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.
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.
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?