If French mealtimes are sacred, then pre-dinner drinks are evening prayers.
It’s 6:00 pm in France. Lunch is a distant memory but it’s still too early for dinner. The working day is done, and whether on their way home or already there, the French are about to engage in a ritual that’s every bit a part of their culture as strikes and croissants. Welcome to the apéritif.
From the Latin aperire, meaning to open, the apéritif refers to pre-dinner drinks and snacks designed to open the palette and whet the appetite for the evening meal to follow. It happens everywhere— from café terraces, the banks of the Seine, restaurants, to bars and living rooms. What teatime is to the British, or cocktails to the American, the apéritif, or apéro for short, is to the French. It’s a delightful buffer between the day’s hustle and bustle and the evening’s kinder hours.
The apéro varies widely, and can feature wine, beer, fruit juice or sparkling water if you’re going non-alcoholic. The closest thing you’ll get to a French cocktail is a kir (pronounced KEER). Pictured above, it’s white wine —or champagne if you’re going royal—mixed with a bit of crème de cassis, or black current liqueur. Whatever your poison, the apéro is usually accompanied by savory snacks. These can be as simple as chips, peanuts or a cheese and cold meat platter, or as sophisticated as petits fours (bite-sized pastries fresh out of the oven) and verrines (tiny glasses filled with components eaten with a spoon). Think avocado mousse garnished with baby shrimp or beet puree with a dollop of creamy cheese topped with crushed walnuts. The possibilities are endless.
If you are out enjoying the apéro with friends and don’t want the fun to end, you can segue into dinner with an apéritif dinatoire. Here, copious snacks replace dinner altogether. Perfect for those who want to enjoy some down time with others without committing to all the formalities of a sit-down meal, this option is common at company dinners or after-work get-togethers among colleagues.
When next the clock strikes 6, take a break before thinking of the last meal of the day. It’s apero’clock and evening prayers are about to begin.