If you are obsessed with all things food like me, you have probably heard of the international Expo happening in Milan this year with the theme of Feeding the Planet. If you haven’t, the Expo, aka the World’s Fair, is the same expo that spawned the Eiffel Tower in Paris when it hosted the event in 1889. The expo happens every four years in a different city, and it brings together hundreds of nations to focus on a common theme.
As I said, this year the theme is essentially food and sustainability, so Italy is the obvious choice for the host. Milan has been converted into one big advertisement for the Expo: signs everywhere, statues of the Slow Food snail taking over the Navigli, and constant food-centric events show-casing the culinary expertise of the region.
I had been planning on going to the Expo since I heard about it last year, so when I finally went this past week, I was super excited.
When we (me, boyfriend, mom) got to the event, which had its own metro stop no less, we realized just how many people go to this thing. It had just barely opened for the day and there were already hordes of school children on field trips clogging the lines, along with other people of all ages and nationalities. The day was sweltering, but thankfully most of the main promenade of the event was shaded.
The Expo is laid out in the shape of a huge fish, with the main walk cutting through it like a spinal cord. Along the walk, 145 nations, each with their own pavilion, exhibit their cultures and culinary specialties. Some of the nations are grouped into “clusters” which focus on a specific type of food. For example, the “cacao and chocolate cluster” featured countries that are famous for either growing or producing excellent chocolate, along with several chocolate companies, like Lindt, peddling their wares and offering free samples.
The pavilions of the countries were all built in interesting architectural styles, with the richest countries having the biggest and most lavish of the pavilions. The most popular one was by far Japan’s, which we did not get the chance to enter because the wait was always over one hour and no way were we going to stand in 100 degree weather for more than an hour. My favorite pavilions were Brazil, Iran, the USA, and China.
Brazil was cool because in order to enter you had to climb on a big rope net strung over a rainforest-like garden of endemic plants.
Iran was very pretty in its architectural style, featuring a winding path through an aromatic herb garden, fountains, and beautiful pottery.
I obviously couldn’t miss out on good ol’ USA, which turned out to be great because it had those water-mist things that were the absolute best thing after a day of hard-core sweating. It also had a really cool water fall that let the water fall in the shape of letters and circles, which was something I had never seen before.
China was cool because it’s pavilion was so big and actually had interesting things to say about its food production, like the rice-growing process and the history of tea.
I have to say though, I was disappointed in the amount of content in each pavilion. I expected there to be tons of information about sustainable agriculture and problems in the food world, along with endless samples of exotic foods, but instead I found lots of photos of food and of the countryside, along with kitschy items for sale. I actually learned the most at Tongo’s pavilion, which was tiny but had a very enthusiastic young man who explained everything about the different grains they eat.
There was lots of food for sale, including make-your-own magnum bars (!), various gourmet gelato stands, fancy coffee stands, a whole long side street dedicated to Slow Food Italy, and much much more. I had a really hard time deciding where to get food and in the process got quite hangry. Those Snickers commercials describe my hanger perfectly. We ended up having lunch at a place in the whole strip dedicated to Italy, even though I had wanted to try something more exotic. But the food was good so it was ok. Then we got gelato from Grom and later a cone of fries from Belgium because they smelled irresistible. Here are some pictures of the food offered:
While the Expo wasn’t quite what I was expecting, it was still an interesting and exhausting way to spend a day, and if you find yourself in Milan from now until the end of October, I recommend you go check it out!
-Elena Crouch, photos by Elena Crouch