Cheers to Aperitivo time!
When in Catalonia, Aperitvo (or perhaps more accurately, aperitiu in Catalan) time, is officially my favourite time of day. In common with their neighbours across the border, in France, the Catalans like to meet for a drink “to open up the appetite” before a large meal. Traditionally, this would have been after Mass and before lunch on a Sunday. However, I think its customary nowadays, to partake on any given day of the week and also of an early evening too (though we may get away with this as we are “guiris”, or foreigners!).
An aperitif could be a beer or a glass of cava, but my personal favourite, is a glass of vermouth (vermut). This fortified, aromatic wine has been used medicinally for1000s of years in Catalonia, but only became popular in the early 20th century, when it was imported from Italy. Its popularity was also boosted by the likes of Hemmingway and Bogart who were regularly seen quaffing the spicy, bitter brew.
Vermut can come from a bottle (my favourites are Yzaguirre and Miro), but the best stuff is usually homemade and comes from the barrel, or al grifo (on tap). It comes in white, red or rose varieties and is generally served chilled, over ice in a tumbler style glass. Red will come with a slice of orange, white with lemon. Both come with a stuffed olive. You can drink it neat or with a splash of soda water (sifon).
It is customary in these parts to have a nibble alongside your aperitivo and some bars will offer what they call a “pack” which will be a combo of drinks and snacks. Most likely you will see people eating crisps with the local Espinaler sauce (a tangy, spicy combo which also works well with seafood), or some encurtidos which are pickled items such as banderillas (cocktail sticks with gherkin, onion and an olive), or perhaps boquerones (marinated fresh anchovies) or some other type of canned seafood.
On a recent trip to Palafrugell one of our favourite bars at the atmospheric Hostal Estrella serves the rather charmingly named Poti Poti (translates as jumble, or mixture), which is a tasty combo of all of the above. Winner!
Whenever, wherever you drink it, it seems to me that “going for an aperitivo” is a most charming and civilised tradition. I’m also delighted to hear that its becoming increasingly popular with millennials in Barcelona. So next time you find yourself in Catalonia or indeed other parts of mainly, northern Spain, it’s time to channel your inner Hemmingway and give it a go!