Hello curious readers! The last few weeks I’ve retracted and kept my head down with various commitments. Some of which include writing about the opening of FICO Eataly World for Eater and researching dining in Bologna for an essential restaurants list.
Article links here if you’d like to cut to the chase:
The 18 Essential Restaurants in Bologna via Eater
Inside Eataly World, Italy’s Massive Food Theme Park
If you’re curious about my unfiltered assessment on FICO and how I developed the Bologna dining guide- read on!
Bologna is more than tortellini, lasagna and ragù- it’s got other fun pastas like gramigna which are like hollow macaroni but more wonky & long. These here are instead smothered rightly in parmigiano, saffron and guanciale, but traditionally gramigna are served coated in sausage crumbs. Bertozzi is potentially one of the last Bologna city trattorias where local classics are held to high standards and a secret underground candy store of wine. Meaning- killer juice is available to pair upon request. Bologna, don’t tell Florence but you got it going on 😘🍝#curiousappetite #eater
I’ve said this before, but I love eating in Bologna. I could never live there, but I think their restaurants are years ahead of the quality of Florence’s, which I attribute to their shameless use of butter, quality cured meats, fresh pasta and access to umami zing parmigiano-reggiano. Tuscan food can be rather “unto“, oily and heavy. While Bolognese fare is hardly “light”, it seems more refined and sophisticated in comparison. Thankfully, last year I was able to scope out the dining scene when I ran away from home for a month. And even more thankfully- the restaurants barely swayed in quality when revisited.
Developing a list of 18 was tough, but I made sure I had a quality fact checker review my homework- again loads of thanks to Luca Baldi (sommelier & hobbying journalist, lawyer by trade) who helped in introducing me to quality addresses and the elimination process. Ultimately, what made the list was my choice but Luca was super helpful, and as someone who doesn’t live there- I felt it important to cross reference with trusted local palates.
Lately, I’ve felt a little uninspired by Florence which has lent to some lull on the blog. While it may seem boring, I’m super content to be at home & eat simple meals, spend time at the gym and veg out on netflix. I have been working on my new Food Club & Negroni Box project- and tours, but I’ve found great difficulty in sitting down to write.
Perhaps I’d like to delve into more meaningful topics in food in Italy- besides just reviewing restaurants. Contributing an article regarding the FICO World opening was one of the recent joys in my writing assignments- as the the opening brings about heated discussion and love it or hate it opinions.
It’s been interesting to read comments online and hear what friends & colleagues say. If you asked me 5 years ago about FICO Eataly World, I would have jumped to some harsh conclusions and writing it off as a corporate ruse degrading the true meaning of Italian food culture. Yes, FICO is a result of mega investment by rich companies and consortium, and there is poor representation of organic agriculture and small scale artisanal production- but this shouldn’t be a huge surprise.
That being said, I think people could be asking different questions instead of click-bait, inflammatory articles which quotes 3 locals and is titled “leaving a bad taste in Bologna” or how FICO will ruin Bolognese cuisine. The questions we should be asking is why isn’t more organic production represented down to granular skepticism what are the cows being fed (grain vs grass?), where are the truffles actually sourced, how stable are the work contracts provided etc. What will be FICO’s long-term effect on promoting Italian food culture?
A common comment I see is “a big food shopping mall isn’t what Italian food is about, this is a blasphemy to Italian culture and a capitalist approach towards promoting Italian food.” Yes on the capitalism note, but I disagree at reaching such snap judgements.
A good percentage of Italians especially in my generation and younger are not shopping at these romanticized family-run specialty shops, nor taking the time to roll out pasta or making traditional meals from scratch. Italians indeed spend money at big supermarkets and most of them don’t care to spend to invest in quality like from the little cheese monger in the market who sources organic sheep milk cheese or ancient grain bread. Aperitivo, a once simple Italian food tradition now treated as a cafeteria feedlot with frat-party worthy watered down drinks and bottom shelf wine, are not only frequented by students- but also by professionals as this has become a value meal or a casual icebreaker for first dates. Yes, aperitivo (sans buffet but instead snacks) is a wonderful way to socialize- it doesn’t have to be dinner.
Some of the most common phrases I hear from Italian friends & acquaintances when we are planning to go out to eat are “non voglio spendere tanto/non voglio spendere piu di 15/25 euro/a Firenze non si mangia bene/Non si puo’ mangiare bene per poco come nel mio paese/preferisco mangiare da mia mamma se voglio mangiare bene. Se devo spendere tanto vado da Pinchiorri.” Obviously, this isn’t applied to all Italians and is something I notice in younger generations (meaning 20’s/30’s).
To me, this idyllic Italian food culture of shopping at the market, specialty delis, having organic food and artisanal everything is not supported by a majority of Italians, especially in newer generations. Unless you count the super privileged type who can lay on their inheritance laurels or the mega big shot types. But also I notice an excruciating level of provincialism regarding viewing dining as an experience rather than “can they cook as well as my mother without having to pay more than 25euros?” I notice more friends in the US who still aren’t in the sector nor massively spoiled (as Italians to me generally are), yet who revel in trying new restaurants, eating well in general, cooking at home, trying new cuisines and investing in services & experiences.
The non-totally provincial usually comes in the form of the artsy hipster well-traveled one-offs who learned about avocado toast or a moscow mule abroad and suddenly get what being a foodie & cocktail culture is, then create some mediocre bistro with minimalist/greenhouse hanging plants design emulating what they think is contemporary. THIS is what is ruining Italian cuisine- all these trash anglo-wanna be concept hellholes serving toasts and brunch.
As you can tell, I have little faith but much skepticism in the future of traditional Italian food culture. So before we start attacking FICO, we should look closer at the consumer behaviors on an everyday level- are Italians themselves compromising their own culinary heritage by not supporting it economically or carrying the torch labor-wise? More Italians are taking up average paid office jobs and leaving behind their family vineyards & olive groves. While this was more for home consumption, it still makes an impact on quality consumption as now they’ll be buying mediocre quality staples from the grocery store in lieu of their family’s backyard.
The food court style (which FICO/Eataly has received online hate for) has been infiltrating various Italian cities like Mercato Centrale in Rome & Florence and Mercato delle Erbe in Bologna. The food court model is just one of the ways Italian dining culture is modernizing away from just the trattoria or osteria- and FICO or Eataly isn’t wholly responsible.
So while I’ve gone off on a tangent generalizing food culture differences between the US and Italy, I’ve failed to provide a complete assessment of FICO Eataly World. I can appreciate what they are doing- to create a unique space detailing Italian biodiversity and future advances. But it’s terribly incomplete, leaving out other iconic products and processes. Like- why isn’t there a mozzarella production facility? Pecorino? Olive Oil tasting department? Why is there virtually no emphasis on organic agriculture? And why isn’t the acidification of ocean waters discussed while oysters are being cracked open?
I think FICO would be more valuable if they considered to reduce the amount of fast food and paradoxal luxury food stands and focused solely on food departments like the Parmigiano Reggiano area and the Aged Balsamic Vinegar room. Have more hands-on learning stations and involve local high schools. FICO is outside the city- which to me makes no sense to appeal to the lunch crowds with the numerous prepared food stands. Maybe over the years they will evolve, but I think the space has massive didactic potential for culinary & agronomist students, for example. I don’t think it’s a place to write off as just a supped up food mall just yet. Give it time, and ultimately I think it’s worth a visit if you live here- but not so much if you’re a visitor & have limited time in Italy.
What are your thoughts on FICO Eataly World and the future of Italian Food Culture?
In your cynical trust,
(FICO Eataly World photos by Silvio Palladino)