Apéro or Apéritif. In France apéro is just short for apéritif. In the USA an apéritif is an alcoholic beverage enjoyed before a meal, in France it is an event and one of the most enjoyable components of the meal, at home or out.
The closest concept in the USA to the French apéro would be a happy hour. In the USA happy hour translates to reduced prices on snacks and beverages, along with a gathering of friends. In France apéro is a time to relax with friends before a meal, or as in the USA, gather with friends for a chat. You do not see “apéro” signs in front of restaurants here, though you do see “Happy Hour” signs in a few places that cater to tourists. Why would you advertise something that is just considered the norm?
You order a beverage, the food is a surprise. Whole blogs have been more knowledgeably written by others on common apéritifs in France. Beer, wine, and Champagne are frequent, though our personal favorite is a kir – kir pétillant is sparking wine flavored with something like cassis or peach, kir normand is cider similarly flavored, both are quite enjoyable. A kir with Champagne is quite good, but the price goes up a lot.
When they bring the beverages they also bring a snack of some kind, also called an apéro. This could be as simple as a few nuts or pretzels, or as elaborate as this apéro that we had last week at Auberge de la Source, one of our favorite places just 20 minutes away in the tiny village of Saint-Cyr-du-Bailleul.
You are not charged extra for the tasty treat, it is expected. This had a mini-quiche Lorrain, a savory mousse that must have had a bit of smoked paprika, and a small puff pastry with a light coating of cheese. The chef here is international, and one of the best.
The apéro tradition is quite as prevalent at home. La supermarché has whole sections, both fresh and frozen, of small bites suitable for apéro. For us this is so perfect. Our main meal of the day is lunch, which in itself is quite French, I have written before regarding how lunch is a sacred time here. We rarely have a traditional evening meal, it is just too much food. So we have an apéro at home: store bought, made ourselves, or a bit of cheese and baguette.
Apéro is just one of the ways we have learned the wonderful custom of slowing down when it comes to food. In larger cities you do find crepes and sandwiches to take away and eat on the go, but slowing down to enjoy a meal is most desired, and we have adapted quite well. C’est la France!