and some of us are transplants who learned to speak Italian as adults while living here.  We have all managed to integrate ourselves into the culture here but we are still outsiders to a certain degree. I feel so lucky to have these ladies in my life!  It isn’t just about speaking the same language, culturally we have more in common, perhaps because we have all been vagabonds at one point or another.  The feeling of where home is with our feet in multiple cultures.  The ability to share in the joys and frustrations of living in Italy.  We take comfort in each other and have a laugh at what’s good and bad in life with un aperitivo.  

Italian history says that the aperitivo was invented in Torino in 1786 when Vermouth was invented by Antonio Benedetto Carpano who mixed white wine with more than 30 different herbs and spices and added alcohol.  They say that Carpano’s drink became so popular that he had to run his distillery 24/7 to keep up with the demand.

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Time to buy a new bottle of Campari!

Vermouth was the original aperitivo but its meaning has expanded and today it is a combination of drinks and snacks meant to open (aprire) your appetite.  It might be a Spritz made with Aperol or Campari (my favorite),  a glass of prosecco or a cocktail and finger food.  The Italians consider it unhealthy to drink alcohol without food and the only exception to this is when you have a digestivo: grappa, limoncello, ar an amaro (bitter). These are drunk at the end of a big meal and help aid the digestive process. Order an alcoholic drink at any other time and you will always get you something to nibble on in this country.  It might just be a bowl of peanuts or potato chips but take the time to find a bar that has a proper aperitivo and you will be in for a treat!

As I mentioned earlier my expat friends come from various places.  We all have different food backgrounds and we all love food!  If we ever contemplate moving back to where we came from, we often wonder what we would do about our food.  In our global marketplace we can get just about anything we want but it comes at a price and we have been spoiled by life in Italy.  Fresh, simple food that varies enormously from region to region and great wine…so what does an aperitivo in Piemonte serve up?

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Vitello Tonnato, focaccia, grissini and patatine, with a glass of prosecco…what more could you ask for?

Local salami and prosciutto, tiny squares of pizza and foccacia, and mini cups of rice or barley salad.  One of my favorite things is vitello tonnato.   Poached veal (not milk-fed) that is thinly sliced, served cold and slathered with tuna-caper mayonnaise.  There are usually a few cherry tomatoes floating around the aperitivo plate or we will get pinzimonio, raw veggies that get dipped in good extra virgin olive oil seasoned with a little salt and pepper. We often get small squares of frittata and if we ask nicely some crispy grissini, (breadsticks) that go well with everything.  Last but not least there is usually Toma and/or some other cheese, fresh or aged accompanied with a little jam or honey.  You can see how you could make this a meal.  IMG_1536

Whether you are visiting Piemonte or any other place in Italy the aperitivo is something you have to try.  It is an inexpensive way to get out, be social and taste some of the local specialties.

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Cin cin!

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