Milan is fabulous. It always has been and probably always will be, but with the opening of Milan Expo 2015, the city is having a shining moment. The wildly-impressive expo will run through October, so book a flight, pack a bag and reserve a hotel room soon. The theme, “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,” taps into people’s fascination with anything food related. And with over 1 million square meters (about twice the size of Vatican City) devoted to exploring the gastronomy and culture of 145 countries, the expo will feed your mind, body and soul.
Over 150 restaurants, bars and food trucks offer everything from fast food to unforgettable prix-fixe meals prepared by Michelin-starred chefs. There’s even a gluten-free fest that features tasty choices for the celiac population. However, the expo is not just one big eat-a-thon. "It's going to be devoted to some crucial issues," Italian Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero said. "Food, agriculture, healthy nutrition, safe nutrition…these are issues that are very, very important these days for every country in the world. All of this against the backdrop of this dramatic need. We have to find a way to feed 9.5 billion people on this planet by 2050."
Be sure to wear your comfiest shoes because you’ll be doing plenty of walking as you bob and weave through the 53 pavilions and five thematic zones. Here are some of the sites that enticed, challenged, fed and in general, totally impressed me:
Photo Credit: Janice Nieder
Arts & Foods
This exhibit is being shown “off-campus” at the Triennale in Milan until November 1, 2015. The exhibition, Rituals since 1851, is a spectacular foodie round up involving various media and art forms chronologically displayed. It starts from 1851 (the year of the first expo in London) and goes up to present day, creatively addressing the intricate relationship between the arts and food. With your Milan Expo ticket you can visit the Arts & Foods exhibition for free.
Future Food District
Supermarket chain COOP Italia and Italian design firm Carlo Ratti Associati joined forces to present the supermarket of 2050 by exploring how digital technology can help us better interact with food and each other. For example, if you want to know more about a product simply point at, say a bottle of wine, and all the information (price, origin, carbon footprint, nutritional breakdown, etc.) will pop up on interactive screens overhead. In one area, there is a robot making fresh-squeezed orange juice wearing sanitary plastic gloves to cover its metal fingers. They also showcased exciting new packaging ideas such as edible spray packaging and labels that change color when nearing the end of the product’s shelf life. The best part is that during the expo you can actually shop at this futuristic market, which is stocked with over 1,500 enticing Italian food products.
Photo Credit: Milan Expo
One foodie highlight was a meal at Identità Golose, the ultimate gourmet pop-up restaurant, which was kicked off by Italy’s Michelin three-starred chef Massimo Bottura. Following him will be 200 top Italian and international guest chefs, who will be participating in more than 450 cooking shows, classes and talks. Some will be presenting their creations at a prix-fixe lunch or dinner that will include four courses for 75 Euros (USD $82) which includes wines. I scored a reservation for a scrumptious Sicilian seafood lunch cooked by Michelin two-starred chef Pino Curraia. I’m still dreaming about his codfish smoked with pinecones and the eggplant wrapped in saffron angel hair pasta. To avoid disappointment be sure to make reservations well in advance on the website.
This spellbinding exhibit uses a multimedia approach such as 360-degree digital landscapes and film documentaries to guide you through a journey exploring man’s evolving relationship with nature and food. It ends with the thought-provoking Zero Hunger Challenge—United for a Sustainable World event, which provides an overview of important work carried out by the United Nations in the fight against hunger. Don’t miss the immense library of memory files at the beginning where each drawer corresponds to a specific food preparation.
Photo Credit: Janice Nieder
This living exhibition consists of 250 different plant types spread out over 86,111 square feet of park land and eight large greenhouses which you can see, smell, touch and even taste. These plants and shrubs represent the biodiversity in Italy and examine the fundamental aspects of feeding the planet from a scientific viewpoint. The Biodiversity Park recreates the whole country with different areas devoted to the Alps, Apennines, the Po valley and the islands so you can walk the whole country.
With over 145 countries all dressed up and vying for your attention it’s virtually impossible to narrow it down to just a handful, which is probably all you’ll have time for in one day. Here are some sound bites to aid in your selection:
USA: Go for the vertical farm and the Food Truck Nation. Thumbs up for the lobster roll.
South Korea: An interesting one-two punch consists of robots and Hansik, a healthier diet that contains less meat and a variety of fermented foods.
Mexico: Shaped like a humongous corn on the cob, this pavilion features dishes from 30 of their most innovative chefs.
United Kingdom: The UK is really making a buzz with their exhibit. Attendees are taken on the journey of a bee as it flies from to meadows and orchids then back to its hive.
Brazil: Walk on enormous interactive nets suspended over a green gallery filled with fruits, veggies, and flowers.
Austria: This is a real crowd-pleaser, particularly on a hot day, for their verdant forest complete with its own cooling microclimate that produces enough oxygen for 1,800 visitors every hour.
Japan: Visit for their futuristic restaurant serving virtual (calorie-free) food.
Italy: Their Power of Beauty landscapes ensure that you’ll be planning a return trip ASAP.
Photo Credit: Palazzo Parigi Hotel & Grand Spa
Getting to the Expo
The Milan Expo is located just north-west of the city and is easily accessible from all of the area’s three airports, as well as the main public transportation lines. The site can be reached by virtually any form of transportation. If you’re overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the event, guided walking tours and customize trips are also available.
After a wonderful but exhausting day exploring the expo you’ll be dying for a little peace and quiet; not the easiest thing to find in bustling Milan. But the luxurious five-star newbie Palazzo Parigi Hotel offers an oasis of calm even though it’s just steps from the fashion district and the trendy Brera area.
Once the site of the historical Palazzo Cramer from the 1600s, this exquisitely-reconstructed boutique property sparkles with natural light, crystal chandeliers, polished Pink Baveno marble and rich parquet woodwork. Tastefully-decorated with fine art, antiques and fresh flowers, the spacious guestrooms (all with private balconies) are available in two distinct designs: a contemporary Milan style or the timeless, classic Paris design. The elegant Presidential Suite includes a panoramic living room, comfortable dining area and separate private kitchen. Enjoy a haute buffet breakfast overlooking their private century-old garden after a heart-pumping workout in the state-of-the-art fitness center. This September they unveil their new spa, which is rumored to be the largest in Milan.