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The mysteries of the aperitivo and the digestivo

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I am frustratingly unenlightened about the contents of all those marvellous bottles that one sees above the bar in Italian restaurants and bars.

I'd love to be better informed about them, so that, on those occasions where one feels like gracing the dining experience with a little something before or after the meal (or maybe even both!), I could venture forth without fear of mixing up the after the meals with the befores, and without ending up with something rather too bitter for my taste.

I have had Amaretto, limoncello and, there was a decade back there where everyone was drinking incendiary glasses of Sambucca (was that the Eighties?) One of my brothers still turns up with a bottle at Christmas.

I am going to Rome, Ferrara and Venice with my family in June, so any insights or recommendations you have about aperitivi or digestivi would be appreciated.

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  1. Neither comes in a bottle, but in Venice you could try two local specialties. Before dinner, a spritz, made with Campari (or the less bitter Aperol), Prosecco and soda water, preferable, in my opinion, to the overrated Bellini (Prosecco and peach juice). After dinner, a sgroppino. Half dessert, half digestivo, it's made with lemon gelato (or sorbetto), Prosecco and vodka.

    1. in Emilia=Romagna they make great artisanal liqueurs, like nocino (green walnut, dark brown sweet and spicy) and sburlon (quince) also limoncello-like cedro around Lake Garda. Look at your menu in Ferrarra - you may find some of these, or other local drinks

        1. Aperitivo in Italian refers to a drink that prepares your stomach for food. Generally an aperitivo is low in alcohol, like wine, prosecco or a cocktail like thos ementioned by zerlina.
          Digestivo is a drink that helps your digestion, you generally take a digestivo after a heavy meal but of course is up to you to take it after any meal! Grappa and bitter herbal liqueurs like Fernet and various types of Amaro are typically digestive. Limoncello could be considered a digestive but it's also a meditational drink, meaning you are expected to have it some time after dinner ideally when sitting near a fireplace or on a patio overlooking some stunning landscape. That helps meditation of course ;)