My first apéritif took place about 3 weeks into my second trip to France. I had just met this cute French guy (who went on to become my husband) who invited me to meet some of his friends at a café. Wanting desperately to blend in, I had luckily seen enough French films to know to order a “kir, s’il vous plait” when the waiter came to take our drinks order. When he arrived back at our table with a small bowl of olives and a hodge-podge of beverages, I was still in “America-mode” and slammed my dainty little kir back like a shot of Cuervo while I stared mesmerized by the days’ specials scrawled on the chalkboard next to the door. I methodically repeated my order to myself so that my French would be flawless by the time he made it round to take my food order. 5 minutes later I looked up to find the waiter gone, and the rest of the table settled back in their seats, chit-chatting and occasionally (v-e-r-y occasionally) taking tiny, bird-like sips at their drinks. And so it remained for what seemed like 12 hours: Talk-Talk-Talk. Teeny-tiny sip. Talk-Talk-Talk. Teeny-tiny sip. Every once in a while someone would go all wild and help themselves to an olive, but then they’d come back to their senses and resume the talking. And the sipping. All the while I sat there growing hungrier and thirstier, not understanding a word of what was being said, and desperately trying to catch the eye of the waiter so that I could order another kir or an ASS-YET-DA-FREETS. I never did manage to get his attention. That was my introduction to the French apéro.
Wikipedia describes an apéritif (Fr.), or aperitivo (It.) as “an alcoholic drink usually enjoyed as an appetizer before a large meal. It is often served with something small to eat, like olives or crackers.” If you’re planning a wedding or event in France, and you’re looking at catering menus, you’ll notice that there are several drink standards that are almost always on offer during an apéritif, (or apéro as it’s casually known as)- with some modifications being made depending on the region of France that you’re in. I’ve taken the liberty to sample quite a few of these over the years, and now give you my rather girlie definition of the following:
Kir: A sweet little cocktail made with creme de cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) and topped with white wine. Kir can also be ordered in peach, strawberry or blackberry. I think they’re delicious and very girlie (even though French men drink them all the time (but they also wear their sweaters tied around their shoulders even though it’s not 1986 nor are they on the tennis court. AND they proudly walk those itty-bitty Paris Hilton-type dogs in public. Just saying.) A Kir Royale takes it up a notch by being made with sparkling wine or champagne instead of wine.
Pastis: A strong, cloudy-yellow, licorice-flavored alcohol that’s popular in the South of France. When you order a Pastis, you get served a tall, thin glass with about 2 inches of alcohol with an iced-tea spoon and a small pitcher of water on the side. You pour the water into the Pastis to dilute it to your taste. I remember my first sip of Pastis tasting a tad bit better than Everclear, but around 4 sips in- hmm, not so bad!
Ricard: Honestly, I don’t know the difference between the two. I think Ricard may be cloudy white as opposed to Pastis being yellow- but perhaps someone can post a comment to enlighten me.
Martini (rouge or blanc): This isn’t a martini martini (of the “shaken not stirred” variety) but straight vermouth poured over the rocks. This is my father-in-law’s preferred apéro, and it really isn’t so bad. Order this one to impress your visiting friends and relatives with your Frenchiness (every tourist knows about the kir thing by now!)
Muscat: A yummy sweet white wine that’s served a bit cold. A very refreshing alternative here in this “Land O’ No Ice”.
Port: Port is the same as in the U.S., but in France they drink it before dinner instead of after.
Coupe de Champagne: Most apéritif menus will offer a coupe de champagne to kick off the celebration, which really needs no explanation, it’s just that the term “coupe de champagne” is a pet-peeve of mine. For some reason the term cheapens the whole idea to me- Like calling a flute of Veuve Clicquot a “Cup O’ Champers”, blegh.
In addition to the alcoholic beverages, an aperitif menu will also include boissons non alcoolisées (non-alcoholic beverages), called “softs” in French. This includes orange juice, coke/diet coke, water (both fizzy and not), etc.
Next to the drinks, an apéritif menu will also often offer “amuse bouches” - literally “mouth amuser” [bouche = mouth; amuser = to amuse, to please]. There usually isn’t much of an explanation of the amuse bouches on the menu because it depends on what you select as your starter and/or main course. The price of the amuse bouches is typically included in the price of the apéro, and there isn’t a selection- everyone gets the same thing. It could be as simple as olives, or something a bit more elaborate like mozzarella stuffed tomatoes or melon wrapped with a jambon cru.
One thing that is kind of confusing about French wedding menus are the differences between a “vin d’honneur”, a “cocktail” and an “apéritif”. The three terms seem to be used interchangeably, but there can be subtle differences. This goes back to the whole level thing that I was talking about with French weddings. Directly following a typical French wedding ceremony, you will be invited to a vin d’honneur, usually in or nearby the ceremony venue. There you’ll be served champagne to drink, but more than likely there will also be the above apéritif standards on hand. At the vin d’honneur, you’ll have a chance to snack on small amuse bouches, and simple, sweet hors d’oeuvres. Later on at the reception venue, there is often an apéritif or “cocktail” before dinner- more standard cocktail drinks than champagne this time, lighter on the amuse bouches and more substantial hors d’hoevres (both sweet and salty). After guests are seated, they will then be served their starter.
You don’t need much to bring the French apéro to your Parisian themed wedding or party, but here are a a couple of French amuse bouche recipes to get you started, made by a Girl Cook in Paris. Tchin-Tchin!
- from parisian party, march, 10, 2008