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When in Milan, try Italy’s Fabulous Aperitivo

Aperitivo is Italy’s happiest hour: For the price of a single drink, bars throw in an extensive buffet of traditional and exotic snacks. Usually beginning around five and continuing for two to three hours, aperitivo is one of my favorite Italian customs, and Milan is one of the best places to find it. Whether pausing during a stroll along the cobblestone streets or seeking a cold drink after a long day of travel, you’ll be taken care of in Milan’s bars.

I begin my evening with passeggiata, a traditional evening stroll during which the citizens of Milan fill the streets to take in the sweetness of life. Corso Garibaldi is a popular street, and I begin where Via della Moscova intersects with it. From there I walk toward Via De Cristoforis. The street is lined with restaurants, and here and there I glimpse chefs and waiters gathered, enjoying the pre-service family meal. The impressive arches of Porta Garibaldi lie ahead (Corso Garibaldi becomes Corso Como here), and once I walk through them, a stretch of lively bars comes into sight.

It’s always easy to tell which places are happening because the bars’ patrons spill out into the street with drinks in one hand and little plates of food in the other. Deciding on a drink can be difficult. Single-serving bottles of prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine, are a classy move. Milan’s specialty drink Negroni Sbagliato, which literally means the Negroni mistake, is a delicious mix of prosecco, red vermouth, and Aperol (a bitter similar to Campari). Italians describe the drink as a pick-me-up. If drinking isn’t your thing, most bars offer non-alcoholic aperitivo for a reduced price.

Now for the food. The first time I came across aperitivo I felt awkward: Is it really OK to just help yourself? The answer is yes, yes, and then some, even if it seems too good to be true. A basic buffet might include a selection of olives, various chips and nuts, miniature calzones, and raw vegetables and dip, but I prefer to hold out for a real spread. Bars offer everything from big bowls of pasta, to salads, to miniature sandwiches and deep-fried shrimp. Cured meats, cheeses, and marinated vegetables are sometimes offered, and depending on which city you are in, the traditional snacks will vary. Milan offers a deep-fried potato and seafood cake that isn’t quite my style, but it might be the cherry on your cocktail.

Other bars in other locations throughout Milan also offer aperitivo and shouldn’t be missed. Usually you will see signs advertising it. Or, if there’s no large crowd spilling into the street, the buffet should be in plain view upon entering. One thing to look out for are signs that describe aperitivo as “Happy Hour,” which means it is aimed at tourists and may not offer as extensive or as interesting a buffet. I try to look for bars that charge between 5-8 euro for aperitivo. Salute!

Written by Mattie Bamman for

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