Category Archives: travel

Cookbooks from Eataly

Slow Food Books

Browsing the cookbooks in an Italian bookstore is an interesting experience.  Gone are the fancy coffee-table recipe collections.  The blogger-turned-cookbook author doesn’t occupy much shelf space either.  Ethnic cooking is barely represented.  What you find instead oscillates between celebrity chefs, non-fussy recipe collections and a handful of ingredient-specific books.

Osterie d'Italia cookbooks

Last year I would go to Feltrinelli on Saturday afternoon and browse.  Sometimes the celebrity chefs fascinated me (read: Benedetta Parodi), other times I flipped through the ‘cooking in your dishwasher’ book (I don’t joke) and there were days when I couldn’t stop looking at Il cucchiaio verdea riff on Il cucchiaio d’argento, The Silver Spoon.

Italian Baking Books

Eataly Turin Lingotto doesn’t offer quite the range your average book store does, but what they do offer is fascinating.  Who would think that a store which uses the slogan ‘Italy is Eataly‘ and greets you with Wendell Berry’s famous line ‘Eating is an agricultural act‘ would stock books about cake pops and cupcakes?  I sure wouldn’t.

My favorite Italian cookbook story is this: there was an early cookbook that had a recipe for gnocchi.  It listed the ingredients — potatoes, flour, eggs, etc — and under directions it said combine ingredients, boil and serve.  Ever since I read this during my time at the British Library I’ve told the story countless times.  It represents what Italian cookbooks are to me, though they evolved since then.

What’s your favorite type of cookbook?

Scenes from Eataly, Turin Lingotto

Eataly Lingotto
I’ve been to the Eataly mothership: Eataly Torino Lingotto.  Nestled right next to the old Fiat factory, 8 gallery and Lingotto exhibition space, this outpost of the Italian goods supermarket is like walking into a temple to Italian food rhetoric.  Or like walking into a carefully designed space that wants to make you think not of a Carrefour style supermarket, but of a quaint outdoors market.  Like it used to be, come una volta.

There’s nothing to distinguish the space as you approach.  We’re not visiting Eataly-in-the-countryside, nor are we waiting on line at Eataly New York.  The people who visit Eataly Lingotto are going to do the weekly shop or to get a nice, quick meal.  They’re going because they know they’ll get good food, better than they’d get at the corner bar.

Garofalo Pasta Display

That’s the major difference between Eataly in Italy and Eataly abroad (especially so, I’m guessing, for Eataly Japan).  In Italy, Eataly is a supermarket.  A supermarket that is at once concerned with ‘alti cibi’ — a clever play on alta cucina — and saving a few euros — ‘mangiare meglio, pagare meno’.  It should be a paradox, but Eataly is determined to use any means possible to show us that it’s not.

From 1 kg bags of pasta to freshly baked bread; from fresh fruits and vegetables to shrink wrapped pre-cooked ones; and from Italian beer to wine-on-tap Eataly finds products and ways of displaying these products that make us think we’re getting a bargain or make us forget that we’re not.  The pasta can be bought in large or small quantities, the price below overshadowed by the history of the pasta company, and the reason why you should buy their unique product, above.  The slices of focaccia are freshly made — in addition to this being stated on the bag they give it to you in, you can see the bakers making it — softening the blow of the higher-than-average price tag.  If you choose fresh vegetables, they’re piled high in baskets on counters with red and green awnings over head to evoke the feeling of an Italian outdoor market.  The pre-cooked vegetables are nearby, so you don’t have the shame of choosing the easy way out; even the bargain basement is of superior quality.  When we choose a drink to go to the meal, we go downstairs to the pseudo-wine cellar, spatially confirming that every bottle is worthy of being preserved, regardless of the price tag.  Eataly makes sure that we don’t think any product is a lesser one.

Vegetable Display

Eataly Lingotto surprised me more than I expected to be surprised.  The lavish displays of abundance, the routine glee with which the customers bought their italianità and the complete order of the space all merged to fashion an atmosphere that made Italian foods seem like the most attractive ones to consume.  It’s easy to comment on the rhetoric and the design from afar, forgetting how casually and how easily it wins you over.  Eataly might have spread around the world, but Eataly Lingotto is an experience onto itself.

Have you ever visited an Eataly? Which one?  What did you think?

Signs of Turin

Caffè Platti

 

Turin may be known for various reasons — home of gianduia, Fiat, Eataly and Italy to name a few — but I think Turin should be known as the la città dei segni, the city of signs.  Walking around the Piedmont capital last weekend I gawked at the ornate signs and store windows.  They’re fancy, posh and manage to both blend into the landscape and standout.  Here are some of my favorites, which one do you like?

 

Flower Shop

 

Gelati Fiorio

 

Shop signs

 

What do you enjoy looking at when you visit a new city?

My Open Day Experience at Slow Food University

Universita' di scienze gastronomiche entrance

If you told me while touring Connecticut College that four years later I would be going on an open day at Slow Foods Uni, I wouldn’t have believed you.  I would probably have laughed in your face and said, with a mix of sarcasm and disappointment, that I would be standing on that quad thinking about my math homework.  Even if you told me earlier this year that I would be going on an Open Day at Slow Food university, I wouldn’t have believed you. Because who goes to Slow Food university?

Rich-looking Northern Italian kids and their parents, that’s who.  A handful of Germans, a pair of Austrians and a Swiss girl with her mother, that’s who.  An aging Canadian professor, a Lithuanian line cook and a final year English student who’s writing a “dissertation” on Slow Foods, that’s who.

