So French France

"The aperitif is the evening prayer of the French". Paul Morand

It is truly an unavoidable ritual in France. An after-work drink for working people, a time to get together with friends, a moment dedicated to quiet discussions in the sun, it has continued to grow since the 1970s, sometimes to the point of dethroning the meal, as we have been enjoying "aperitif dinners" for years.


Where the aperitif comes from ?

L'apéro est prêt / photo par JP WALLET/ L'apéro est prêt / photo par JP WALLET/ 


An Egyptian invention 

If we look in our old books, we realize that the aperitif is as old as the world. The word comes from the Latin "aperire" which means "to open". In this case "to open the appetite". The Romans used to do it before banquets by drinking wine and some decoctions of plants supposed to open the appetite, or facilitate digestion. It was easier all the way because they also served laxative drinks... However, before the Romans, 5000 years ago, the Egyptians used to make a little "heneqet" by sharing some dates while drinking a warm beer. The ancient Greeks offered each other "symposions", meaning "a meeting of drinkers". They took the opportunity to philosophize (and it is a habit that the French continue, just listen to them at the aperitif ahah).

Continued by the knights of the Middle Ages 

A banquet in the Middle Ages / 15th century drawing

Before the famous banquets that lasted a long time with minstrels and company, the knights already liked to drink a few drinks and nibble a little. They used to clink their glasses to show their friendship. A very practical habit also to avoid dying, since by clinking the mugs hard enough, the liquids could mix, and if you poisoned a guest, you poisoned yourself too. People used to say "health" because they thought that drinking wine "washed" the body and that it was good for the health. We also looked into each other's eyes, to probe the soul of the guest. A tradition that has remained, especially because I don't know who decreed that not looking in the eyes when toasting would cause 7 years of sexual misfortune to someone.  "Trinquer", this word obviously comes from the German "trinken" which meant to drink. While we're on the subject of words that became French with the aperitif, it seems that it was the English who started saying "tchin tchin" inspired by the Chinese "tsin tsin" which meant "hello". Not sure if this is true, but the anecdote can have an effect at the aperitif and we like to have things to say while dipping into the bowl of peanuts. 

The 19th century invented the medicinal aperitif 

Among the wealthy, especially at the court of Emperor Napoleon III, we take the habit of a moment to discuss while drinking white wine or cognac, while nibbling on toast, including the tapenade, invented during the Renaissance. The rural exodus and the development of the mines and factories did a lot for the aperitif, since, leaving their villages, many men, not knowing anyone in their place of work, found themselves in the multitude of small cafés that France counted to have a drink and to make acquaintance. A habit also taken by the young conscripts of the military service carried out very often far from home. 


Dubonnet's medical aperitif 

An advertisement for Dubonnet by Jules Cheret via Wikipedia

In 1846, in Paris, near the site of the Paris Opera House, the chemist Joseph Dubonnet (1818-1871) invented a drink made from cinchona to fight malaria. Absolutely infectious to the taste, he decided to add to it something to make it pleasant, mainly herbs and wine, creating what became "Dubonnet". Appreciated by the soldiers of the Foreign Legion, who drank it when they had to intervene in swampy areas, it is also appreciated... Mr. Dubonnet's friends, to whom the inventor's wife had the idea to serve her husband's drink. It is the word of mouth that made Dubonnet a famous drink, always a little associated with the notion of health since quinine was put in it. 


Aperitifs, in other words "aperitif drinks".

Aperitifs : Photo by Alessio Zaccaria on Unsplash

The Dubonnet was followed by the pastis, a must in the south, particularly in Provence, at the end of the 19th century. Since then, a whole series of aperitifs, therefore alcoholic drinks supposed to open the appetite, have joined the collection. Pastis, at the end of the 19th century, became emblematic of the South and of Provence in particular. The martini arrived from Italy in the 20th century. The "cooked" wines became fashionable. For some years now, the "plain" wine, white or red, or even rosé especially in summer, has dethroned the aperitif drinks. Beer is still present, especially in the café aperitif.  And we see more and more people toasting with a glass of spritz, this drink invented in Venice in the 19th century and which has conquered France. 

What is a French aperitif? 

Aperitif et son accompagnement version fromages / photo par Nick Starichenko/ Aperitif et son accompagnement version fromages / photo par Nick Starichenko/ 

It's good to specify "French" because we're not the only ones who invented a time to have a drink and a snack with friends. The Italians make antipastis, and the Spaniards the famous tapas. In France, it's a different way of doing things. You can drink apero alone, but often it is a ritual. We meet with people we like, we talk and we always try to add humor to the conversation. It can be done before lunch, or before dinner, although dinner is more common. It is also a vacation appointment, the aperitif: it symbolizes a moment of relaxation that we offer ourselves, exactly as the vacations are.

An aperitif with what? 

L'apéro se fait désormais surtout au vin / photo par Yulia Grigoryeva/ L'apéro with vine today / photo par Yulia Grigoryeva/ 

From now on, it is made a lot with wine. White, rosé (especially in summer), red. It can also be made with beer of course, or even with champagne. And you can always drink aperitifs like Dubonnet, Martini, Porto, Pineau (french! )etc... We accompany at least a little peanuts or chips, which we will often refill. Slices of sausage are often welcome, but you can also crunch vegetables like cherry tomatoes, carrots and broccoli by dipping them in a small sauce, a small mayonnaise for example.

An aperitif for two StockPhotosLVAn aperitif for two StockPhotosLV

When you invite someone to your house, it's a good idea to add a few small savory preparations with puff pastry, or small toasts accompanied by a little tapenade, this delicious puree of green or black olives. For a few years now, you can make aperitif dinners in cafés by ordering a "board" on which you will find a mixture of cheeses or cold cuts (or both!), and when you make an aperitif dinner at home, it looks more and more like the Spanish tapas since we propose several dishes made of bites that can be crunched easily. Some people just put something to eat while drinking their drinks, others make verrines with more elaborate things. 

But beware, if you are invited to an "aperitif-dinatoire" you will know: it will be the only meal you will taste. 

A beautiful tradition that the aperitif, and which does not finish taking importance in the social life of the French and it is well because that proves that they always have the direction of the user-friendliness. 

Be careful, alcohol abuse is dangerous for your health. Consume with moderation. 

Pas d'age pour l'apéro ! photo Alessandro Pintus shutterstock.comno ages for apero  ! photo Alessandro Pintus

Jérôme Prod'homme

Jérôme Prod'homme

Jérôme is "monsieur de France" the author of this site.