I am not only in Italy to eat “well”. I am here to better understand food and hospitality. With that said, I am OBSESSED with Bar Food, as an “idea”. In America, bars have “Happy Hours” during competing dinner time hours, 6-8pm. The goal, it would seem, is to get you drunk enough ;) to forget that you want to eat (or adjust your body’s needs with alcohol). Assuming you are having fun, you may skip dinner altogether. OR if you are smart and listen to your body you will leave and go eat a healthy dinner. In this instance the restaurant has won ($). You were frugal at the bar (drinks were discounted) and now have a surplus of money and slightly altered judgment to go eat. You might even splurge!
In Milan (and other parts of Italy) you are given a buffet during their Happy Hour (7-9pm). The difference is manifold. Firstly, they are not competing with Dinner hours. You are being offered food to coincide with your discounted drinks before you would normally go eat (remember dinner is considerably later here). AND because it’s Italy (yes, even Milan) the food is good. Not amazing, but reputable, hearty and there is choice. You are not limited to how much you eat, although it is customary to only refill your plate with each drink (my inference). The first time I was greeted with Bar Food, it included a Crudités selection (Red Pepper, Carrots, Celery and FENNEL!), 4 rice balls/croquettes, 2 different sandwiches (one with Tuna, the other Prosciutto and Mozzarella), 2 different Pizzas (one Margarita, the other Anchovy), Nacho Chips and two dipping sauces (a sweet Tomato salsa, the other a Olive Oil and Balsamic).
3 cured meats, a cold Rice Salad (with Tuna, Corn, Tomato, Capers and Cheese), a pasta with Salami, Peas and Tomato Sauce, a salad with Tomato and Buffalo Mozzarella, Garlic Bread, and some other cold salad ;). I debated about ordering additional food (the menu was indeed cheap and broad), but…no! Fact is I was full on 6 Euro and I am on a budget.
To be clear, my “obsession” with bar food is bigger than me liking free food. Lunches are taken seriously in Italia and being that I am here on a budget it is generally the most affordable way for me to try traditional cuisine (more on this shortly). SO, if I can indulge on lunch menus at reputable restaurants and fill up on bar food at night, I have a winning food tourist formula.
My other realization I have already outlined; I consider bar food a very smart “bar” idea, one that I would strongly consider bringing back to Brooklyn or integrating into future business ventures. I could sideline all the competition. That is why I am here.