Universita' di scienze gastronomiche

A visit to l’Università di scienze gastronomiche is the only reason to visit Pollenzo.  To get there — if you can really call Pollenzo a ‘there’ — you take the bus from the Bra train station, itself is a bit out of the way at the end of a regionale line leaving from Turin. The bus leaves once every hour and a half.  Luckily, the bus costs only 2.20 EUR and you buy your ticket on board, not the tabacchi as you’d expect. The bus ride is pleasant as far as these things go, especially if you get one of a nice bus. Even on an old bus, the scenery makes up for the rickety seats.

As you’ll soon discover, there’s a reason why the university is in nowhere Piedmont.  The university — UNISG, one word, as they call it — aims not to give students a culinary education, but a gastronomic one.  That means they need to understand the entire food cycle.  You may think: perfect!  The middle of nowhere must have a farm, perfect for them to understand the lifecycle of tomatoes and eggplants.  You’d be wrong, as we would be about most things Slow Food before examining them. No, the university is located in Pollenzo because the little town’s was a crossroads for trade in the Roman era.  Goods came in from Genova before getting processed in Torino and being sent throughout the country.  Pollenzo: gorgeous scenery and a historical epicentre.

Pollenzo

I wasn’t expecting to like UNISG, but it was nicer than I anticipated.  The classrooms were bright and modern, there was an admirable amount of technology and the library had a copy of Fool magazine.  Yet, it’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s a private Italian university that paradoxically receives funding from Grana Padano, Parmiggiano Reggiano and Barilla (I’m still scratching my head over that one).  The university aims to educate students in gastronomy with a multidisciplinary academic approach, yet doesn’t have research.  Most students said they thought there would be more hands on learning.  They take five domestic and international trips a year and, despite their assurances, the videos of these scholastic adventures looked more like fun than hard work. UNISG is as much a paradox as Slow Foods is itself.

Carlo Petrini, Slow Foods’ founder, spoke at the end.  The speech synthesized the themes and ideas that make Slow Foods so compelling as a movement and UNISG such a strange idea.  They don’t make sense.  Is Slow Food concerned with how we eat or what we eat?  Does it exist in a cultural context or outside of one?  Is it trying to create its own?  The same can be said for UNISG.  Is the university trying to create its own education?  Why should anyone choose their academics over, say, a research university?  I don’t know and I got the feeling the university doesn’t know either.

Going to an open day at UNISG was the strangest thing I’ve ever done.  There’s no reason for an American girl who does not want to live in Italy to go.  Yet I did.  I went because of my own interests and academics.  I went because I was curious.  I left even more curious.

Store Street Espresso and Continental Stores

Piccolo Latte

When I was in London in January 2013, I ran by Store Street Espresso.  The shop looked nice, but I didn’t have time to stop, so I made a mental note as to the location.  In my rush, the mental note flew out the window and I forgot where the cafe was located.  During my trip in November, I thought I found it with TAP Coffee, but only found an answer to the ‘flat white’ query there (answer: it’s good. order it.).

Enter The London Coffee Guide, an online compendium of good cafés in the capital.  As soon as I saw  the Store Street facade, I knew that I had discovered my long-lost cafe.  I took the tube from Paddington straight there.

Store Street Espresso and Continental Stores are sister cafes, run by the same people and serving the same food and drinks. The atmosphere changes to suit the location.  I went to Store Street for Friday lunch and Continental Stores later the same day.

Store Street was bustling when I arrived at lunch time, but I had no problem finding a seat.  There were several communal tables as well as a few double ones.  They serve an extensive café food menu, complete with soup, salad, sandwiches and sweets.  I ordered the vegetarian quiche, a thick wedge of roasted red peppers and eggplant gently laced with egg and cheese.  It had a phyllo crust.  I drank a piccolo latte; served in glass, I hoped it would be like a cortado.

Store Street Espresso

My drink was good, though was more latte than cortado.  The warm milk reminded me of high-school coffee drinks.  The quiche was satisfyingly and disappointingly like a savory pie.  The phyllo didn’t drown the vegetables in crust, my favorite part.  I would have preferred more egg-custard in my slice, but for a lighter cafe-choice I enjoyed it.

In the afternoon, after working up an appetite reading, I went to Continental Stores, conveniently hostel and library adjacent.  This time I ordered a macchiato and a chocolate-cherry-beetroot muffin.  The barista me a number and I took a seat in the back of the cafe.  It was late afternoon — too late to be drinking coffee — but there was barely any space for me.  I nabbed the last table.  Continental Stores is smaller, cozier and more intimate than Store Street, better for a friendly chat than a caffeine fueled working session.

The barista quickly brought me my muffin and coffee.  I gently stirred the schiuma into the coffee, which was pleasantly nutty and dark chocolatey.  Nothing surprising, but well made and a delight to drink.  The muffin was rich and moist, though not worryingly so as coffee-shop cakes tend to be.  There were barely any cherries — I got two total — but there was plenty of chocolate.  The beetroot added a pleasant, almost floral note.

Although they’re owned by the same people, Continental Stores and Store Street Espresso use the same techniques to target different crowds.  Whereas Store Street caters to the university set with ample seating and a bright bustling atmosphere, Continental Stores puts the same good coffee and food in a smaller space to give a neighborhood effect.  Whatever reason you need a cafe, take note.  Write down the names, bookmark the page, print out an image; do whatever you have to do to remember because these are two London coffee shops you don’t want to forget.

But do yourself a favor, order a pastry and skip the quiche.

Chatting or working: what’s your main reason for going to a cafe?

Store Street Espresso on Urbanspoon