Your Little Guide to the Art of the French Aperitif

An aperitif is a slightly alcoholic drink that sparks the appetite for dinner. For the French, it’s also a relaxed and less formal way to entertain relatives and friends without the fuss of a meal.

Expect causal drinks and sharing a few nibbles for an hour or so if you get invited for an aperitif (apéro) at home.

If you’re a dinner guest, be mindful that no one will be in a hurry to eat.

The French take their time; the meals are hours long with many courses. I got caught out at my first dinner party in Paris – lots of laughter, drinks, some food… all very relaxing, but with the tantalizing smells wafting from the kitchen, it seemed an insanely long wait before our hostess finally showed us our places around the dining table.

Aperitifs in a Café or Restaurant


If you’re dining out, the first thing you waiter will ask is, “Would you like an aperitif?” What better excuse to sharpen your appetite and to study the menu than while sipping a drink.

You can also enjoy an aperitif in a café or bar, a drink with friends before dinner. Don’t compare aperitifs to Happy Hour though; a true aperitif in not encouragement to down as many drinks as you can in a short time. Sadly, some bars in Paris are capitalizing on tourists and offering 2-for-1 specials.

Aperitif or Dinner

The French, reputed for their love of food and drink have come up with a third definition of aperitifs—the snacks are more elaborate, and the drinks discretely change to red and rosé wine. The French call this aperitif “dinatoires.” As the name suggests, this is a copious meal with drinks.

I am a total convert; I love the aperitif way of life especially in the South of France, in Provence where the summers are long, hot and colorful.

I especially like aperitifs dinatoires; they’re the perfect way to entertain without the stress of a full-blown dinner party—the ideal way to share quality time with an emphasis on finger food.

What We Drink


The choice is huge but here are the favorites:

We are blessed in Provence. Our red grapes are harvested to make the finest rosé wine in France, so naturally this is our first choice when it comes to a light refreshment. Chilled rosé wine is ideal for all aperitifs and almost all the Provencal dishes: a true joie de vivre – affordable and aromatic. Other favorite wines that are great for aperitifs are the lightly fortified Muscat and Sauterne wines, which are sweet but not sickly sweet.

Our second choice would be kir – a mix of white wine and blackcurrant liqueur called crème de cassis. For a more elegant touch, we would offer champagne instead of white wine.

Third on the list is pastis, a liqueur aperitif served over ice with a small jug of water. For me, this mixture of anise, liquorice and herbs is an acquired taste. It is, though, the region’s favorite drink and France’s national drink.

What to Eat

Aperitifs dinatoires evolve into an entire evening so making sure guests don’t leave hungry is vital. Think mouth-watering hot and cold finger food, include a couple of verreines served with some interesting wine and you can’t go wrong.

With l’apéro dînatoire, you can:

  • prepare in advance leaving you time to enjoy your guests
  • invite quite a few guests
  • serve as a buffet.

Below are two of my favorite recipes from Provence; they are ideal for any aperitif. Try them and enjoy your aperitifs this summer.

Black Olive Tapenade

Black Olive Tapenade

A pounded paste made with olives, this is an authentic taste usually served as an appetizer spread on toasted bread or as a dip for vegetables.

The word “tapenade” comes from the Provencal word “tapeno” meaning capers. This recipe is quite versatile and you can adapt it to your taste by omitting the capers or reducing the amount of anchovies. You can also replace the toasted almonds of this recipe with other nuts, such as walnuts.

Whether it’s served with toast or as a dip with things like carrot sticks, it is a perfect dish when you have friends around and need something to nibble on and it doesn’t take long to make.

Tapenade can also be used in recipes such as in the recipe for Pissaladière below:

Preparation time: just 15 min

What you’ll need:

  • 250g black olives, stoned
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 2 large tbsp of almonds, slivered
  • 1 tsp baby capers
  • 4 canned anchovy fillets
  • about 100ml of olive oil
  • lemon juice to taste
  •  pepper

Putting it all together:

  1. Put the almonds in a warm pan and toast them until their color is slightly golden. In a mini food processor, place the toasted almonds, olives, garlic, capers, anchovies and half of the olive oil. Process until a paste starts to form, then add the remaining olive oil and process again until it is thoroughly mixed in. Depending on your processor, a couple of 20 – 30 second bursts should do it.
  2. Next, taste the paste and add the lemon juice and pepper until the flavor balance is right. Add the lemon and pepper in small amounts at a time processing for a few short seconds in between to make sure it is evenly mixed in.
  3. Once the flavor is right, simply turn the mixture out into a ramekin and either serve or cover with cling film and refrigerate. Fill a sterile jar with tapenade, cover with a thin layer of olive oil and it will keep for over two weeks.



This specialty from Nice is reflective of the people of the South; the sweet onions combined with salty anchovies make a special onion tart.

Total Preparation and Cooking Time: 1 hour 15 min

Makes one 20cm Pissaladière (4 servings)

What you’ll need:

  • 1 Short Crust Pastry
  • 1 Portion of Tapenade
  • 4 onions (preferably a mix of white and Spanish onions), thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • A few sprigs of thyme
  • 1 small tbsp of honey
  • A few anchovies to decorate
  • A few black olives to decorate
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil
  • 10gms butter

Putting it all together:

  1. Prepare a batch of short crust pastry or use your favorite readymade brand. Chill the pastry cases in the fridge for 15 minutes.
  2. Cut the pastry dough in 4 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of pastry dough on a lightly floured surface. Line the pastry on 4x12cm small tins. Alternatively, you can use a 23cm flan tin. Prick the base of the pastry all over.
  3. In a large frying pan, heat the oil and butter. Add the garlic, onions and thyme. Stir to coat the onions with the oil and butter. Leave the onions to cook on low heat until they have become tender making sure you stir from time to time.
  4. Once the onions are tender, add the honey and season to taste. Leave to cook for a further 5 minutes or until the onions have become slightly golden.
  5. Spread a thin layer of tapenade on the pastry cases.
  6. Next, add a layer of the onions. The aim is to have the layer of onions the same thickness as the pastry lining.
  7. Arrange the anchovy fillets in a cross or lattice pattern and place an olive on the top to decorate.
  8. Note: you can add the olive after cooking if you prefer.

Did you have such aperitifs in France? Did you enjoy the experience?

What was your favorite drink? What was your favorite food in France? Did you try the specialties of Provence?

Let us know in the comments section below.

About the author

Alice Alech

Alice Alech is a writer and author based in France. She is keen to promote good healthy living and writes on nutrition, wine, food, and lifestyle. She is a coauthor of the book 7 Wonders of Olive Oil.

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