I’ve been running down the list of some of my favorite southern Italian traditions and have covered the long, leisurely lunch and the nightly passeggiata. Today, we’re returning to the table, but before I tell you about this pre-meal, appetite-inducing tradition, I need to go back-five or six years, actually, and tell you about my first experience with the Italian aperitivo.

I’ll never forget my first aperitivo in Calabria. I was in a bar in downtown Cosenza with my would-one-day-be-marito and his cousin, Luca. It was much too early for lunch … around 11:30 or so, and Luca asked if I had experienced the Italian aperitivo.

“No?” He said. “Then, I’ll get the best one for you.” (… Or something like that because remember, way back when I didn’t speaka de italiano, if you know what I mean … but more or less that was the gist.)

We sat down and the barista brought us bright orange beverages, each with two ice cubes and a sliver of lemon. The sweet smell drifted upward and my taste buds began to anticipate the sugary syrup that would certainly accompany a drink this pretty.

I took a healthy gulp.


No, I didn’t spit it out … but I sure as hell wanted to.

Not wanting to offend Cousin Luca, since he had selected the best for me, and all, I pretended to sip my drink while we chatted.

It didn’t work.

“You don’t like it?” He asked in a surprised tone.

“What?” I thought. “You mean this beautiful battery acid?” I could almost hear my insides sizzling as I pieced together an appropriate response.

“Uhm, well … ” was all I could come up with. (Wasn’t very quick back then, was I?)

“I’ll get you another one!” and before I could protest, he was at the bar ordering another drink. He returned a minute later. “Here,” he said. “Try this. It’s much sweeter.”

… and it was green!

I’m still not sure what that second drink was but by this American’s standards, that green drink was not much sweeter than the pretty orange one. But I got it down. Mostly.

We had a few snacks with our drinks and in what I’d later realize is not a typical aperitivo, rather southern Italian men trying to indulge their guests, the boys tried to push a chocolate-covered cream-puff profiterole on me. I resisted the cream puff, not sure if my body could survive another attack if the pastry wasn’t as expected and we left the bar.

In the years that followed, I came to understand that the bright orange beverage is, indeed, a cherished aperitivo drink and that Cousin Luca wasn’t trying to kill off the “Americana” who threatened to take away his friend. I’m not sure when, how or more importantly WHY I tried this drink again, but believe or not, I’ve adjusted to its sharp ways and I, too, can sit back with the locals and enjoy this drink.

Can anyone guess which aperitivo drink it was? Come back next week for the full scoop on the southern Italian aperitivo.

Photos: ButtalaPasta and Manuz73 via Flickr

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9 Responses
  1. I would guess a Negroni but they tend to be red.

    As for the tradition of the aperitivo, at least here in Puglia, when you order an aperitivo, it means that for a fixed price you pick a drink (whatever you’d like – I usually get prosecco) and then they bring out all kinds of different small dishes – from sandwiches to rice to pasta to vegetables. Or local almonds and olives and taralli. There’s one place in Lecce whose aperitivo is nearly a dinner!

    In central and northern Italy, the aperitivo invoves a buffet, but I much prefer the Pugliese way of having them bring things to my table. 🙂

    Ha, you beat me to the punch. That’s the topic of next week’s follow up!

  2. Crodino! I love it. In Salento, if you ask for a San Pellegrino cocktail, you get a long version of Crodino, which I got quite hooked on. However, I asked for that in Reggio the other day and they had absolutely no idea what I was talking about, so I just had the short version. They had good stuzzichini, though, so I forgave them. 😉

    Brava! Doesn’t it make you think of the big ole gorilla (from the commercials?) he he

  3. Peter

    The same thing happened to me with Cynar. The first few times I couldn’t stand it. Everywhere I went for a visit they always gave me Cynar. Now I wish I could drink it daily as it’s not available in Canada. One day I’ll go back to Italy just to drink it again.

    Isn’t that funny? You’d think if we hated it the first time around we’d stop drinking it! lol

  4. Jonaki

    If you haven’t tried the Aperol Spritz (as I read below), you haven’t had the real Italian aperitivo!!!
    You’re going to love it!
    The tradition of the aperitivo is, in fact, less ubiquitous in the south, as compared with central Italy upwards. Or rather, ‘aperitivo’ as one understands it, to mean the drink (typically, Negroni, Americano, Aperol Spritz or just Prosecco) + all the stuzzichini that come with it. The average standard gets more serious as you travel upward 🙂 In the south, they started slowly, more as a result of the demands of travellers from other parts, and they still haven’t quite cottoned on to the concept in its entirety.
    After experiencing the aperitivo in all its glory, teh little bowls of crisps and peanuts and pretzles they give you in most places in the south seem rather miserable.
    But to come back to why I started out with this comment – go try that Aperol Spritz (and insist on the orange zest in it if they don’t already serve it with!)
    Salute! 🙂

    I’ll do that … thanks for the tip!

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