“Vous venez pour l’apéro?”
My friends and I exchange this question every week. Calling (or more often now, texting) a friend to ask “Will you come visit for l’apéro?” is a way to invite them over to have a drink and some bites before dinner. Often, l’apéro lasts only a couple of hours, usually from five to seven, but sometimes it’ll last all through the night, evolving into a casual dinner.
“L’apéro” is short for l’apéritif, which is the name of a drink served in the early evening to whet your appetite. In French cities, people have l’apéro in restaurants and bars, with servers bringing salty snacks to go with your drinks, but this tradition of getting together after work to relax with a drink before dinner is also a full-blown ritual that is often hosted at home, accompanied by a variety of bites or appetizers that can be generous enough to become dinner itself.
L’apéro is in my blood: all through my childhood, I watched my parents host it. Even when my mother hosted a sit-down dinner, she’d always first gather guests in the living room for l’apéro. She’d ask my dad to help with the drinks while she served crackers and pâtés she’d saved specifically for such occasions. When I was a young adult, l’apéro was pretty much code for “house party.” I’d get a bunch of friends over and we’d drink and nibble our way through the night against a background of very loud music. When I lived in Paris for a while in 2009, I could enjoy l’apéro the Parisian way. I’d watch friends effortlessly unfold an array of delicious treats they’d gathered at their favorite gourmet stores on the way home from work. Such evenings would invariably stretch far into the night—and sometimes until the wee hours of the morning.
Now that I’m a parent, l’apéro is how I keep connected with friends who have families, too. All parents know having sit-down meals and meaningful conversations can be challenging when kids are around. L’apéro relieves you of that stress. Because it’s served early, kids can get together and play their little hearts out while we, the adults, enjoy a glass of wine and some delicious food. My trick is to serve a “mini apéro” to kids on a play table—veggies, cheese, cured meats, and bread—so they can keep busy and eat dinner at their own pace, while adults can (finally) take an hour or two to catch up. That way, everyone goes back home in time for bedtime, with bellies and hearts full.
L’apéro is a casual affair. If I invite friends over for l’apéro, they won’t expect me to dress the table or even clean up the house. On the simplest nights, we’ll huddle in the kitchen, share salty snacks, and wash it all down with cold beer or wine. On planned-ahead nights, I’ll expand the selection to include a few homemade bites. On celebratory nights, I’ll plan a whole menu that features several appetizers to create a full meal called an “apéro dînatoire,” and sometimes go the extra mile to pair each plate with an appropriate wine.
I believe l’apéro is the best way to host friends and family, and my goal is to convince you of its merits. I filled French Appetizers with tips to get you started, menu ideas from the simplest to the most elegant, lots of French-inspired appetizer recipes to help you assemble inspiring meals, and even versatile syrups you can keep at the back of the fridge to shake and stir impressive drinks in the nick of time. Whatever time you have on your hands, whatever the occasion you want to celebrate, I hope you’ll have friends over for l’apéro.
- Learn More About French Appetizers
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- Set the Mood: Listen to my French-inspired cocktail hour playlist
For a limited time, buy French Appetizers and get two delicious, helpful French-inspired gifts!
- A copy of my popular eBook, How to Make Chocolate Éclairs (and Variations): An Illustrated, Step-by-Step Guide
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