A highly urban city not unlike New York, Milan is a capital of fashion, definitely not of food. And yet, impassioned gastronomes have been flocking to the Italian metropolis in force since May, and will doubtless continue to up until October. That’s because it’s home to the Expo Milano 2015 — essentially a World’s Fair of food — featuring more than 140 countries sharing their culinary traditions, and exchanging ideas and innovations for a sustainable, healthy future.
Running with the theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life,” each participant has been tasked with conceptualizing content for eye-catching pavilions, from Austria’s breathing microclimates, proposing a possible solution for future air shortages, to Malaysia’s seed-shaped buildings, which hint at both transformation and a preservation of tradition, to the Arabic wooden boats with multi-colored sails erected atop of Kuwait’s structure, exploring natural oil substitutes like wind and solar.
And since each country is unsurprisingly eager to promote tourism — most effectively accomplished by displaying their national cuisines — many of the pavilions also include food kiosks, or even high-end, sit-down restaurants; from stands peddling frites and chocolate at Belgium, to a sweet-smelling, traditional tea room at Morocco, to a tapas bar at Spain, and even the Identità Golose Expo — serving meals created by a rotating roster of the world’s most acclaimed chefs, including Alain Ducasse, Massimo Bottura, Rene Redzepi and Ferran Adria. Needless to say, you could spend days wandering Expo Milano 2015, without coming close to seeing (or eating) it all. Which is why we’ve compiled this helpful guide of pavilions not to be missed!
USA: Is it nationalistic to travel all the way to Milan, and still make a beeline for the red, white and blue? Perhaps, but the USA’s multi-level building, meant to look like an American barn is undeniably impressive, featuring a large vertical farm that’s harvested daily, exhibits and panel discussions (including a hologram of President Obama, playing on a loop) about pressing topics like GMO’s and obesity, and a series of food trucks, serving iconic eats such as Lobster Rolls and Barbecue.
Bahrain: With ten distinctive gardens, containing fig, banana, kiwi, pomegranate and jujube trees that will bear fruit at different moments throughout the Expo, Bahrain’s pavilion celebrates their millennia-long tradition of agriculture, and perpetuates myths that the country is the actual Garden of Eden. Built out of white concrete panels, the pavilion will be moved to Bahrain at the end of the Expo, to serve, once again, as a functional botanical garden. Is all of that sweet, fragrant lushness making you peckish? Stop by their café, for dishes made with whatever’s ripe at the moment, from Papaya Smoothies to Date Cake.
UK: Great Britain’s pavilion follows the journey of the honeybee, highlighting the massively important role of pollination in the global food chain and ecosystem. Structured like a hive, reaching up unto the heavens, ringed by an immersive orchard and wildflower meadow, visitors to the building are surrounded by sounds and lights, that flicker in response to activities in a real bee hive, based in the UK. Be sure to venture to the top of stylized ‘hive,’ and you’ll be rewarded with a refreshing, fruity Pimms Cup, along with traditional Brit dishes given a healthy spin by top UK chefs, including Tom Aikens, Angela Hartnett and Ken Hom.
Vietnam: The theme of this truly elegant pavilion is “Water and Lotus;” emphasizing water as the most important element for sustaining life, but underlining how threatened it is by the effects of pollution, overfishing and waste. Streamlined bamboo towers out front of the building represent the lotus — a widespread flower in Vietnam that purifies the water in which it thrives — and which is used, from stamen to stem, as both food and natural medicine throughout the country.
Dominican Republic: One of the countries that met targets issued by the UN in 1990, to eradicate poverty and hunger worldwide, the Dominican Republic seeks to share practical advice on how to tackle those issues. In a consciously minimalist space in the Coffee Pavilion, the DR aims to emphasize its long-standing tradition of growing high-quality, increasingly organic coffee beans, taking environmental constraints like temperature, rainfall, soils, sunlight, and altitude into consideration. Needless to say, you can pick up your own cup of Dominican Republic-sourced java at the adjunct coffee bar, to fuel further treks throughout the Expo.
Switzerland: The Swiss pavilion resembles a supermarket depot, with four towers filled with their most abundant products; coffee, water, apples and salt. Visitors are invited to take as much of each item as they want, but regularly reminded that “the life of these towers is in your hands” (they’re actually designed to come down floor by floor as the goods are consumed), and that “when the food runs out, it runs out.” The takeaway message? There’s a limit to the resources available, and to exceed that limit is to deprive other visitors of the same opportunities. Not that you need to exercise moderation at the attached restaurant, serving Cheese Fondue, Chocolate Mousse and Potatoes Rosti.
To learn more about the Expo, visit www.expo2015.org