Just like wine, some cocktails can be paired with food too. In food-speak, aperitivo opens a meal, or stimulates the palate. Its bittersweet flavour notes come from an apéritif, like vermouth, Aperol and Campari, usually mixed with soda and a white spirit, such as gin or tequila, to create Negroni, Americano and Italian Paloma. Not surprisingly, the word comes from the Latin aperire, meaning to open or uncover.
In Europe, aperitivo bars, which are believed to have originated in northern Italy, are busiest from 7-9pm—the aperitivo hour—when people stroll in after work for drinks and small bites while unwinding with friends, before heading home for dinner with family. The drinks and appetisers, or small plates, are usually not too heavy on the stomach and wallet.
The idea is yet to pick up in India. Last month, Ritu Dalmia, in partnership with Jio World Drive, opened a trattoria-style restaurant, Motodo, at the Bandra Kurla Complex in Mumbai. It has an aperitivo bar that is believed to be the first in the city. The beverage menu lists aperitivo cocktails such as Americano and Garibaldi, variations of the Negroni, wines, and a small selection of craft beers and G&Ts. Since it has been conceptualised with Bacardi, it’s no surprise that the alcohol behemoth is promoting its newest product, a vermouth named Martini Fiero, at the bar. Mixologist Nitin Tewari, the consultant, says they have made the drinks friendlier to the Indian palate with flavours like citrus and mint. To complement Italian food, the cocktails are infused with herbs like basil and rosemary.
It is a new concept for India, says drinks writer and consultant Rojita Tiwari. Massive Restaurants’ Zorawar Kalra, who loves the crisp bitterness of Campari on ice, agrees. The owner of restaurants and bars like Pa Pa Ya, Bo-Tai and YOUnion says that though they offer aperitifs, these drinks have a niche following. “When it comes to alcohol,” he explains, “there’s also education involved which eventually leads to their popularity.” Aperitifs, he believes, haven’t been marketed well globally, let alone India. Events and tastings with aperitifs are almost unheard of here.
Take the experience of the Italian restaurant CinCin, not too far from Motodo, which introduced an aperitivo hour, with offers on drinks and food, a couple of years ago. In a price-sensitive market like India, it came across as happy hour. Another new restaurant, NOON, nearby focuses on using local and seasonal produce, with techniques like slow-cooking and fermentation. Its aperitivo hour comes with offers on drinks recommended for pairing with small plates. It’s not heavily reliant on aperitifs, though; the idea is to get guests to sample more from an innovative beverage menu of clarified (or clear) drinks and fermented cocktails like Pineapple Tepache and the popular Saffron Kehwa.
Clearly, aperitivo’s distinct bitter notes haven’t found many fans in India yet. Even at Motodo, guests seem to love their G&Ts and craft beers—and wine with Italian food. It goes to show habits are harder to change than menus.
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