As the days get longer, the mercury starts rising on the thermometer and we transition from winter wardrobe to summer florals, there’s one Parisian (and indeed French) tradition which you can easily incorporate into your home life, and which I think you’ll particularly love. Here’s a guide on how to perfect the art of the French apéro!
- What is a traditional French Apéro?
- What are good apéro drinks and apéro foods?
- The (unwritten) rules of a truly great l’heure de l’apéro
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What is a traditional French Apéro?
The apéro is one of my favourite French habits. The tradition is as follows; any time after 17h (i.e. 5 PM) on the weekends (or, some week nights if the occasion so calls for it), friends and family will gather together to enjoy some drinks, and some snacks or light bites to eat.
Wander around any street in Paris during the summer months and you’ll spy many a Parisian indulging in the pasttime of the ‘pause’ (break). Just as the French take their time to enjoy lazy lunches, Sunday afternoon strolls, and proper coffee breaks, the apéro is all about taking the time to slow down, relax, and savour the moment (both literally and figuratively).
If you were perhaps wondering, the term ‘apéro’ is the colloquial way of saying apéritif. This French word is the term given, in the strictest sense, to an alcoholic drink which is consumed so as to ‘whet the appetite’ prior to the evening meal. The word has been in use since around the early 1900s and likely derives from the Latin word ‘aperire,’ which is literally translated as ‘to open’.
Truth be told, the Apéro is not so much about the drink or food consumed, but more about the act of gathering together with loved ones to share a moment together. Of course, while meeting in person is not always viable or an option, an apéro can just as well be enjoyed over a video call!
If you’re wondering what you’re meant to be doing… Well the point of l’heure de l’apéro is simply to catch up, chat, and relax. The drink doesn’t necessarily have to be alcoholic either. Indeed, it’s all about the moment, the slowing down, and the relaxation in the company of friends (whether in person or virtually).
What are good apéro drinks and apéro foods?
While I must admit that my tipple of choice is typically a glass of crisp rosé (is there anything that screams ‘summer’ quite like that soft pink hue swirling around in the glass?), you can have an apéro with pretty much any kind of drink, both alcoholic and non alcoholic. However, some great places to start include;
The Kir Royale is a popular French cocktail and is the perfect blend of sweet meets celebratory. Typically made with sparkling wine and a little bit of Cassis, it’s the ideal summer drink. Check here for a Kir Royale recipe.
I must admit that I’m a little partial to a good apérol spritz, especially in the summer months when the sun is shining and I’ve spent the day soaking up the warm rays.
The recipe is ever so easy to follow and combines equal parts of Aperol (a bright orange liqueur that originates from Padua, Italy) with dry prosecco and a dash of soda water. If you don’t have any prosecco, than any dry white wine also works.
A bottle of white wine/ rosé wine
Since this is a light drink to be consumed with snacks as opposed to a full meal, many prefer to stay away from vin rouge (red wine) and instead opt for something such as a bottle of Muscadet (dry white wine) or Chablis or Graves.
Alternatively, something a little sweeter like a Lillet could be served. In the summer months, it’s pretty common to serve rosé at an aperitif as this is seen as a warm weather drink. In the supermarkets, you’ll see ‘piscine’ wine. This rosé is meant to be drunk in a glass that has been filled with ice to create a ‘piscine’ (swimming pool).
Light snacks served at an apéro
Considering that an apéritif is meant to ‘whet’ the appetite as opposed to being the main meal of itself, when it comes to the snack selection, you’ll want some light bites that are tasty but not too filling! Great choices include olives, nuts, and potato chips.
Over the past few years, I’ve also noticed more and more Parisian cafés serving small bowls of salted popcorn to accompany apéro hour. One of the more traditional apéro snacks that I’ve recently learnt about is the tradition of serving radishes together with salted butter.
At first, I was slightly bemused as to whether this would be good or not, though I’ve since learned to enjoy it! Salted butter is a must. Washed radishes should be served next to a pot of butter so that people can butter their radishes immediately before eating them (if the radishes are buttered too early, then the salt will dissolve). Radishes and butter are typically served together with some bread.
The (unwritten) rules of a truly great l’heure de l’apéro
The earliest form of the apéro was always taken together in person. Of course, those were the days before the internet and now everything has changed. However, there are a few known and unwritten rules which apply whether you’re having an apéro with your loved ones in person, or if you’re indeed hosting a virtual drinks party.
When you cheers with one another, you must say ‘santé’ (which means ‘health’ in French and is the literal equivalent of the English word ‘cheers’).
When saying santé, you must look the other people in your group in the eyes (of course, this can just as well be done over video call as in person). If you don’t do this, you risk seven years of bad luck in the bedroom department.
An apéro among friends is strictly an evening affair! It’s typically taken at any time between 6 PM – 9 PM and it’s worth noting that, as French people generally tend to eat pretty late, apéro tends to be held later in the evening, as opposed to earlier.
While the best ambient noise of your apéro should be constant happy chit chat among friends, a little background music never goes amiss. If you’re looking for some suggestions, then I have an easy listening French music guide here.