How could anybody possibly ever say that re. Fernet Branca???
I give up on humans …
I’ll happily take any unwanted bottles.
Like most Italians, I think of it as medicine. I’ve had other amari that tasted even more medicinal.
It is as close to a national alcohol as Argentina has. And I think the Argentine-made stuff (same brand) is even more vile. Even more vile than that is the closet thing to a national mixed drink in Argentina is the Fernet and Coke … not that I’ve ever tasted one.
I like it with soda, sometimes a lemon twist.
What the hootinany are Italians eating that makes their stomach so “sick” that they need “medicine” to sooth their stomach? I stopped trashing my stomach with food and drinks that made me ill long ago - like after college party binges?
It’s not exactly like that.
The whole aperitivo/digestivo customs are really beautiful.
Still puzzled about what makes Italian feel this way.
Probably the same thing that makes them drink mineral water when they’re having liver trouble, or close train compartment windows on stifling hot days to avoid a deadly draft across the kidneys.
I’m puzzled by your puzzlement.
There is a long and extensive history in Europe of infusing and macerating herbs, spices, flowers, barks, etc., in alcohol, sweetening that with sugar, and then calling it medicine. Chartreuse is a very famous medicine that comes to mind. In France, you may be able to find something closer to the original Chartreuse formula in a pharmacy, and not a liquor shop. Old European traditions die hard I guess.
Italians often drink a sweet and bitter alcoholic drink, often times diluted with soda water, before mealtime. They believe this opens the stomach and readies it for the meal to come. These are aperitivos. There is exactly zero science that I know of to support the Italian custom, but if one is accustomed to bitter flavors, a campari and soda after work but before dinner is lovely.
Why start a meal with a glass of sparkling wine as you decide on your order? Because it’s fucking rad. And also there is a tradition that claims the sparkling wine will open up your taste buds and stomach to the coming meal. That tradition is cultural, not scientific.
And I’m sure we’ve all over-indulged a bit. That one last bite of a tasty dish. Accepting a dessert one didn’t necessarily want so as to be polite to one’s host. You’re not “trashing your stomach.” You simply feel a little full as opposed to satisfied. The Italian tradition is to take a digestivo. They believe it settles the stomach and aids digestion. After a small glass one won’t feel that full feeling. There is a belief that digestion will go better and more healthfully, even if one doesn’t feel overstuffed. Again, no science here, just tradition.
But amari are really complex and delicious. Fernet is quite medicinal tasting, but it’s delicious in its own way, especially after one becomes accustomed to the flavor. There is so much going on in fernets and if you allow your palate to get used to them they can rewarding. Fernets are also the most polarizing because they are the least accessible. I’d bet that the majority of Italians don’t care for it and might only take s shot of it at their nonna’s insistence of they complain of a stomach ache. Frankly, they aren’t my favorite.
But next time you go to say Felix or sotto, finish your meal with a high quality, accessible amaro like Nonino and tell me that isn’t a great way to end things.
Another traditional use of Fernet I heard from Italians was to “make a hole in your stomach.” The standard example is that you need to go one nonna’s house for lunch and the other nonna’s house for dinner on the same day.
Cher Monsieur Vinaka,
I really want that “problem”.
We’re running parallel lines. I get the tradition. I understand the bitter profile. I’ve tried negronis, Fernet/Coke, chinotto, sanbitter, etc. Bottle of Campari sits in my liquor cab. I appreciate your well-written overview of the subject. The “sick” part where amaro is believed to help with the issues of over-eating gets closer to where I laid the question mark.
So is over-eating a big part of the culture, where this tradition of pre- and post-digestives was built? I recall Romans and feathers being best buds at the gluttonous parties of ancient past. Or is there more to it from the issue of ailing from food? A line up of dishes that are too rich? Too acid?
Balance is a big part of, say Chinese and Japanese cuisine, where I think the average diner doesn’t develop to or become too full or ill-feeling from excessive fatty foods, or overly this-or-that kinds of dishes. Excessive eating is frowned upon, but it does happen obviously (drinking especially).
I think most Italians aren’t likely to overeat outside of Sunday dinner at nonna’s house or some other socially mandated feast.
I think you may be taking this “sick” thing too far.
If a light summer dinner is served in Italy, I’m really not going to see the host lining up shots of Fernet afterwards.
But let’s say I make a braised short rib, polenta, some wilted bitter greens. That’s a richer meal (not sure if call it out of balance). An amaro might be taken after that meal, even if no one feels sick.
Perhaps no one in China or Japan ever gets an upset stomach caused by something they ate, but if you were Italian and were feeling like something you ate was disagreeing with you then you might reach for a digestivo to help you more readily than you would reach for Pepto Bismol.
It doesn’t always need to be about over-eating or extreme gluttony. What I am trying to articulate with regard to tradition is that digestivos are often deployed and are seen as healthful. You might have one after a rich meal even if you felt fine. You might have one if you over-indulged and feel a little too full. You might have one of you felt like that perfectly reasonable dinner just isn’t sitting well for some reason. You might not have one!
You can think of a digestivo like you might an umeboshi plum. You might have one at the end of a meal with some green tea, just to help digestion even if you feel fine.
Nonna might might have made enough tortellini to feed an army and you don’t want to insult her by not finishing them.