As travel is complicated right now, we wanted to come up with a fun way to bring a little bit of France into your home, wherever that may be! We hope that you enjoy this at-home French apéro (apéritif) as much as we do.
When I first arrived in France, I was amazed by the appreciation of food. As an American with the habit of eating a sandwich at my desk and calling it “lunch,” I was in awe of the luxurious 90-minute lunch breaks that are pretty standard here. And don’t get me started on dinners that tend to span between three and four hours. The French like to savor their food as well as talk about it. A standard conversation at a French table is centered around it: what they’re eating, what they ate earlier in the day, and what they hope to eat tomorrow. I soon realized that France was a foodie paradise, and I was happy to be here.
Then, I was introduced to l’apéro. The term comes from the word l’apéritif, which is the French word for drinks served with small bites before a larger meal. It typically occurs around 7 pm, but on a Sunday afternoon, I’ve been served l’apératif before lunch. Not only does l’apéro help stimulate your appetite as you enjoy a pre-meal drink, but it’s also a time to relax and rehash your day with friends or family.
If you want to enjoy one of my favorite parts of French culture, here’s how to host a French apéro at home.
1. Determine your menu
One of the best parts about l’apéro is that it doesn’t involve much cooking. Go for foods that are easily shared as most apéros involving picking from an assortment of nibbles spread out across a table. Remember that this is a time for sharing in general, whether it be food and drinks or stories from your day or week.
Unlike American happy hour which, in a younger crowd, may involve fries and onion rings, the French prefer fresh bites like cheese, charcuterie, veggies, and salty things like olives and nuts. You should also try to score a fresh tradition (or a few) as well as spreads like tapenade, hummus, tzatziki, and terrine. If you want to go really French, pick up some radishes to eat with salted butter.
And if you’re feeling especially ambitious, I have been to apéros that featured hot food. Think mini quiches or homemade gougères, which are bite-sized cheese puffs made with Gruyère cheese. David Lebovitz has the perfect apéro recipes if you need more ideas for complimentary snacks (and drinks!).
Cheeses: Camembert, Comté, tomme de Savoie, or a chèvre. Try to pick various types of cheeses that range from soft to hard and cow to goat to sheep. Remember to always take your cheeses out of the fridge about an hour before serving for best results.
Charcuterie: Prosciutto, jambon de pays, saucisson, or other dried meats. You could also add in a pâté, terrine, or rillettes.
2. Gather your drinks
What you drink at your apéro really depends on the tastes of you and your guests. You may want to stick with lighter choices such as wine and beer so you don’t risk getting a bit too tipsy before dinner, but a traditional French apéro can feature liquor as well.
However, steer clear of complicated cocktails. Remember that an apéro is all about unwinding after a long day and catch up, so in addition to little or no cooking, you don’t want to go overboard with elaborate drinks that will keep you from enjoying your guests either.
Wine: Chablis for white, Bourgogne for red. If you’re hosting a summer apéro, consider a rosé. Or for a wine-based spirit, try Lillet Blanc.
Beer: French or Belgian brews such as 1664 or Leffe.
Liquor: Pastis, Suze and tonic, kir.
3. Prepare your table and invite your friends
You may have caught on by now that l’apéro is a no-fuss kind of get together. That means that you shouldn’t feel pressure to put up any sort of specific decorations or set a fancy table. As mentioned, you’re going to be snacking on foods you can share, so make sure you set out small plates for your guests to pile with goodies. Otherwise, a few candles and some light music will do!
Now it’s time to invite your friends over to show off your French apéro skills. Stick with small groups of no more than 8* people for a more intimate setting. Follow the lead of the French and tell your guests to come over around 7 pm. Wait for them to arrive and, as they say in France, and à votre santé!
*Disclaimer: While this article is centered around meeting with friends, in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, we strongly suggest that you consider having your apéro over video or with members of your immediate household until it’s safe to hold in-person group gatherings again.
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- Read about David Lebovitz’s Perfect Day in Paris, including where he heads when going out for an apéro.
- If you do want to spend more time in the kitchen, check out these online French cooking classes
- Don’t miss this article on how to shop for French cheese
- If you have a sweet tooth, check out these French sweets and desserts you can buy online
Written by Molli McConnell for HiP Paris. Looking to travel? Check out Haven In for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, France or Italy. Looking to rent long-term or buy in France or Italy? Ask us! We can connect you to our trusted providers for amazing service and rates.