Drinking and Eating in Torino

Panorama: Piazza della Consolata

Torino has some cool food and drink traditions that give the city an unique, and at times un-Italian, feel. And it's got some of the cutest coffee bars I've ever seen.

In the afternoons, especially when it's cold like now, Torinesi like to stop at one of the city's historic coffee bars for a "bicerin," a hot drink first made fashionable in the 18th century made by layering espresso, hot chocolate and cream in a glass.

One of the main places in town to get a bicerin is the aptly-named Al Bicerin bar in the Piazza della Consolata, which opened its doors in 1763. There's also the Caffe Torino, which is under the porticos on the Piazza San Carlo. (Any bar will make you one though.)

Standing at a coffee bar to down a hot drink on the fly - whether it be a cappuccino, an espresso, or a bicerin -- is as Italian as Italian gets. What the Torinesi - and the nearby Milanesi -- have come up with that you don't see in the south and center of the country is a way to be able to eat dinner a bit earlier, something probably borrowed from their northern neighbors.

Mind you, that's not what it's billed as, but that's essentially what it's become.

In Torino, several wine bar/restaurants open at 7 p.m., which is early for an Italian restaurant. Any traveler to Italy knows it's almost impossible to eat dinner before 8 p.m.

But here in Torino, you can have an "aperitivo" at least an hour earlier. It was initially conceived of as a northern-style cocktail hour, but being Italy, it quickly had to revolve also around food. (Unlike the Germans and the British, Italians aren't big on drinking without eating.)

We went to L'Albero di Vino in the city's Quadrilatero Romano neighborhood on Saturday night to sample the city's aperitivo tradition. Along with an extensive wine list, which included Piemonte's mighty Barolos and Barbarescos as well as the region's sparkling Asti champagnes, came a nice long menu of pre-dinner "snack" food.

We ordered a big plate of cold cuts and cheeses and some bruschetta with mozzarella and tomatoes. And guess what? It was dinner. And a very tasty one at that.

By Daniela Deane |  January 23, 2006; 2:12 PM ET  | Category:  Food , Torino
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