Italians are famed for their hospitality, but there is no better example of this than aperitivo hour in Milan.
Go to any bar in the nation’s fashion capital at around 6 or 7pm and you’ll be welcomed by a wonderful sight.
We discovered it completely by accident when we were looking for a place for dinner on our first visit to Milan.
We’d sat down in Pandenus – a little bar on Via Tadino – for a spritz Aperol or two when we spotted the wide array of comestibles set out along the bar. Patrons were going up and helping themselves to a delicious and endless supply of olives, cheese, house-made pizzas, cous cous salads, frittatas, crudités and more.
We were totally confused by the setup and were busy daring each other to go and grab something when a waitress came up and explained the situation.
As long as you’ve bought a drink (it doesn’t even have to be alcoholic), you’re more than welcome to go up, grab a plate and chow down. We watched amazed as the kitchen cooked up, cut up and served pizza after pizza, replenished the platters of antipasto and refilled the dips. We were astounded. And it was all delicious.
It turns out plenty of places in Milan do this to varying levels; it might be just olives and a bit of cheese or – as with Pandenus – a full spread. A lot of other places in Italy do this too – especially in the north, but it’s the Milanese who have really mastered this gastronomic stroke of genius.
Established to encourage the appetite before dinner, the Milanese traditionally have a drink before dinner: an aperitivo. The complimentary snacks that they eat with their drink are called stuzzichini or appetisers. This ‘aperitivo hour’ – similar to our happy hour only food based – usually goes from 6 or 7pm until about 9pm. Or until people stop eating.
We found we weren’t really hungry for dinner by the time we left Pandenus, but we left with the feeling we’d happened upon one of those local secrets that make travelling so much fun.
Have you ever experienced aperitivo hour? What’s the best local secret you’ve discovered whilst travelling?