Around 6 or 7 o’clock, as stores and offices close, Italians find their way to the many cafes and bars throughout Italy that serve apertivo, a pre-dinner drink designed to stimulate the appetite with bittersweet flavors and aromatic herbs. Unlike the American cocktail hour where there are as many permutations of the classic Martini as there are configurations of Rubik’s cube, the Italian aperitivo is meant to open your taste buds rather than anesthetize them. In Italy apertivi are usually accompanied by complimentary appetizers. These small bites, served as a buffet, often include a selection of olives, various chips and nuts, tiny meatballs, cured meats, cheeses, pizzette, marinated vegetables, foccacia and traditional snacks of the region. Yes I did say complimentary and yes is it OK to help yourself and go back for more. You can nibble and nip on stuzzichini at the apertivo bars of Milano or cicchetti on an Italian pub crawl through Venice. The custom of apertivo is a perfect opportunity to taste a variety of regional foods in a casual atmosphere and experience the Italian lifestyle.