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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Antipasti

14 May 2024
by Regan Hofmann
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What the popular Italian pre-dinner nibble is—and isn’t.

One of the most well-known elements of the Italian table, antipasti might also be one of the most misunderstood. Here in the U.S., it’s often thought of as a type of snack food that encompasses olives and other marinated vegetables. In Italy, however, antipasti is a much looser term, one used broadly to describe the food served at the beginning of a meal. 

To clear up any confusion, we’ve answered all the most common questions about antipasti below. Read on to learn all about this unexpectedly confusing little term! 


What does antipasti mean?

The word antipasti comes from Latin and literally means “before the meal,” giving you a clue about its place in the culinary structure. Antipasti refers to any food that is served before the meal officially begins. Linguistically and practically, it’s very similar to the French term hors d’oeuvre (“outside the meal”).

What kinds of food are usually eaten as antipasti?

Anything that’s easily eaten in small bites can be antipasti—there are almost no rules! You’re more likely to see cold foods as antipasti, and they’re often dishes that don’t require a lot of preparation and can be served up quickly and easily as diners get settled at the table. Olives, cheeses, and salumi are common antipasti, which is probably why many non-Italians believe these foods are what antipasti means! But you’ll also see bruschetta as a common antipasto option, as well as salads or fried bites like a fritto misto. If you’re having a seafood meal, you’re likely to have seafood antipasti as well, like a mixed seafood salad, raw oysters, or a crudo.

One thing to note is that antipasti are almost always served to be shared among the whole table—it’s rare for Italians to order their own individual antipasti dish. The antipasti course is emblematic of the convivial nature of Italian dining.


When do Italians eat antipasti?

Enjoying antipasti is not an everyday practice for most Italians. When cooking at home, they’re likely to serve antipasti before big, festive meals, like at the holidays, or for dinner parties, but for a regular family dinner, it’s just too much work! Antipasti is a common category on restaurant menus. When you go out to eat in Italy, it’s always fun to order a few antipasti to kick off the meal.

Aperitivo in Italy

Is antipasti the same as aperitivo?

While both of these terms have a connection to eating before dinner time, that’s where the similarity ends. Aperitivo is roughly equivalent to our happy hour, an early-evening period when people get together for a cocktail before going out to dinner. However, because it’s in Italy, food is still a major component! Aperitivo snacks are usually salty finger foods like taralli, potato chips, or olives—foods meant to pair well with a cocktail without filling you up. However, at some bars you can also order additional antipasti items if you want to fill up on a bit more food before dinner.


Does antipasti have to be served before pasta?

This common misconception comes from the use of pasti in the word antipasti—many English speakers naturally connect it to pasta! But as we noted above, the pasti here connects back to a much older Latin word, pastum, which roughly means “nourishment.” You’re not totally wrong, though; antipasti are eaten before the first course, which in Italian restaurants is usually a pasta dish! Call it a delicious coincidence.


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